The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ~ Sunday, January 13, 2019
This feast is part of the epiphany cycle of feasts ….
It reveals further the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that is. our God entering our world and becoming flesh and blood.
Pope Benedict XVI has an interesting commentary on this feast . . . .
The Baptism of Jesus was held in great importance by the apostolic community, in that circumstance, for the first time in history there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads of Palestine. The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the cross and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.
This is why the early Church Fathers have dedicated such great interest in this feast, which is the most ancient after Easter: “Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy,”sings today’s liturgy, “he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.” (Antiphon to the Benedictus)
There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened to indicate the Savior has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5) accomplished in baptism. The commitment that springs from baptism is therefore to “listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.
(As recorded in the “Meditation of the Day” in the Magnificat liturgical magazine January 2019 issue, p.179.)
Thus, God sent his only Son to become one with us.
What better way to do this than to show acceptance of the human condition by being baptized for the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus has no personal sin. Yet he got in line with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John by the River Jordan.
In this we see Jesus’ humility. He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition. He willingly presents himself for baptism.
There he is: John at the edge of the desert, wading out into the waters of the Jordan River.
A crowd has gathered on the banks. Jesus is among them. He is unknown at this time because he has yet to begin his ministry. He has chosen this meeting with the Prophet to inaugurate his own mission.
Jesus waits patiently amidst the crowd. There’s a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John. Jesus is to receive his baptism of repentance ~ not because there’s sin in him, but in order to model for us the authentic way to approach the Father.
He goes to the Baptist as a beggar because the Mystery is mercy. Jesus surrenders to mercy by submitting himself to baptism in order to invite us to share in his relationship with the Father announced from heaven:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Lord Jesus lowers himself in his baptism and, as Nothingness, acknowledges his Father so that we will never hesitate to do the same. (Source: Magnificat /Jan. 2019 issue p. 173.)
An astonishing thing happened; the two of them were privileged to a vision. The sky opened up and John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove and hover over him.
With that, a voice from the heavens said,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In our immersion into the waters of baptism, we are consecrated, set apart and made holy. In Jesus’ immersion in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the opposite becomes true. Jesus consecrates, sets apart and makes holy the waters of baptism. Jesus as Man consecrates the movement of divine grace that flows just as rivers flow.
Sometimes the river has abundant waters that give life to all living things that share its banks. But sometimes the waters dry up and become like a desert.
So, too, with grace. Grace flows like a river bringing wonderful fruit to all who drink and are immersed in it. But sometimes grace seemingly dries up and we live in a desert for a while. But the river is still there, unseen; it just moves below the surface.
So we have to be willing to be immersed. To be immersed in divine grace. To be immersed in God. To be immersed in love.
But that precisely is the problem. We are scared of being immersed in love. We are scared of being immersed in God. We prefer to stand on the banks of the river and watch the waters of grace flow by, without having direct contact with it.
So this feast day is about us as well. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in God. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in love.
If we are immersed in God, in love, we will hear the voice of God say to us . . . .
“You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.
Now, before you go, here’s Burl Ives singing the traditional spiritual “Shall we Gather at the River.” Click here
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.
Second Sunday of Lent ~ March 13, 2022
Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have–well–a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
I’d like to begin once again with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but it’s no more than 1,000 feet high. Barclay suggests it’s more likely, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that’s 9,400 feet high where there would be more solitude.
Then he explains the significance of the cloud. In Jewish thought, God’s presence is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. Here, the descent of the cloud was a way of saying the Messiah had come. All the gospel writers speak of luminous cloud which overshadowed them. All through history the luminous cloud stood for the shechinah, which was nothing less than the glory of the Almighty God. In Exodus, we read of the pillar of fire that was to lead the people away from their slavery. “And the cloud covered the tent of meeting and glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)
The transfiguration has a two-fold significance,
First, it did something significant for Jesus. He had made the decision to go to Jerusalem, which meant facing the Cross and his death. On the mountain he received the approval of Moses and Elijah. They basically said, “Go on!” And he received the wonderful affirmation of his Father, who basically said, “You are acting as my own beloved Son should and must act. Go on!”
Secondly, it did something significant for the disciples. They were shattered that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Things were happening that were breaking their heart. What they experienced with Jesus on the mountain, even though they didn’t understand, gave them something to hold on to. It made them witnesses to the glory of Christ; they had a story they could hold in their hearts until the time came when they could share it.
Now here are my reflections . . . . .
It’s a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert when he was tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story. First, they’re on a mountain – that’s exhilarating already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high, lest you get the wrong idea. For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory. They’re blown away.
Peter, speaking for all of them, wants to stay there, at least, a while longer. But it doesn’t happen. They have to come back down from the mountain. We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too. It wasn’t imaginary. It wasn’t an illusion. It was a real moment in their lives.
We experience wholesome highs, too. A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship ~ a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.
Such a moment can happen in our spiritual life, too. A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring. At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and an intense personal affirmation . But the experience inevitably fades. We “come back to reality.” But, again, that’s not accurate. The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that gives zests to the taste of food.
Imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain. You are about to have your own mountain top experience.
Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.
In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset. On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded. You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise if you are looking east, or the sunset if you are looking west. Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous. Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and engaging.
You may never have a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had. Even ONE mountain top experience ~ one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.
Any close encounter with God can be life-changing. I remember one I had in 1976.
I was making a private retreat. My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate. I was to take a full hour to reflect on the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark. Nothing came the first time. Nor the second. The third one connected. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever.
I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him. Yes, wrestle with him! If that happened in my mind’s eye, then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus. (I felt quite certain that I did not conjure it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)
How about you ~ have you ever had a peak experience? Have you had more than one? Then you understand what I am talking about. You know that such moments can be life-changing.
What does it take to have a peak experience?
It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination ~or a dream ~ that special place inside us where we can be led to new and wonderful things, things never seen before.
It requires openness ~ a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain.
Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain . . . . And you see Jesus become radiant. Dazzling. Incredibly beautiful in his appearance ~ his face, his hands his hair, his robe.
And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:
“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
How would you feel? Would you be afraid? Would you be filled with joy? Would you fall to the ground in worship?
Let’s focus on one point of the story.
Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
This was a moment of affirmation for Jesus. Surely he needed it; he could feel the weight of his mission upon his shoulders. He had an intuition that his life would enter upon tremendous suffering and that death was soon awaiting him. He also received affirmation from Moses and Elijah and then, Peter, James and John, in turn, were affirmed that their choice to follow him was essentially correct.
How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?
How often does your spouse or a friend or your boss praise you for something that you did or for who you are? Probably not very often. How often do you have a sense that God is affirming you?
Affirmation is very important. It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me. Bishop Robert Barron, writing a commentary for today’s Gospel in the Magnificat liturgical magazine, said that what Christianity was all about was deification. The Fathers of the Church were fond of saying God became man that man might become God.
And that one readily thinks of this theme when one meditates on the Transfiguration of the Lord. For one brief shining moment on the mountain, God revealed the transfigured humanity that will mark the denizens of heaven beautiful, elevated, dazzling, outside the confines of space and time. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the Transfiguration is meant to give all followers of Christ, making their way through the difficulties of life, a burst of hope. Deification is what awaits us, proclaims our evangelizing bishop!
As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come. When they come, embrace them ~ accept them. Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do. Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.
I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you. Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.
Now give someone a really good affirmation before the day is over. And, before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn to give to honor our Lord “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Click here.
the Gospel of Mark Revised Edition / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay
The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 209-11.