Christ is still calling

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Baptism of the Lord: Jan. 10, 2010
Isa 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 29:1-4, 9-10; Tit 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

It is a great joy to be with you today, at this parish which I visited many times over the years when I came to visit my grandparents. I think I probably began over there in the cry room, which used to be behind glass! Among other Masses for which I was present, were those held for their 35th and 50th wedding anniversaries. And each time I visited, it seemed that the building got bigger and bigger; but those door handles shaped like saws are still there! And I remember as a child, watching my mom know exactly where to flip back and forth in the missalette, and I was completely confused. I think it took me all 6 years of seminary to figure that one out!

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you remember that famous scene during the Exodus from Egypt, when the People of Israel were blocked by the Red Sea; and Moses stretched out his rod over the sea, and the waters were parted like walls, so that the people could walk through on dry land? What we celebrate today in the baptism of our Lord is like that, but even greater. For in his baptism our Lord Jesus Christ did not have any sins that he needed to repent of; but we did. And so in solidarity with us sinners he walked into the water of the Jordan; just as three years later he who knew no sin would be made to be sin [2 Cor 5:21] for us on the cross; and he would walk into death, to part its black waters, and to make a passageway through it, in himself, for us—a passageway through to the resurrection. And so, as St. Paul says in our second reading, we have become heirs in hope of eternal life.

For us, what is our baptism? Our baptism is our bath of rebirth; our adoption in Christ as a son or daughter of God; our cleansing from original sin and of any personal sin we have committed up to that point; and an infusion into our hearts of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. That is what our baptism is for us.

But what was Christ’s baptism, for him, in his earthly life? After all, as we celebrated just a couple weeks ago on Christmas Day, 30 years earlier, he had been born, the only begotten Son of God, free from sin, full of grace. So then, what was his baptism, for him?

  • His baptism, first of all, was a special anointing by the Holy Spirit. Jesus had been conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he was full of the Spirit; and yet we hear in today’s gospel that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
  • His baptism was also was the beginning of his public ministry. In that moment, as we heard, God the Father declared his identity: “You are my beloved Son.” The Son of the Father: this was who Jesus was. It was the center of everything he was and everything he did; it was indeed his calling, his vocation, which comes from the Latin vocare, to call.

And so with this anointing, with this declaration and this vocation, Jesus began his three years of public ministry.

So then, for Christ in his earthly life, what happened in his baptism is something like what happens to us in our confirmation: for then we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and we are given grace, not only to receive truth and holiness, as we received in our baptism, but to act upon it: to proclaim it, to give it to others. We are given the wisdom and the courage necessary to stand as followers of Christ in a world that is often hostile to him and to what he preached. We are given, in the words of the first reading, the grace to go up on to a high mountain, and cry out at the top of your voice, fear not to cry out and say to the cities: Here is your God!

I know that there are many among you today who are preparing for your confirmation. Are you looking forward to this? Are you looking forward to being given the grace to be Christ’s herald, the messenger of his good news? Are you ready to be given the grace to be his soldier, in his fight against sin and Satan?

For this passageway that he has opens for us in the Paschal mystery changes how we expect to live our lives. No longer do we look out at our life and see just 70 or 80 short years and nothing after it, and think that we should make a “bucket list” and scrounge for whatever self-fulfillment we can get in that amount of time. No! Although that is what the world around us thinks in its despair, we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ. This short earthly lifetime is a time of preparation for that great glory—a time when we may live temperately, justly, and devoutly, preparing ourselves for that heavenly kingdom, and preparing others.

How exactly does each one of us do that? The answer to that question is our vocation. Especially during our teens and 20s, we stand before our Lord Jesus and say, like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am: send me!” We do not ask, Is he calling me? We ask him, “What are you calling me to? What do you want me to do? What is my vocation? How do you want me to serve you? How do you want me to live out your love for others?”

Today is the beginning of this year’s National Vocation Awareness Week. And this vocation to which Christ calls you is not your job; that would be too easy! No, it is your state of life. It is, to borrow the words of a familiar song, the calling “that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life for as long as you live.” For many of you, your vocation is marriage and family; but for others, including probably many here, your vocation is the priesthood, or religious life as a monk or nun, brother or sister. This is your personal calling; this is the path by which Christ can make you a saint.

I was about 8 years old when I first felt that I wanted to do something special for Christ. But I didn’t think of becoming a priest. Why not? Because I was being raised Protestant! Then when I was 15, still Protestant, I decided: I wanted to make the biggest difference I could, as a channel of God’s grace directly into people’s lives. But, again, the question was, how? After the twists and turns of my college years and after that, when I was 25 and living in Washington, D.C., came the first time that I said, “Maybe I should become a priest.” I told my dad, who had grown up here at St. Joseph’s, and he said, “Perhaps Grandma will get her Father Gallaugher after all.” “But, Dad,” I said, “I would be an Episcopal priest.” And he said, “Well, I don’t think it would make that much difference to her.”

Do you know that it was only a month and a half later that she died, and that I came here for her funeral Mass? And it was only a month and a half after that, that I met the faithful Catholic young woman my own age who prompted me to begin looking at whether I should become Catholic, and whether I should become a Catholic priest. What timing! I think that maybe my grandmother did care after all!

Six months ago, I completed my seminary formation and was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ in the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., within the first 24 hours of this current Year for Priests.

My brothers and sisters, as our Holy Father Pope Benedict has said, the Church is young! The Church is alive—she is alive because Christ is alive! And Christ is still calling. When I began seminary, my hope immediately went up—because I saw my fellow seminarians, and in them I saw the future of the Church; and that future is bright.

Christ is still calling. In the parish where I am assigned in Maryland, out of only 650 registered families, we have 5 young women who are considering whether they might be called to the religious life—4 of them, teenagers.

Christ is still calling. And even as our world grows darker around us, our Lord is raising up greater saints—to proclaim his good news; to shine as his lights in the darkness; to lay down our lives so that others may have life.

Christ is still calling. My brothers and sisters, is he calling someone you know, who you can encourage and pray for? My brothers and sisters, is he calling you, to the priesthood or religious life? And if he is, especially here at St. Joseph’s, maybe my grandmother praying for you too. And if she is, there’s no telling what might happen!

As our Holy Father has said: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.

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Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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