January 10, 2016

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2016, Year C

Baptism of the Lord

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

When did Jesus know who He really was? We can reasonably assume that as a little boy He grew into knowledge of who He was. Somewhere (and I am speaking here of Jesus in his human nature) He moved from being a little boy to being a young man and along the way He became aware of the fact that He had a unique relationship with our Father in heaven. In His maturation he came to know who He really was and that would determine His destiny in life.

We cannot possibly pinpoint when that realization came to full flower. But certainly at His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer He had in full measure that realization. Certainly at that moment, the one we just heard about in today’s Gospel account, He was committing Himself to the destiny that lay in front of Him. A booming voice from heaven proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.” Jesus knew that our heavenly Father had special plans for Him. But in His human nature He could not know all of the details of precisely how that would be worked out. Nevertheless, He made His commitment.

Making a commitment is the most important part of any great task that we undertake. But it’s not the only thing. We need to acquire education and knowledge. We need to practice and develop our skills. The highly challenging task of being a mother or a father draws up from deep within us everything we have. We don’t enter parenthood with an Operators Manual given us when a child is born. We get an Operators Manual when we buy a VCR but we certainly don’t get one with the birth of a child. And getting married and having a family is an adventure in which we are trained on the job. We can never adequately know ahead of time all what we’ll need to know in order to be good husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Certainly in the seminary I didn’t receive all that I needed in order to develop into being a reasonably decent priest. I’ve had to learn that while on the job (something that many people had to suffer!). 

But in spite of all that we may have or not have, the one thing that is absolutely essential is commitment. Nothing at all of lasting value happens without commitment. It may not be everything that’s needed, but it is the key element. Nothing else will work without it. And there’s nothing easy about commitment. The culture that surrounds us sends us many messages that work against the keeping of our commitments. I’m not saying that all movies and all TV shows are bad. There are really good movies about commitment and keeping one’s promises. But clearly our surrounding culture promotes self-interest, not self-sacrifice.

Thankfully we do, from time to time, come upon stories and accounts of heroic and noble men and women who honor their commitments no matter what it costs them. We hear of mothers and fathers who stay with their children through horrible sicknesses and terrible misfortunes, giving them their message of faithful and steadfast caring love. And we hear stories and accounts of men and women of great nobility and great character who, who at terrible costs to themselves, maintain their commitments to loved ones, to friends and to noble causes, all in great self-sacrifice.

Commitment is the key element of all noble adventures, wonderful discoveries, and heroic human deeds. Jesus started with it. So did Mary, His mother. Likewise St. Joseph remained faithful to his commitments. And we know that our children are better off in the caring love of committed amateurs than they would be with professionals, however skilled, who must only regard them as clients. But when you find a skilled professional who is at the same time give committed love… well, then you’ve really hit gold.

Casual friendships can be fun like we see on television. But they can, at the same time, be deadly. Think of how young men and women have been ravaged by superficial promises. Look at what happens to people who treat sexual intimacy as something that is merely casual and fun. The excitement of a casual and superficial life-style quickly leads to depression, a sense of emptiness, loss, degradation, and loss of the ability to trust and believe. Compare that sort of living with living in the joy of a genuine and loving true friendship, one filled with commitment. After all, when you stop and think about it, commitment and faith go together. Each builds up the other.

I’ve heard the life-stories of lots of people, true-life stories that make fictional novels pale by comparison. Running through those accounts are stories involving deep, loving commitment, stories that can make you cry. Usually these stories involve treatment by others who have a lot of misunderstanding, who are downright abusive, nasty, and even disgusting. In their stories there are heroes and heroines who suffer from the hostility and misunderstanding of others, who suffer abuse, rejection and terrible pain at the hands of others, and who nevertheless maintain their commitment to “be there” and to love in the face of terrible, heartbreaking rejection. In the end we find in some of these stories (far too few of them in my opinion) the question is put to the one who is heroically committed: “Why did you put up with what you suffered? Where did you get this commitment?” And then comes the quiet, tear-choked reply: “Because I loved… and hoped back then that eventually people would realize just how much I loved.”

Is there anyone here thinking of becoming a husband or a wife? Anyone here thinking of becoming a stepfather or a stepmother to another person’s child? Anyone here thinking of marriage? Anyone here thinking of becoming a priest? If you are, then begin with commitment. And if you’re talking with someone who is thinking about any noble endeavor tell him or her to start with commitment. Commitment isn’t everything. A lot of other things are needed in any success story. But commitment is the key element. Nothing else will work without it.

That’s why we have the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation. And that is also why Matrimony and Ordination are also sacraments. All of them are sacraments of commitment. They are holy moments, holy moments that fill us with the Spirit that anointed Jesus Christ who, in His commitment, saw the heavens open and heard a voice thundering: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests.”

Journey now back to your baptism. Open your ears once again. Hopefully you will hear the voice of God saying to you: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests. You are my beloved daughter and I will love you no matter what.” It is because of God’s commitment to us that we in turn can give committed love to others.

Baptism calls us to live lives like that.

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