Empowered by Baptism
Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, January 11, 2009
[Is 55:1-11. Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6. 1 Jn 5:1-9. Mk 1:7-11]
Just a week and a day ago, I had the privilege and honor of baptizing my youngest granddaughter. As I held her up at the end of the ceremony and presented her to family and friends as our newest Christian, I whispered words in her ear.
I told her that she is my girl, and that I love her.
And she, in that baby way of hers, gave my familiar voice that little crooked smile that she has, and she goo-gooed back to me.
She will never remember it—I will never forget it!
So parents, grandparents, what do you whisper into the ears of your children?
And children of all ages, what do you hear from your parents, your grandparents?
This is what Jesus heard from His father:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
What a message of hope, of encouragement, of empowerment!
You know, it isn’t only what we whisper into the ears of our children that influence them, but what we do, what we say, what we believe, how we act—and react.
So a more focused question is: How do you take the message we hear in the Gospel? What do you hear? What does the voice of God say to you?
Some scholars talk about that voice in the Gospel and debate about who heard it that day. Some say it was meant only for Jesus.
Some say that the voice of God was bat qôl.
That is Hebrew, meaning the “daughter of a voice”—the whisper, the very echo of God to Jesus.
Yet we have it because of Mark’s Gospel witness.
The voice of God still calls out, still echoes out over the centuries to speak to a world that most times, no longer wants to hear what God has to say to us.
That voice calls to us to hear it, to receive it, and to act on it. In our Christian Baptism, a Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit, we too become identified as beloved sons and daughters of God.
We receive that indelible mark.…
We receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
And Baptism empowers us to use these gifts according to our own state in life as members of the Body of Christ.
Let me tell you about a man who lived that empowerment according to his state in life first as a Lutheran minister, and from 1990 as a Catholic priest.
He was the son of a Lutheran minister, born in Pembroke, in Ontario, Canada. His name is Richard John Neuhaus. He was nationally and internationally known as the Editor in Chief of First Things Magazine, a journal of religion and public life. He was president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. And he was one of the foremost voices for the Church in the public square.
He was known for his deep commitment to social justice and to the causes of peace and life.
Not long after his ordination as a Lutheran minister, he was one of the white clergy who,
empowered by baptism, actively participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights. This was probably the most profound influence on Fr. Neuhaus’ life: the speaking out in the public square to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people as creations of God no matter their race or color.
Even as he became widely known and sought after, he remained with his people in some of the poorest and most distressed areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan. He ministered to them one person at a time—not as a media darling who knew Pope John Paul II personally, but as their priest.
And he refused to talk down to them, never preached down to them. He brought his empowerment through baptism to them, and for them--to empower them.
Father Richard passed into eternal life this past week on January 8. Many of us were saddened, I among them. We won’t hear his voice any more. We have lost a valued national figure for the church and a staunch defender of the human rights of all people. His parishioners have lost an extraordinarily pastoral priest.
One of his priest associates said in a press release not to cry for him, but to cry for ourselves, because through his baptism, Fr. Richard knows that his Redeemer lives, and we know where he is.
There is an example in the public life of a man encouraged and empowered by his baptism.
As we begin this New Year, we would do well to reflect on that, on baptism and how it empowers us, and how it calls us.
We have a “Vision Statement” for this diocese that is literally Lumen Gentium—that beautiful teaching of Vatican II—on our relationship as Church.
It says, in part, that we are:
“Empowered by baptism, inspired by the Holy Spirit…"
And so, “we reach out with love
To proclaim and teach the truths that save,
to forgive and seek forgiveness,
to care for our sisters and brothers in need,
to work for peace within our families and communities,
to promote respect and justice for all people….” And more.
That is our mission, the mission of the Church, the mission of all of God’s people.
Fr. Neuhaus put it like this:
"We are called to be heroes and heroines in persevering in the exciting adventure, the high adventure of being in the pilgrim people who lead the entire cosmos toward the promised land."
My dear friends, it all begins at home.
Mothers, fathers, it begins with the love, the encouragement, the confidence that you whisper into the ears of your children.
It begins with your involvement according to your state in life in the mission of God’s church.
It begins with your willingness to be a member of the pilgrim church that groans, and reaches, and yearns for God.
The voice in today’s Gospel is now for us—we are the beloved sons and daughters of God!