The Baptism of Our Lord

January 10, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters, we cannot separate our personal spiritual lives from the rest of our lives.  We cannot separate the economic, political, moral dimensions of our lives into boxes of interest and pretend or hope that one does not affect the other.

The stock market is not God.  Our bank accounts and our prosperity is not God.  Alternative realities are not God or inspired by God.

Who is President Donald Trump that he could think to dilute, to change, to mismanage, to destroy the Constitution of the United States of America?  And his House of Cards has fallen apart.  He thought that he could run the United States as he did his economic empire and he has failed.

What he tried to do is a very sad end, and American history will not treat him kindly.

There is an editorial in this week’s “National Catholic Reporter” which suggests that a “Post-Trump truth commission is needed” — a truth commission.

How did Trump’s presidency damage our democratic processes, how can true democratic processes be reinforced, how do we rebuild our democracy so that all citizens are included. 

How does one person create a cult, tell lie after lie, repeat a reality that does not exist.  How does one person foment a rebellion and then tell his extreme supporters to go home because they will be held accountable, “they,” for what they did.  The House of Cards has fallen.  Our democracy is stronger than anyone’s false or alternative reality.

For those of you who will object to what I am saying, not wanting our Catholic faith, Catholic morality, social justice or any kind of religious thought to shine light on our present situation, I remind us that we have just celebrated Christmas.  At its heart, is our belief that God has become a human being and that God wants us human beings to take His lead and become more God-like in our lives, in how we take care of one another and in how all our parts of our life function together.  To make America great again is a wonderful slogan but it does not mean that we separate ourselves from everyone else, or become selfishness personified.

My brothers and sisters, the first step to conversion and to walking in the light and the wisdom of Jesus Christ is the confession of our sins and blindness, to open our hearts and our minds to what a national leader tried to do– to further his vision for himself, to fashion our country in his image and likeness.

Today’s Scripture readings that the Catholic Church reads around the world raise our hopes for something more.  We need to react in horror to anyone, anywhere, who abuses power– whether a Cardinal McCarrick or a President Trump.  Remember, the whitened sepulchre to which Jesus referred filled with dead men’s bones.

Today’s first reading from Isaiah the Prophet speaks about a Servant which he proposed that a King of Israel should be, someone with evident actions, that he was filled with the Spirit of God and seeking what was right and just for everyone.  Such a person does not declare himself a “deal maker.”  A man of gentleness, a leader with humility.

The Prophet Isaiah accused the Kings of Israel of failing to do good .  What God acknowledged to be the reason why they were a political leader.  Remember Babylon came.  They lost everything.  And if we read history, Babylon repeats itself in all countries of the world.

The next paragraph of the Prophet reminds us of what a political leadership should be like:

“I the Lord have called you for the victory of justice.  I have grasped you by the hand.  I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind…”

Yes, there are many who call themselves Catholics and who say they believe in God, but they do not want God’s effect in politics, which then leaves us with festering alternative realities.  The truth is the truth is the truth and the truth will always reveal itself.

How will God reveal Himself?  As God always does, through the real events and people in our lives and in what is happening.  The truth has been revealed, despite an insurrectionist, because of an insurrection.

In our second reading, we hear remembered words from St. Peter, addressed to a Roman occupation soldier, Cornelius.  Peter has just had a major conversion.  In a vision, God had challenged Peter’s Jewish exclusive vision about what kind of people were acceptable to God:

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation, whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to God.”

We, too, follow Jesus who went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  Is this not the job description of a faithful, forward-looking Christian and Catholic?

I keep harping about Catholics who do NOT pray very much except when they need something, who do not read our Scriptures very much, who keep God locked up in their hearts, who do not comprehend the damage that President Trump has done to the soul of America.  It is our practical spirituality rooted in integrity, soul searching, the spiritual quest.  The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Jesus, recognized many truths in life.  “Virtus stat in medio.”  Truth is in the middle, NOT in the extremes– of the right or the left, the “in”  or the “out.”  Not in the fake news certainly, not in alternative reality, not because someone says so or makes it up for twisted purposes.  “I believe him, because he says so,” is not the power of truth.

John the Baptist could have made a lot of money if he had become a TV evangelist.  He was very popular.  The Roman Empire and its puppet king Herod saw to his final doing.  John the Baptist was simply clear: “One mightier than I is coming after me.”  Politicians could well keep that in mind.

If then we are going to be a Catholic, then be a Catholic.  Jesus was an excellent Catholic before there was ever a Catholic Church.  “You are my beloved son,” the voice from the cloud was heard by some to say, “with you I am well pleased.”  That is what God would like to say to us today, and say it , to each one of us, personally.  Today, more than ever, we too experience the tearing open of the heavens.  Today, we need to start looking for and paying attention to the Truth, not our small mind and small heartedness.  The Acts of the Apostles describes Jesus as going “about doing good and healing,” not doing “his own thing.”  

We have to do much better than the last four years.  While we may have seen the results of some extremists this last week, their venom and hatred is realistic and appalling.

St. Paul was very realistic about being a follower of Jesus in the multicultural Roman Empire of his day.  He said that we must pray for those who govern so that we might live our lives in peace and tranquility, but it requires more than prayer.  There was no such thing as accountability for those who were in power.  They ran roughshod over people, and that has been very clear as our present presidency comes to an end.  And there will be consequences for all who have participated in it, including bishops and priests.

Our Baptism is the distinguishing mark of our identity, not our politics or our bank accounts.  If we have forgotten, Jesus reminds us that we are invited and chosen by him to love His Father and one another.  Go to confession to yourself and examine your heart and how your life manifests itself into what Jesus has baptized us.

Whether last Wednesday was a Day of Infamy, time will tell.  Too many for too long have remained silent and what happened Wednesday will hopefully become an unwanted legacy.

So here we are at the beginning of a new year, a new presidency, a national re-awakening.  More important than resolutions for diets and whatever else, I would suggest that we all cultivate personal integrity, a reasonable understanding of facts and truth, a wise spirit of discernment about who is saying what and what is really being said.

We have to protect our personal integrity, never forget that we are sinful human beings who need to work for the common good of our America and all Americans.

The bottom line remains the principle revealed to Peter today as he encountered someone who his culture hated, Cornelius, the Roman Centurion.

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation, whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

A better translation for “fearing God” is respecting God.  That applies to God and to each other.  It also applies to what is true.  Long live the Truth!

2 thoughts on “The Baptism of Our Lord

  1. ” Cultivate our personal integrity”—something I will continue to do in this new year. I so appreciate knowing that I am on the right track. Thank you for your words. Means a great deal to me during this lock down time.

    Like

  2. Perfect! Thank you so much for your words as they express my sentiments. “Personal integrity” is indeed a must do for everyone.

    Mary Franceschini

    Like

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