From our Pastoral Associate, Sr. Ann Kane C.S.J.
January 11-12, 2020 Cycle A – Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the hinge Sunday marking the change from the Christmas season to Ordinary Time. This solemnity stands as a turning point moving us from the infancy narratives proclaimed during the Christmas season and looking ahead to readings that bring out the complexity and richness of Jesus mission and identity. Jesus is God’s beloved Son, anointed with the Holy Spir-it and power, and humble servant sent to “bring forth justice to the nations.” Son, anointed, servant: this describes who Jesus is and also who his disciples are to be.
Baptism incorporates the believer into the mystery of Christ, it joins one to the Church, and provides for us a share in the mission of Jesus. A key phrase, developed by the Council of Florence (15th Century) tells us that baptism is the gateway to life in the Spirit. Thus, baptism marks a new beginning, whereby the person is regenerated and made whole by this sacrament, made ready by the gift of God for a new life which will be lived in the Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213)
The term itself, “baptism” comes from the Greek word for “plunge” or “immerse,” which refers to the use of water, the main symbolic element which conveys the sacrament, along with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That triple plunging or immersing into the depths, where the body of the baptized is overwhelmed by water corresponds symbolically to being born as a new person in Christ (CCC 1239-40)
St Gregory Nazianzus (d.390 A.D.) reflected on the sacrament of baptism, writing, “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship” (Oratio 40, 3-4, PG 36, 361C).
Thus, as re-born members of the church, those who are baptized are responsible for witnessing to the faith and participating in the mission of the Church. The Second Vatican Council described this as the “priesthood of the faithful.” Saying, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated …to bear witness to Christ and give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope of an eternal life that is theirs. The priesthood of the faithful is not the same as the ordained priesthood, although as the Church teaches, “each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ. The whole Church – ordained priest and the priest-hood of the faithful- is called in baptism to live, through sacraments, prayer, holiness of life, and active charity the mission of Christ. Bearing witness to Christ in our world is our task. Strength for that task is to be found in the Eucharist. Today, we remember our own baptism and this weekend at the 10:30 Mass all those baptized in the last year will celebrate that sacred occasion with a special blessing.
January 4-5, 2020 Cycle A – Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
The word epiphany derives from a Greek term that means “showing forth, manifestation, making public.” According to the account of the Epiphany in Matthew 2, magi or wise men, from the East (perhaps Persia or Babylonia) came to Israel to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews. Thus the feast of the Epiphany marks the manifestation of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel to non-Jews. This narrative appears only in Matthew’s Gospel, which ends with the risen Jesus’ command to his apostles to make disciples of all nations.
The feast of the Epiphany provides an opportunity to reflect on the character of our Christian faith as both particular and universal. While acknowledging our roots in Israel and the Old Testament, we Christians are convinced that the good news of Jesus Christ has significance for all peoples of the world.
The dynamic of the particular and the universal is prominent in the Magi story. These mysterious representatives of all nations come to Jerusalem in the land of Israel. There they learn from the Jewish scribes and the Hebrew Scriptures that the Messiah of Israel was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. So they go to Bethlehem and pay homage to the child Jesus. They seek out a particular person in a particular time and place, not an idea or myth.
The dynamic of the particular and the universal is also prominent in today’s Old Testament readings. The passage from Isaiah 60 looks forward to the light that will shine forth from Jerusalem. It foresees that all the nations of the world will walk by that light, will acknowledge and enjoy that light, and so will proclaim the praises of the God of Israel. The verses from Psalm 72 use similar language and look forward to the day when “every nation on earth will adore you.” Rooted in the historical particularity of ancient Israel’s language, theology and institutions, the hope expressed in these texts is that one day all nations will be part of the people of God.
How that hope becomes a reality is the subject of reading from Ephesians 3. It shows that through the particular Jewish historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, membership in the people of God has been extended beyond the limits of ethnic Israel to all the peoples of the world. Today’s readings remind us of our identity as the “catholic” church. The word catholic means “universal, worldwide, all over.” We are rooted in ancient Israel and yet open to all peoples. We come from a particular history, yet are open to all the nations of the world. As God’s people in and through Christ, we have become members of the same body of Christ and are sharers in God’s promises to Abraham. Neither an ethnic group nor a sect, we are a universal, that is, catholic church