Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Voice in Our Heart - Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord (2016)

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

A few years ago, when I was in the seminary, I was walking down one of the random hallways, reflecting. And in the middle of the hallway, I stopped. This verse hit me. God was saying it to me:

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

We all know well the age in which we live: an age of critique and criticism where we are more agile in tearing down than building up. It is so easy to focus on what is wrong and what needs fixing in others and in ourselves that, really, does anyone feel “beloved”? I mean, when was the last time someone told you that they were “well pleased” with you?

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Just over two weeks ago, we celebrated Christmas, that day when Jesus our Savior was born. On that day, we see that God has entered into the darkness of our lives and has shined His radiant light; He is not distant, but indeed has come very close: so close that His divinity is married to our humanity. Today, this same Jesus, now a young man of thirty years, enters into the Jordan River, the portal to the heavenly Promised Land, and plunges into those historic waters our frail humanity. After He does this, something profound happens: the Holy Spirit comes upon Him and a voice from heaven is heard: This is my Son.

This voice that we are hearing is the heavenly Father’s voice, the voice that reveals His heart’s love for His Son. This is for our benefit: that we may know the dignity of Jesus.

But notice: Jesus has taken upon Himself our humanity. When the Father looks with love upon Jesus, the Father looks with love upon all our humanity, too. The voice, then, speaks not only to Jesus, but to you and to me:

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

This is at the heart of Jesus’ gospel proclamation: that we may know the Father’s love and return to Him in love. Hence, Jesus’ parable about the Prodigal Son returning to the Father—the definitive expression of which is God the Father tenderly receiving His Son, Jesus, as He hangs upon the Cross. Here is where the relationship with God and man is definitively reconciled.

But because this relationship is not simply corporate but personal, Jesus emphasizes the importance of Baptism. Indeed, His final words while He walked on earth were:

“Go, and make disciples of all nations… baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:20).

Baptism, therefore, is the personal application of the graces won by Jesus’ crucifixion and offering to the Father—such that, when we come up out of the waters of Baptism, the Father no longer sees our brokenness; rather, the Father looks at us and sees His Son with whom He is well pleased. You have become another Christ!

Therefore, the same love which the Father has for His Son is now the love that the Father has for you. St. Paul expounds on this when he says:

Brothers and sisters… you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ… (Romans 8:15-17).

This is to fulfill what we heard on Christmas morning, that

to all who received him, who believed in his name, [Jesus] gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

This is the heart of Baptism: that we are given a new birth as a new creation, in a new relationship, as a child to God our Father.

*          *          *

What does this mean for us in day-to-day life?

Well, it is so easy to fall into the way of thinking that says that “I have to be somebody in order to be loved.” Or, “When I’m successful, then I’ll be loved.” Or—on the other side of the coin—“I’m a loser, nobody loves me. How could anybody love me?” It is so easy to fall into that trap that says that I have to earn God’s love—that, until I choose it or “be good” or “be holy”—only then will I be loved.

But our Father already loves you! You are already His beloved child! You don’t have to earn or win His love! I mean, do your children have to win your love? So, why do we place that on God? Perhaps it’s because we consider Him more as a Force than as a Father. Isn’t Star Wars really a story about Fathers and Sons?

I will admit: this is one of the hardest teachings for some of us to hear—harder than any of the “hot button” teachings. Throughout our culture, we hear the message that your dignity is tied up with what you do, what you own, and what you achieve.

But you are chosen. You are beloved.

This is, actually, one of the reasons that the Church baptizes infants. Baptism isn’t firstly about us choosing God. It’s about Him choosing us. Before we could even choose, the Father looked upon us and said, “I want you. I want you above all else.”

This actually makes Him more of a Father than our biological fathers. Our dads didn’t really have a choice in us. Ok, yes, to some degree, they did—but they didn’t know that they would get you, the all of you, the teenage you, the grown up you and everything in-between.

But God the Father did. And He chose you anyway. Because your are His child. And He loves you.

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Children long to please their parents—even when we don’t realize it. Children really do long to make you, parents, happy. In our culture, however, there are many miserable children walking around thinking that they aren’t good enough, and that their dignity is tied up with whether they get an A or whether they become a Somebody.

When I get a chance to take a child aside—whether in the hallway or in the confessional or on the playground—and I tell them that I’m proud of them… this has such an incredible impact. I’m realizing more and more that our young children have never heard these words: “I’m proud of you.” Or, “Hey, you’re doing a good job.”

And sure, we can be of that culture that says that there are a multitude of things that our children are doing wrong. Sure, we could focus on that.

But notice the Father of the Prodigal Son. Even after that son had done horrible things and walked away, the Father still loved His son. These are Jesus’ words! So, when the son returned, the Father didn’t focus on what was wrong; He focused on him whom He loved! “My son was lost and is found! He was dead and is now alive!”

The Father is so pleased to have His son back!

When we emerge from the confessional, this is what our Father says to us! Even after we have confessed all of our worst stuff; even after we point out all the things that we have done wrong; even as we are saying “Father, I don’t deserve to be loved” and so on—even as we do that, the Father places His hand under our chin, and looks at us with love, and says, “My child, you are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Can you imagine if we lived everyday with those words in our heart?

I think we would be a more peaceful people. I think we would be more confident-- and less concerned about the frivolous pursuits on which we so often spend our lives. We would be stronger— and less swayed by the crowds of people or our own thoughts that keep replaying how horrible we are. I think that if we really took a moment and received these words into our hearts, we would be more likely to love and less likely to sin. We would live in this embrace.

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

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