The Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Our Gospel for today points out that Jesus’ baptism is different from that of John the Baptist. John baptizes with water but Jesus “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus’ baptism goes beyond the mere religious ritual baths and water ablutions the Jews were used to. Jesus’ baptism will have a transforming power, it will bring about a substantial change in us just as fire changes drastically whatever is burned. The baptism of Jesus changes us. In baptism we embrace a new vocation, a new calling just as Jesus called the fishermen to be “fishers of people.” We are anointed with the Holy Spirit and empowered to carry on Jesus’ mission. We, like Jesus, become the servants of our neighbor.

St. Matthew’s Gospel (12: 18-21) quotes the first four verses of Isaiah 42 and tells us what it is that constitutes, makes up, marks us as servants of the Lord. These marks identify us as Christians. And it is good, I believe, for us to reflect on them occasionally in an inventory way.

The first of these marks is gentleness“He will be gentle, he will not quarrel in the streets.” Gentleness comes from the Greek word epieikeia which means gentle authority. This is a legal term in our own day meaning to give the law a gentle interpretation rather than a strict interpretation. Gentleness and meekness are clearly related. The basic idea behind this gentleness is real strength under control.

Secondly, the Christian servant will speak out boldly in order to attain justice. Justice here means righteousness or a right relationship with God and our fellow human beings.

Thirdly, the Christian servant will be aware that being a servant involves costliness. There is no room here for cheap grace. Doing the will of the Father is not all apple pie and ice cream. It sometimes involves pain. Isaiah says in verse 14: “he will groan and cry like a woman delivering her child.” The pain of the servant leads to joy like the pain of giving birth.

Fourthly, the Christian servant is mighty. There is nothing weak about the servant. The Christian servant is not a wimp. Rather, they are people of courage and fortitude. This also implies a certain stability. The Christian servant does not fluctuate from one extreme to the other.

Applying these marks or signs of being a servant of the Lord to my own life always seems to end up telling me or showing me that I still have a long way to go.

Fr. Howard

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 1: 14-20

Following the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we now return for a while to Ordinary Time and will remain there until February 17, when Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Perhaps Ordinary Time can be described as the “nitty-gritty living of the Gospel one day at a time.”  There is no specific theme to be concerned with such as “repentance” in Advent or Lent. The overriding joy of the Christmas and Easter Seasons is not there. Ordinary Time is living life as it really is one day at a time.

Having said that, practically the very first word we encounter in our return to Ordinary Time is “Repent”: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  But, on the other hand, these words really sum up what it means to live one day at a time.

Our Gospel for today tells us about Jesus calling his first disciples. As I have noted before I am always amazed at the promptness with which the disciples responded when Jesus called them. There was no dilly-dallying around. They literally dropped everything and followed Jesus. Some authors suggest that this is the ideal response to Jesus’ requests and we also notice that we don’t see this terminology used again after this first calling. Quite the contrary, the disciples throughout the Gospels seem rather slow in understanding what Jesus is teaching them or in following him.

Today, then, let us ask ourselves how quickly we respond positively to the will of God after it is revealed to us.

Fr. Howard

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 1: 21-28

In the miracles narrated in this Gospel for today’s Liturgy, we see in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. The word “demon” is not used here. The term “unclean spirit” indicates an unnatural state for the human being. Humans were created in the image and likeness of God and the “spirit of God” is natural. The opposite, unclean spirits, is unnatural. God’s spirit, if you will, is that which drives out the unclean spirit. The unclean spirit is not something absolutely permanent. It is reversible; it can be driven out, replaced, by the holy Spirit of God. That is what is happening in today’s Gospel.

We can see this in ourselves when we are cleansed from the unclean spirits of addictions, for example, and receive the spiritual awakening whereby we become new people free of the unclean, unnatural spirits. This whole thing amazed the people then and it still amazes us today. That is simply due to the fact that our God is positively amazing. Let’s reflect for a while on the nitty-gritty truth of the Gospel for today.

Fr. Howard

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 1: 29-39

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, were he prayed.”

Jesus, in the Gospel selected for today’s Liturgy, first of all heals Peter’s mother-in-law when he stopped in Peter’s home and found her ill with a fever. By evening the disciples brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons in the whole village. Jesus cured them all.

Early the following morning, Jesus took some time for himself. – time for prayer and spiritual refreshment. We notice this balance in Jesus’ life often in the Scriptures. No matter how hard and how long he worked for others, he always found time for himself and for prayer to his Father. What an example he is for us! If we work a little overtime, it is our prayer time that suffers. We spent so much time doing this or that that it isn’t necessary to pray today. So goes the rationalization and, quite the contrary, it is more necessary then than ever to pray, to take time to thank God for helping us do what we have done and for the strength to continue our work we have begun.

Jesus, listen to our prayers and strengthen our resolve to do your work.

Fr. Howard

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 1: 40-45

“See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed (see Leviticus 14: 2-32); that will be proof for them.”

Any number of times we read in the Gospels of Jesus curing an individual and then telling the one cured not to publicize it or tell anyone about the miracle. This happens in a number of places in Mark’s Gospel and is called by some: the “Marcan secret.” Why did Jesus make this command to these people? The best answer we can find is: we don’t know.

I found any number of attempts to answer why Jesus wanted this secrecy and some of them quite frankly don’t make any sense to me at all. But I never was too bright! One that does make some sense to me would be that Jesus thought the cured person might misunderstand what he was up to in performing the cure. One time Jesus performed a miracle and the crowd wanted to make him a king (John 6: 15). But as we all know, Jesus had no political designs. Another reason might well be the humility of Jesus and his not wanting to be extolled by the people. But the best answer, it appears, still remains: We don’t know.

Moral of this homily: Not every cloud has a silver lining.

Fr. Howard

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 2: 1-12

My Commentary on the New Testament makes an interesting observation about this miracle told in today’s Gospel. It points out that it is typical of Mark’s Gospel to suggest that Jesus is continually “opening things up.” Hence the opening of the roof in today’s Gospel account. Mark also opens up new meanings regarding our sinfulness and forgiveness that it will be good for all of us to remember.

Jesus tells the paralytic in today’s Gospel: “Child, you sins are forgiven.” The word translated “forgiven” here actually means “released” or “let go.” This latter translation is literally correct and more accurate than the word “forgiven.” This tells us that evil binds usbut God sets free, releases sin, lets it all go. In other words, when Jesus forgives our sins they are let go, released, they cease to have existence, they are no more. So let’s get out of this “general confession thing” I am still asked to participate in by penitents where the person wants to make a general confession of all the sins they have ever committed and have already confessed. They are gone, man, let go, released, are no more, cease to have existence. So why resurrect them?

If God let’s go of our sins, so can we!

Fr. Howard

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 2: 13-17

There are some apt descriptions of us human beings coming from the daily Gospels recently. On Tuesday, January 5, Jesus referred to us as “sheep without a shepherd.” And I remarked then that that was a pretty good description of me. I have discovered I am not very good at finding my own way in this world or fending for myself. When I do things all alone, I have a history of botching them up. I need guidance and tending, preferably by the good Lord himself. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus politely informs all of us that we are sick and sinners. This reminds me of my counselor in alcohol treatment who would sometimes begin his one-on-one sessions with blatant, truthful statements that would take your breath away. Like the time I just got sat down and said “good morning” to him and the first words out of his mouth were: Howard, you are immature and abnormal. True, but not exactly the way to begin a session. Or was it? It certainly got your attention.

Maybe that’s what Jesus is trying to do in the Gospel sometimes: get our attention. It is true, you know, that we are all sick, we are all sinners, and we do all need a physician, someone who can suggest what we might do to improve ourselves. We all need someone to help us get better. And who better to be our Spiritual Physician than Jesus? Let’s reflect for a moment what he is prescribing for us today.

Fr. Howard

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