God Declares Us His Beloved in Christ – Let Us Please Him by Responding to Our Baptismal Call!

Jesus Being Baptized

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  These are the words that we hear close out today’s Gospel.  This was the proclamation and affirmation given to John the Baptist, letting him know that this was in fact, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah for whom he was a messenger, for whom John’s entire existence was to proclaim.

Why did the Father declare His pleasure with the Son?

Well, one of the reasons I think He did was: He knew the Son’s purpose, and the role He would play in saving His people.  This would also affirm for John that the One he was preparing people for had come.  By our baptism we take on the Life of Christ and His mission, no less than Christ did by coming into the world and stepping into the Baptismal waters (this is by Jesus’ design and desire and if we believe that, this doesn’t diminish the Son of God, but increases the holy life we aspire to).

While John was baptizing, as we know it was a baptism of repentance, a washing away of sins in a symbolic and ordinary sense, an importance sense but it’s not a baptism like the one we share in Christ.  So what does that mean?

If we live the Life of Christ, we share in all aspects of His life, and in the extraordinary and supernatural sense.

And while we are given this life and we can’t earn or deserve it – God’s sincerest hope is that we will accept that life and live for Christ.  As we celebrate today the Baptism of the Lord, this is a good time for each of us to pause and consider the gift we’ve been given and for those possibly listening who haven’t been baptized, to consider asking for the gift, a gift for each and every one of us.  It’s good for us to reflect upon the gift and what we have done with that gift.

As a Vocation Director, I spend a lot of my time working with those among us who are in the process of responding to that gift through their vocation; discerning a religious vocation.  But whether our vocation is the religious life, priesthood, marriage or to remain singularly dedicated to Christ – our baptism gives us a purpose; a purpose many of us are on a journey to discover.

Since we Catholics are normally baptized as infants, we don’t remember the day we were baptized.  I was baptized as an adult, so I feel blessed in one way to remember that day and I celebrate it each year and as a priest who baptized many, I read over the words of the Baptismal Rite and ponder again and again that moment.

I recommend this for all of us [it’s easy to get the Rite online].  When I celebrate Baptism, I almost always use these words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Speaking to families, I remind all those who bring children to the font that God declares these words to His sons and daughters for the same reason He declared them to His Only Begotten Son – love and hope.  He offers them to us as He loves us with the unbridled and passionate love that saw Him give up His Son to save us and He offers them with hope: that He who delivers and makes good on every promise ever made, desires that we seek to respond in kind.  May God bless you.

Sacrifice, Surrender & Suffering: Here Comes the Lamb of God!

Good Shepherd

Jesus is referred to in the Gospels as the Son of Man, at other times as the Son of God and in today’s Gospel (the Gospel of John) as the Lamb of God as St. John the Baptist declares Him, “here comes the Lamb of God”.  There is a great deal of importance to be drawn and reflected upon in the manner in which Jesus is referred to when each of these deliberate expressions is used.  Jesus is referred to many times as the “Son of Man” and this term is used many more times in the Old Testament; an important reference to Jesus’ fully human nature [we celebrate that our Lord came to us as one of us].

Jesus is also referred to as the Son of God which affirms His fully divine nature; that He is in fact God and we celebrate God with us, God among us.

Today we hear John the Baptist refer to Jesus in a humble way, as the “Lamb of God” bringing together many Judeo-Christian concepts, humanity, divinity and most importantly acknowledging ahead of the time soon to come of His Ultimate Sacrifice, as the Lamb sacrificed for all of humanity to bring us back to God.

Before we let go of today’s Gospel as simply a theological lesson, it’s important that we reflect on the significance of the manner in which we refer to Jesus as we live our lives as followers, Disciples of Christ.  When we acknowledge Jesus as the “Son of Man”, we are reminded that our God is not a distant God speaking to us without truly knowing the human experience.  He is a human being living a fully human life and so as His followers we are living His life in addition to our own.  This means more than we are trying to be like Jesus; it also means our life is meaningful and purpose-driven (whether we’ve found that or realized that), just as His was!

When we acknowledge Jesus as “Son of God”, we are reminded that our God did indeed come into our midst and so all that we are and all that we are trying to be as Christians is beyond natural (it’s supernatural) and beyond ordinary (extraordinary) and so what it means to live a grace-filled life is to spend our lives seeking to live a Divine Life.  We may not be God, but our life will be an extension of God when we seek to be holy.

When we acknowledge Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, we are reminded that our God is a God of Sacrifice and surrender.  Jesus gave His entire life for us and made a sacrifice beyond comprehension.  As His followers, sacrifice, surrender and sometimes suffering are important parts of who we are as Christians.  Too often Christians are “written off” as fools for believing that sacrifice and suffering are good and important parts of life.  We don’t just go looking for death and martyrdom – to do that WOULD be foolish.  When it becomes part of our story and brings others closer to Jesus and brings strength to others it is of the greatest value to us and we consider it an act of love for others.  We have so many examples of that in the world already, it shouldn’t be too hard to see sacrifice, surrender and suffering as a total gift of ourselves for God and for others – an essential part of our vocation!

Friendship in the Lord

Basil & Gregory

Friends are essential to the life of every Christian.  Friends are an important part of who we are and who we are becoming.  We grow as people with good and healthy friendships; being around people who love us, support us, encourage us and who can also help us to see where we struggle.  People who are honest with us and provide us with honest feedback based on a context of knowing who we are. 

There have been a few men I have met in these past six years, convinced that one of the reasons God might be calling them to the priesthood was because they had no real desire for friendship.  As a Vocation Director, it’s important for me not to dismiss men who share this, but to help understand what makes them see a desire to be alone and without others “as a gift”.  Of course there could be many reasons; they were hurt by people in their lives who should have loved them, family or friends.  Usually it isn’t too hard to understand once we listen to the story of someone’s life.

It is erroneous and flawed thinking of course.  To not want to be with people and to desire good and meaningful friendships and relationships with others, is not only not a gift, but it is a necessity for the priest.  Men who are to be priests must desire good, meaningful and healthy friendships with both men and women to be balanced men and in the future balanced priests.  I would, however, emphasize that friendships need to be good, meaningful, healthy and balanced.  Often what leads a person to not want friendship is a deficiency in what they have had as friends.

We celebrate today as Catholics, the lives of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen who both became bishops and are remembered as “Doctors of the Church”, in other words offered us many things very significant in the living out of our Catholic Christian faith.  These were two very intellectual men who encouraged and supported one another in deep and meaningful friendship.  They were competitive in their intellectual pursuits, but supporting, encouraging and learning from one another still.  They sought the path of holiness together and embodied the true meaning of Christian love for the people in their lives but for each other as brothers in the Lord.  These two men brought many people with themselves to Heaven.  Their friendship undoubtedly made both of them wake every day wanting to be better Christian men and they both helped one another become that.

This is what we should all want; I know I do.  I feel blessed by the friends that God has graced my life with.  The older I get, having lived long enough to have known good friendship and not-so-good friendship; I am thankful for the people in my life who help me become a better version of myself day by day.  I am thankful for the time I can spend with these people and today as I think of these two great saints, I continue to hope and pray for my dear friends as I know that they pray for me too.

The Greatness of Women

Mary Mother of God

There are many things a Vocation Director looks for in a candidate for priesthood, but few things more important than what a man thinks and how he acts towards women.  For so many reasons, its important for me to understand how men who are considering the priesthood think of women.

Many years ago, I worked with a religious sister who shared with me some of her experiences over a lifetime, nearly 50 years as a religious sister including the many times she had been demeaned, condescended to, disrespected, marginalized or made to feel less important in dignity by priests and sadly even bishops.  She WAS NOT (and is not) an angry woman and I was glad she shared that with me.  It raised my own awareness, as a seminarian then, that we men have work to do.

It can be a great challenge for a great many people to be a part of (our) Church that seems to be dominated by men, as we have an all-male clergy.  I know that there are many people who struggle with this.  I know that as a priest, the single-most asked question in the classroom by students is “why can’t girls (women) be priests?”  My answers are often long and theological with reference to Scripture and Tradition, and they are often, I’m sure, unsatisfying to the inquirer.  I also consider my friend’s experience and I add to it that we priests need to be aware that we have often distorted and at times have disrespected the office we hold as Priests and Bishops.  What I offer people is that Priests and Bishops were never supposed to treat women as anything less than equal and the power and authority given by ordination is meant to bring salvation and a deeper encounter with our Lord and Saviour, rather than to be lorded over people or used to control or exert power.  I admit we’ve come a long way in understanding that, but we have a long way to go.  As Pope Francis says “there’s no Church without women” and while women can’t be priests, “[women] cannot be limited in the role and importance; the part they play” in bringing Jesus Christ and the Glory of God through the Church to the world.

And who better to cite as the most powerful example of this than Mary Most Holy?  To look and reflect upon the life of Mary, Mother of God, is to realize that God has made women to be great!  She was given a vocation, a role, a part to play for all eternity that no one else could do – and she was given this role as a woman of faith.  No one in all of human history was closer to God than she was.  No one has the prayer power (the ability to intercede in prayer) for us that she does.  Mary wasn’t an Apostle, nor was she a priest or a bishop.  But if there was an Apostle or disciple who might have considered treating Our Lady with less than the fullest dignity she deserved, we could only imagine what Our Lord Himself would have had to say about that!

As a Vocation Director, it is of prime importance to look for men who understand this or are capable of seeing things in this way.  Our future priests must have a deep respect for women already lived out and obvious in their lives.  They must value equally and without exception women.  A priest who wants to be “with the boys” and not spend his life with good female friends as well is problematic and hopefully we are all becoming more discerning and realistic in helping anyone who thinks this way with the issues that have led them to this way of thinking.

The role for women in the Church, in the world, as Christians witnessing to us IS GREAT and we celebrate that today as we celebrate the life of one of the greatest woman, Mary the Mother of God.