Change of name for Simon. Change of address for the first 4 Apostles. Change of occupation for all of them, eventually. Change of life, for all who follow him. Not just the 12.
In what’s called the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (synoptic meaning similar), Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee, finding two sets of brothers. And to each of them he says, “Follow me.” And they do follow him, all the way to their own martyrdom. Peter in Rome; others throughout the known world, except for John we believe, who died a natural death. They follow and they never let go. They got lost at times, like we do. They lacked faith at times, like we probably have when difficulty sets in. They abandoned him in his hour of trial, for a short time. Maybe we have too. But they follow Jesus until the cows come home.
In John’s Gospel, the scene differs. Two disciples, only one whose name is given, that being Andrew, hear the words of John the Baptist. They are probably disciples of John, standing there around 4:00 in the afternoon (I love it when the Gospel gets that precise!), so they are most likely returning from their day jobs of fishing, coming to John their leader. They happen to be in close enough proximity – things happen for a reason – to hear the words of the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This gets their attention. So, like good spies, they begin to follow the Person John spoke about.
Jesus notices they are following him in the same way we would notice a State Trooper following us on the highway. All of a sudden we slow down to the speed limit. So Jesus turns on his siren, I mean, Jesus turns around and calls them on their following him. “What are you looking for?” They don’t make very good spies.
“What are you looking for?” A relevant question for all of us as we come here to Immaculate Conception up on the hill. Are you looking for some spiritual fulfillment? Are you just looking to fulfill another Sunday obligation? Are you looking to be moved by the Spirit of God through the Scriptures, and receive the Bread of Life in the Eucharist? Are you looking to be healed and comforted as a result of some pain and suffering? Are you looking for God’s mercy and forgiveness? Are you looking to be lifted up? “What are you looking for?” Jesus is asking.
The disciples’ answer, one of whom is Andrew, is, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” What’s your address? We want to come to your house. We want to spend time with you. We want to get to know you. We want to hang out with you. We want to see what you’re all about with those words of John, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Let us get close to you, Rabbi.
What a great answer to Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Very different from Jesus walking along the shore, spotting the ones he wanted, and saying, “Follow me.” Or, walking by a tax collector’s table, or a UPS truck, and saying, “Leave that occupation behind and follow me. I have a new address for you. The new address is called, “The world.”
Here, the first two disciples take the initiative. The Spirit is moving them already towards their new address and new occupation.
From our taking the initiative, we see one of the many exciting aspects of following our Lord. Not waiting for him to come by our boat and take us away from all that is routine and comfortable and all that we know and love. That happens to a select few, where God demands much, much more from those to be included in the Communion of Saints. Pope Francis was taken out of Argentina, never to return to his native country. And if by chance he ever does return, it can never be in the same capacity.
But our taking the initiative in our faith lives; following Jesus when we think he isn’t looking or paying attention to us, such initiative will lead us to what I call the wonderful uncertainty of Christian Living. How is our name going to change from Simon to St. Peter? From Mary to St. Mary? From Joanne to St. Joanne? From Stephen to St Stephen? From Joseph to St. Joseph?
Because when we take the initiative of following our Lord to see where he’s going, even when he isn’t looking, we will be handed countless opportunities in the routine of our daily lives to reveal our Christian faith out there on the streets, in our homes, at our places of labor.
One of the more exciting parts of being a diocesan priest – and there are many exciting parts – is that every day looks different. We have what I would call a semi-routine. We’re not in the same solid routine as those guys who wear the long holy robes up in Spencer. They have a routine that comes from St. Benedict, especially getting their beer out to the local markets now. But a diocesan priest, a parish priest, has a routine that can and will change very quickly. I find that to be fulfilling. Challenging at times, but fulfilling. With that said, don’t start calling me at 3:00 in the morning, unless you really need to.
Taking the initiative to follow the Lamb of God is an approach to our faith that keeps us on our toes. It may keep us guessing; “What is God sending next?” It keeps us awake, for Jesus says don’t fall asleep waiting for me. Otherwise, we will run out of oil for our lamp.
Taking the initiative like Andrew and the other unnamed disciple, who could be seen as each one of us, it benefits our lives in that we avoid spiritual indifference and becoming complacent with our faith in Jesus Christ. Such indifference is one of the most prevalent sins of our time. This attitude of settling for much less than what Jesus offers us. Rather, walking in the footsteps of Andrew, and following that Man, takes initiative.
“What are you looking for?” A great question that will dog our lives until the time we appear before God. An excellent question by Jesus that will upset the routine of our daily living, in the best of ways. A question that brings joy in this world, and lasting joy when we follow him to our death. A question that will lead to a change of address, a change of name, a change of occupation, and a change of life. This is what happens when we live for the Lord first and follow him.
It was most likely a vision for the eyes of John the Baptist alone; the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descending upon Jesus. coming to rest on the head of our Lord.
John witnessed this incredible approval from on high taking place right before him. He must have at least thought, “Gee, this is the most impressive Baptism I have performed since I came here to the Jordan calling all of Israel to repentance and conversion. Of all the many I’ve baptized, I’ve never encountered such power of approval. The heaven torn open, the Spirit like a dove. Resting on this man from Nazareth by way of a Bethlehem birth. This is pretty cool.”
Probably like the waters of the Jordan River; pretty cool. I’ll bet that will be our first reaction when arrive in heaven too; we’ll look around, take it in for a moment and say, “Gee, this is pretty cool.”
All baptisms are special and unique in their own rite. When one has the great pleasure of baptizing a number of infants and young folks throughout the course of a given year, it’s always a joy to notice the reaction of the parents, grandparents, and many friends when the ceremony arrives at the point of the actual Baptism. Reactions that must match in intensity and awe the reaction of John the Baptist after he baptized Jesus. The reaction of joy, happiness, spiritual fulfillment, the presence of heaven around the font.
I do like our font here, but, quite honestly, I can’t wait to be in a parish that has a baptismal pool. To take the child and baptize them in the same way Jesus was baptized; total immersion. Even in the midst of all the joy present at a child’s Baptism, I still sense at times that the parents of the child may be thinking at the time of the Baptism, “I hope Fr. Riley doesn’t get cold water all over the face of my son/daughter. If he does that, they might start crying. And then I won’t be able to get them to stop crying.”
However, if Fr. Riley causes the infant to cry at the baptismal font because of too much cold water on the face, then, as Pope Francis recently said, the tears of a child in Church are the tears of Jesus. “Cry away,” I say, “Cry away!”
What I’d really like to do is immerse them entirely in the holy water, to cover every square inch of their bodies with holy water, so that no part of them is left untouched by the waters of our section of the Jordan River. Just like Jesus.
Which is probably why, as much as I love baptizing the infants, I might secretly love just a little more baptizing adults at the Easter Vigil. Which it appears we will have a couple this year, thanks be to God. The reason being for loving it a bit more, when I baptize the infants, I use the tiny shell so the parents don’t get mad at me for making their children cry. But when I baptize adults, the tiny shell gets put aside for the large bucket. And the large bucket gets filled for each Person of the Trinity. “In the name of the Father (large dose of water on the head), and of the Son (another large dose), and of the Holy Spirit ( a 3rd large dose). See the difference? Even with all that, Jesus still gets wetter than the adults at the Easter Vigil. Unless I had a pool. Maybe I’ll rent one.
The celebration of our Lord’s Baptism is the hinge between the Christmas Season and back to the green colors of Ordinary Time, which begins tomorrow. As we shift gears in the Church calendar for early 2015, Jesus’ Baptism by John is an invitation for us to reflect on the immensity of our own Baptism, an event many of us do not remember. But fortunately, remembrance in not necessary when living out the meaning of our respective baptisms. What is necessary is trust.
We trust that our parents brought us to the Church. We trust that our Baptism was valid. We trust that we have been incorporated into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We trust that the moment after the water was poured on our little heads with the Trinitarian formula spoken, we trust that the sky was rent open, and the Spirit came to rest on us like a dove. We trust that we became members of the Body of Christ at that most holy moment. And all this trust is given to the Sacrament that many of us don’t remember. But it’s far less an amount of trust than believing that Jesus is raised from the dead, and so are we.
Baptism is our natural progression in our Christian faith after the Epiphany. Last week we celebrated our entrance into the presence of Jesus. The Magi were guided by a star, bypassing and circumventing the darkness of Herod, and arriving in the presence of the Light in Bethlehem. They refused and skirted the darkness of evil, and they continued traveling until they found the Light of the World. When they arrived at the place, what did Matthew’s Gospel tell us? They entered the house where they found Mary the Mother and her child. They entered the presence of Jesus to worship and do him homage. In their entering through the door of that house, in their walking through that door, they took all us Gentiles with them. That was our first big step of coming to Christ. The Magi took that step for us, guided by heaven’s star.
The next natural step after meeting Jesus is to be incorporated into his Body, the Church. And this is our joyful celebration today. We celebrate water being poured on our heads, whether we cried or not. We rejoice that our parents made the proper choice of bringing us to the 2nd big step of coming to Christ called Baptism, in the same way the Magi introduced us to Jesus. From the Magi to our parents, we’re introduced to the Lord to be his disciples.
In Jesus’ Baptism we reflect on our own. In such holy reflection, may we always accept the gift that has been given to us by others who have lovingly placed us on a path of eternal happiness. There’s an awful lot to trust at the beginning in our coming to Christ. But God was working through those people. Even in their imperfections, God was guiding them. May we forever be grateful for such grace and good direction.
Due to inclement weather, our religious education classes have been cancelled for Sunday, January 4. MASS IS STILL ON AT 7:30 & 10:00 a.m.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Those are words that any earthly king – like Herod – would be cause for them to shake in their golden boots. Normally, with such words spoken in the presence of Herod – “searching for the new king, wanting to do him homage” – the reaction of a crazy man like Herod would normally be, “See those three funny looking guys who just traveled across the desert with all those fine gifts, chop their heads off!”
They’re called the Three Wise Men. But just how wise is it to approach a king and tell him you’re looking, not for him, but for a newborn king? And that you want to worship, not the old king you’re speaking to, but rather this infant king you haven’t even met yet? How wise is it of the Three Wise Men? Not wise at all, if you wish to live to see the next day. Or even the rest of that day when they stood before Herod. It would like standing before the dictator of North Korea and saying, “Excuse me Kim Jong, I’ve come to give worship, not to you, but to another dictator who happens to be your enemy. Could you tell me how to find him?” When I read this Gospel again and again, I still can’t believe that Herod let them go.
But, very uncharacteristic for Herod, he did indeed let them go. He pretends not to be threatened by the Magi who appear before him with the deepest desire in their stirring hearts to worship – not him – but a baby born in Bethlehem. The newborn king of the Jews.
Herod must have thought at minimum, “I’m Jewish, and I’m a King. But these three foreigners want nothing to do with me!” And, for once in his life, he’s right. The only thing the three wise guys want from him is to be pointed in the right direction. “Where is Bethlehem? Show us the way to Bethlehem. Because in Bethlehem we will find the words of Isaiah, ‘Your light has come.’ It is there that we will find the words, ‘Upon you the Lord shines.’”
Of course, they couldn’t say all that to Herod, unless they wanted their heads chopped off. They said only enough that would cause Herod to lead them to their desired destination of light, and remove themselves from their present destination of darkness. For to stand in the presence of Herod was to stand in the presence of darkness. He was ruthless, like the North Korean guy. But to be in the presence of the newborn king of the Jews, and to kneel and do homage in the presence of the child in Bethlehem, was to be, and is to be, in the presence of light.
We can see the Holy Spirit working in the midst of this encounter between the Magi and Herod, just as the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in the midst of our lives. The Magi had no business leaving the presence of Herod alive. They insulted him with their words, basically telling him that he was not worthy of our praise and worship. And the forces of darkness are not worthy of our praise and worship. The slander, the gossip, the addictions, the lack of forgiveness, the self-centeredness, the absence of love. If we choose to cooperate with such ways of darkness, we worship and give praise to Herod. But when we attend to the poor, the unborn, the sick and dying, the needy, when we practice mercy and forgiveness, when we build up others verbally or physically, when we give hope and a future to others, we give praise and worship to the newborn king of the Jews, whose light has come into our world and into our hearts.
The Spirit was working that day to hold Herod back from what his evil instincts would normally tell him to do, and the good power of God – the power of light – in that moment prevailed over the power of darkness.
And it’s a good thing it did, because those three visitors from afar, in their visit to the house where they found Mother and child, they took us with them. In a sense, at stake in their arriving safely in Bethlehem was our own understanding and capacity to worship the light, instead of being destroyed in the presence of darkness. God did not allow that to happen. The Spirit is very kind, wise, and so good.
The Magi, in their reaching Bethlehem through the Spirit’s protection, made us, as St. Paul writes in Ephesians, “coheirs.” We are, by virtue of their arriving at the birth scene, “Copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” That’s the Good News. That we, us Gentiles, have been elevated from the ways of darkness and sin to the presence of light and holiness. This is all God’s doing. We should have been as dead as the Magi confronting Herod, telling him they want to be in the presence of the light that has come into the world, and not in his darkness. Talk about fortitude! But we are not dead. We survived the confrontation and conversation with Herod.
What that survival has done is that it has opened the door wide, it has burst the door open, it has shattered the door that was closed to us Gentiles, and has opened it to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that we have walked through that door in our Baptism and Confirmation, and entered the world of God Most High. That we are living past the entrance to that door, and not on the previous side of it.
In our faith, in our relationships, in our choices, in our daily living, in all that we do, we are commanded by Jesus to live in his light. And that our lives will reflect the joy of having walked through that door opened for us by Three Wise Men who came to do homage, not to darkness, but to the light.
The Epiphany – the light going off in our heads and the light shining in our hearts – has made us coheirs with Christ, copartners with the Most High. We escaped the clutches of Herod through the Spirit’s protection. Let us always live lives for Christ in thanks to God for inviting us into His light.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” May he always be found at the center of our lives.