Baptism is about Belonging

Baptism is not just a magical formula. It is not about words that mean different things to different people. Especially today we fight about particular words and their meaning: fatherhood, motherhood, marriage…are just a few. Getting their meaning right is important for communication. I mean, who would tell you that black is white?

Since the time of Christ, since the time when He actually spoke the words written in Matthew 28:19-20 [“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”] and John 14, the words of Baptism have been So Important.

(I paraphrase): “Go out and unleash the Good News of what God has done for you! Go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are my disciples. You now speak for me. You will do greater things than I have done! I and the Father are One. I will send the Holy Spirit, and we will dwell in you. Through the Holy Spirit, you are in ME and I in YOU, and we will dwell together, in LOVE, for eternity.

Jesus didn’t use these exact words. I have condensed two Gospel passages.

But the above is what I believe that He meant. And this meaning is exactly why Baptism, as the Rite of Initiation into the family of God, is so important. Jesus gave us the words. Peter elaborates in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Again, Jesus gave us the words, and now Peter gives us the person, in Whose name, they are spoken. To do anything in Jesus’ name is to make that thing happen.

Once we are baptized, we belong to God, and the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14 are realized.

These words, among others, are spoken in the Catholic Rite of Baptism:

“[Name of person], the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents (and godparents) to do the same. (Priest, parents, Godparents mark a cross on child’s forehead).

“[Name of person], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Priest thrice pours water over person’s head).

When the priest says “I baptize you;” when anyone says “I baptize you,” with proper Trinitarian form and matter (water), the person is baptized. The newly baptized belongs to the the family of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within the person, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (the life of the eternal God) are infused. All sins are forgiven, including Original Sin. The virtues, a free gift from God through this rite of baptism, will carry this person through earthly life to earthly death, and to eternal life with the Father.

This is the eternal now. Once it happens it is done for eternity. Persons are claimed for Christ. They belong.

Because God is so good, because God is so loving…He can and does work outside this Sacrament. He doesn’t need it. But we do, so that we know.

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Lord, I claim you as my FATHER.”

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Jesus, I claim you as my SAVIOR.”

We Belong!

The Spirit of Truth actually lives within us, and propels us back to Abba, no matter what we have done!  Who can forget the story of the Prodigal Son?  We often do not even consider the Father’s love; we concentrate on the son or his brother.  The Father’s love was so unconditional, the son knew he belonged, and he returned. The faith of our parents, the faith of our friends -whoever brings us to baptism – has been enough to bring us, too, into the bosom of the Father for eternity.  Who can forget the story of the paralytic, whose four friends brought him to Jesus? “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20, my emphasis).

Again, because God is so good, so loving, He still calls us in our hearts back to him. Even when we haven’t been baptized, or even if the words weren’t right, He is still calling us to himself, through Baptism. He calls us to take the plunge!

This is why we Christians remind ourselves of our Baptism with Holy Water. “I claim you for Christ” now becomes our own, “Father, I claim you as my daddy!”

Many who are reading this understand that I am writing in response to the pastoral crisis in the Archdiocese of Detroit that has come about because the correct formula was not used for Baptism for many, many people. There are parents who are devastated at this news. Many have sons and daughters who now do not go to Church. For such a time is this… let us go to St. Monica and to St. Augustine to intercede for us — for all of the sons and daughters affected by this; all of the mothers and fathers — Lord, bring us back to YOU. Call us by name in our hearts. Give us the grace to return to YOU.

Amen

Please see the links for St. Monica and St. Augustine — Their feast days are Thursday and Friday of this week — August 27 and 28.

A note to students going back to college…

Why did they bring you back?

Because they believe in you and your future. They believe that you are capable of personal responsibility.

Do you?

You have roommates, and you are responsible for each other.

You wear masks and social distance in classrooms (and you don’t go to bars and parties).

You are careful in your interactions, wearing a mask when at all possible (love your neighbor; who is my neighbor?).

People can see you smiling through your eyes!

Are you smiling?

People can see Jesus in you!

It is the Lord, who teaches us the ultimate responsibility — we are our brother’s keeper (who is my brother, my sister?).

It is the Lord, who by His example, gives us the grace to think of others before ourselves.

It is I, who makes the choices to listen, to hear, to act.

Why did they bring you back?

Because they believe in you and your future. They believe that you are capable of personal responsibility.

Do you?

The Second Joyful Mystery – Consider the life of Christ in others.

Pin on Edifying Bible Verses

The Visitation – Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. John “leaps” in her womb and the sound of Mary approaching. Elizabeth says Mary is “…blessed among all women…” The first thing I think about is the fellowship among women. Most women NEED other women to talk to, (especially when they are pregnant, lol).

How similar are we to Mary and Elizabeth? Here are two human beings, just like we are, who fill their days and conversation with Love for God. Can we imagine today, having a conversation with friends, saying “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb?” Many women think pregnancy is a curse. We worry about this and that, and sometimes forget the amazing blessing the new human life growing inside our womb is. God gave us the power to create new human life. This is His power to bring life into the world. What a gift! Our culture thinks we should control when and how we will get pregnant. Often when we make plans God laughs and blesses us with surprises. We can have the joy God wants to give us if we open ourselves to His Divine guidance.

The Visitation- a beautiful moment between two beautiful women~Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary

Mary and Elizabeth clearly lived this way. They were true “sisters in Christ.” They are an example of a beautiful friendship.

When I pray the second Joyful Mystery, I have in my mind this prayer: “Lord, may I see You in everyone I meet today, and may they never have any doubt that You are in me.”

Ressourcement

Ressourcement  — a return to the beginning, the source, the foundation.

This is a word to which I never knew the meaning until I began my theology studies in 2013.  In the context of the Catholic Church, it is a movement of theologians in the 20th Century to return to the sources of the Christian faith as a foundation for doing theology, namely Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.  For more information about this movement consider this link about Nouvelle Théologie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouvelle_th%C3%A9ologie.

Ressourcement makes perfect sense to me.

Go to the source!  Don’t formulate ideas or opinions based on what someone says someone said. 

Unfortunately this is exactly what we do when we allow the news media, whatever label it is given, to inform our minds.  A little curiosity about sources is a good thing.  Let’s consider ressourcement in the context of who we listen to today.

The pandemic has been a blessing to me personally in multiple ways.  I am grateful that we have been healthy so far! One important blessing is that I have made a concerted effort to listen to the source, the Vicar of Christ, our Holy Father — Pope Francis.  His daily Masses have been shared on YouTube; there are even some mini-videos of him providing the daily Mass intentions.  I go listen to his homilies after I listen to the daily readings every morning.

It has been a treasure.(Click for link to Vatican YouTube)

There is so much out there that is so critical of Pope Francis.  Some of it comes even from people for whom I have great respect.  Some is not just criticism of ideas, but mean-spirited criticism of a person.  It is a great reminder to me of my own sinfulness, and of how I can become lost in my own opinions and ideas.  I wonder when I read some people’s comments, or hear about some of the headlines, if these people have actually listened to the source.

If we aren’t careful we can lose sight of what is true.  Unfortunately I know this personally, and my conscience often prompts me to repent.  By God’s grace I repent.  There but for the grace of God go I.

I say this not because I am good.  Only God is good — even Jesus told us this!  I say this because there is a fundamental error that we can make when we do not go to the source: we reject the dignity of the human person when we do not listen in order to hear them.

If we make a judgement about a person’s motives we are being disrespectful of their God-given dignity.  We have already turned down the sound — we don’t listen to them.  We listen only to what we have previously conceived in our minds. I have been guilty of this too many times.

There are particular Catholic news websites that are quite embarrassing to me as a Catholic.  It is said that people will know that we are Christians by our love.  I have always been taught that truth and love are not mutually exclusive.  St. Paul was very clear on this in 1 Cor 13:1-13.  More often then not, if I read an article from one of these sites I ask myself, “Where is the love?”  Or “Is this article bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit?”  

I urge all of us to listen to the source directly.  Especially when the source is il Papa!

At the Cross His Divine Mercy Flows

Today we remember the cost of our sins and the Love Who paid the price.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26).

The photo to the right is from a scene in The Passion of the Christ.  It is unforgettable.  Jesus not only accepts the cross — He caresses it.  He welcomes it.  He knows that it alone is the way to Eternal Life.  He knows that His love poured out pro multis, for the many, on the Cross, will give eternal life to those who accept it.

What does it mean to accept it?

It means to surrender to the truth that we are sinners and we need a savior.  It is to recognize our own crosses and carry them, yoked with Jesus.  (More on this glorious yoke below). It is to recognize that our heaviest cross is the hatred and unforgiveness in our hearts, the center of all our sins — pride.  Yes, this is the center, the Original Sin that plagues all of us.  This is what Jesus meant when He said:

What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23).

Who me?

Yes, me.  

G.K. Chesterton, a prolific and wise British author of the early 20th century once said, “What is wrong with the world? ME.”

My daughter asked me last night, as we were watching Jesus of Nazareth, “Why does it seem like all the men rejected Jesus?”

The rejection is not limited to men.  It is not even limited to Pharisees and Saducees.  We are all susceptible.  There is one common illness.  We all have the spiritual virus of pride.  This is how it manifests and spreads:

“I can do it myself.”

“I will never forgive what he/she did to me.”

“He/She should know better.”

History and tradition in movie depictions of the Cross. | Peter T ...
Be yoked to Jesus

There are many more ways.  This spiritual virus is prolific.  There is only one inoculation: Carrying the Cross with Jesus, and being yoked to Him in our sorrows and pain.  It is the only way.

Sometimes I will hear people say, “I send Jesus away from me when I sin.”  No.  Absolutely not!  Jesus is always there!  Look at the picture!  He embraces us when we sin!

It is we who fight Him.  It is we who fight the solution.  The only answer is to surrender to His love.

Surrender our unforgiveness.  Surrender our hatred.  Surrender our hateful thoughts.  Surrender our disordered desires for things that do not give us life, both material and spiritual! Surrender our anger.  

Jesus is always there waiting for us.  He has conquered all of this through His death on the Cross.  He looked at the ones hurting Him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Through Him, with Him, and in Him…we can do this too.  At the Cross his Divine Mercy flows pro multis.

St. Thérèse, St. Teresa Benedicta, and St. Elisabeth of the Trinity on the Eucharist (or lack thereof)…

Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire; but, Lord, are you not all-powerful?
Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate yourself from your little victim (St. Thérèse, Oblation to Merciful Love).

During the time of St. Thérèse (1873-1897) the approval and encouragement of the practice of frequent Holy Communion was not yet promulgated (Pope St. Pius X, 1905). St. Thérèse understood well, because of her closeness to God through prayer and sacred reading, the holy and divine indwelling.

The truth of the divine indwelling was promoted by another Carmelite saint, St. Elisabeth of the Trinity. Here I have linked to an article by Dr. Anthony Lilles, who is an expert in Carmelite spirituality. I encourage all to read the links associated with these saints.

What is the truth we can know and believe through these examples? Jesus is as close to us as our minds are willing to turn to Him, despite our current inability to receive Him in the Eucharist. I say this as encouragement, not only to you, the reader, but to myself.

Finally, another Carmelite saint, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942), was without the Eucharist for another reason: she was held captive by the Nazis and died at Auchwitz. Here is her opinion on the matter: “We are very calm and cheerful. Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within” (Written from Westerbork transit camp, August 1942). She was gassed on 9 August, 1942.

The greater our longing, the greater our opportunity to begin to understand how God has placed Himself in our hearts. Let us live in the longing, pray into it, with the hope of once again receiving our Lord in Holy Communion. Soon.

Scriptures to pray with:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

‘Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed,  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”‘ (Lk 17:20-21).

“But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:17, 19).

The Resurrection of Lazarus

“This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (Jn 11:4).

The entire life and work of Christ is between the two poles of the Incarnation, which we remember in the Annunciation celebration of March 25, and the Paschal Mystery, which we soon celebrate during Holy Week beginning on Holy Thursday.  Throughout His life and ministry Jesus repeatedly shows us His power over all things, and in this seventh sign in the Gospel of John, He shows His power over death.  It was the Original Sin of Adam that brought illness and death to the entire world and all its inhabitants. Through this Gospel story we see the necessary reality and mystery of tension in the spiritual life.

What do I mean by the mystery of tension?  It is the mystery of God coming into our weakness to make us strong. 

This mystery is what propels us to be better, to live life to the fullest!  Consider an analogy: swimming for a world record.  The goal of the “red line” (see video) is always before the swimmer.  The swimmer does everything in his power physically and mentally to prepare himself to swim his best — the world record is always in front of him!  This analogy is a sign for us of what a determined human being can accomplish; yet, once the world record is reached, there is always another one to be achieved.

Life in Christ is no different.  Jesus performed seven signs in the Gospel of John, each building on the other, each fulfilling a prophecy and/or a feast of the Old Testament.  Through these signs He shows that He alone is the fulfillment of all of our hopes and dreams, the healer of all our emotional hurts and physical maladies.  He has even conquered death.

When Jesus learned about the illness of Lazarus He said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (Jn 11:4). This can be compared to the “Happy Fault” of Adam that the Church proclaims in the Exsultet, “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” 

My prayer for today is to participate in God’s glory by inviting Him into my weaknesses, my sorrow over world events, my lack of faith and hope, and my lack of love for others.  These illnesses within me are not unto death.  God is glorified through them as I implore Him to heal me, to open my heart to His love, to turn my sorrow into JOY!

Lectio Divina for 03/28/20

The readings for today are found at the USCCB website.

The readings today have everything to do with the battle in the heart.   Jeremiah, through the Holy Spirit speaking to his spirit, says, “I knew their plot because the LORD informed me…” (Jer 11:18a). He trusted the Lord, but still had not realized the extent of the plots against him.  Regardless, he obeyed the Lord and trusted Him, the LORD who spoke to his heart.

Does God speak to everyone in their hearts?  Absolutely.  Even the evil ones, who hatch plots against the Lord’s holy ones? (cf. Jer 11:19, Ps 7:2-3). Yes. 

The contrast between the evil ones and the holy ones is also presented in the Gospel. God speaks, but they do not hear Him, because they have cut themselves off from His word with their hardness of heart.  Their intellects can no longer be informed by the information presented outside of them, because what is within them is defiled and refuses to hear.  Our human intellects are darkened as a consequence of our sins until we cannot even see, much less understand, the Truth.

We see this very clearly in the Gospel for today.  The most interesting contrasts are between the guards and the elite, and then Nicodemus, (who is one of “the Jews”), and the elite.  The elite are those jews who will not listen: the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the teachers and doctors of the law.  They sent the guards to bring Him, but even the guards were captivated by Truth; their hearts were open.  All it takes is a willingness on our part to believe; God will do the rest.  Nicodemus seemed to want to be a voice of reason, and unveils the irony and hypocrisy: “Shouldn’t we first hear what He has to say?”  After all, if they had asked the right questions, they would know that He was of David’s family and came from Bethlehem! 

This convicts me because I am faced with my own personal hardness of heart, the kind that will not even ask the right questions.  Perhaps this is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to give Jesus some last words that we do not hear in the other Gospels: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

None of us knows what we are doing, which is why we need a Savior.  None of us is well, but many of us think we are.  We cling to the law that is outside of ourselves, but if we do this, it can harden our hearts.  Jesus fulfills the law with Life and Love.  He says to the person in front of Him, “I love you first and foremost.  Whatever you have done — I can and will forgive.  Whatever your burdens are —  I can and will carry them.  Whatever ails you — I can and will heal.”

And then He says, “You just need to let me.”