UPHELD, EMPOWERED, BLESSED
Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism(C)
January 10, 2010
Today’s solemnity closes the Christmas season and opens ordinary time once more. Although the malls and the air-lanes (TV and radio), based as both are on a popular, highly commercialized version of what they call the “holiday season” (for what purpose and end only they know), have effectively ended Christmas after Christmas day, the liturgical Christmas season actually extended up until yesterday.
Last week, Epiphany Sunday, we referred to the ultimate star that ought to direct the tenor of our lives. We also reflected on how the mystery of the newborn Jesus was “unveiled” or “revealed” to the whole world, represented by the Magi who came from the east bringing three symbols attached to that mystery, more than gifts to a newborn babe. The Magi were prophetic in their own right, who looked far beyond mere appearances and saw mystery unfolding before their eyes, with the help of divine guidance represented by the star that they dutifully followed.
People on pilgrimage, people out in search for truth, for life and for meaning, that is, for something that deeply matters to them, are willing to go through anything, hardships and all. It is no accident that the English word “travel” actually is related to “travail,” which evokes hard work, even pain! An ancient medieval advice to travelers puts it so nicely: “Pass by that which you do not love!” (There was little love lost between the Magi and the insecure and envious King Herod, but they passed by him anyway!)
Today, Baptism of the Lord, we are face to face with an extension and further deepening of the truth about this “unveiling.” The Father Himself takes to the task of “presenting” His Son to the world. No longer through symbols like the brightly lit star, God Himself comes down “bodily.” “The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
A “Trinitarian conspiracy” at the service of salvific truth took place. There is both “emotion and commotion” from within the bosom of the Trinity, thus leading to a self-revelation of God in His nature and in His threefold personhood! People were in deep expectant emotion, courtesy of the humble and selfless ministry of John the Baptist. He, too, was an instrument of this unfolding unveiling. “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” And after their own baptism by water, led by the one who pointed them to the ultimate baptism in the Spirit, the Divine and human commotion took place: “heaven was opened” and the Holy Spirit descended! God’s self-revelation, His “coming” (the 64 dollar theological word for this is “irruption”) to the world of ordinary, mortal women and men, brought about a lot more of this “emotion” and “commotion.” (Remember the commotion that took place in that other “epiphanistic” event called the wedding at Cana, when everyone marveled and murmured when water was changed into wine?)
If you believe, as I do, that “love is a joyful trembling,” (K.Gibran) then we ought not to wonder at all this healthy commotion. Love is trembling happiness, and anyone who is face to face with an experience of such a salvific and loving self-revelation of an eminently loving God cannot help but tremble and mumble in glee and wonder. And the beautiful thing is this: God Himself was no stranger to this normal flow of unending glee and happiness. Like a proud father on the day of his beloved son’s christening, His words are pregnant with the same emotion and commotion: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God the Father gets down to being in His best element – dispensing a “blessing” to His only begotten Son! Blessing!
This is God at His best. This, the Bible says, is God at His most creative, redemptive, merciful best! The world and everything in it came to be on account of His “original blessing.” “And God saw that it was good…” “Let there be light… let there be life…” God’s infinite utterance – His Divine blessing (benediction, in Latin, which literally means, to say something good, to speak well of), brought forth the world and life in all its forms. God’s Word came to be, including the Word Incarnate. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” (Jn 1:1) “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us!” (Jn 1:14)
Today, God does His best once more giving a “blessing” of approval, affirmation and loving presentation to His Son, Jesus Christ. God, to use limping human terms, essentially gives His Son the needed headstart and a gentle push before he embarks on his mission, on his public life. A blessing, indeed, as we see all too clearly and repeatedly in both the Old and the New Testaments, creates the reality uttered. The word, as ancient Hebrews rightly believed, is endowed with power. The word can make or unmake us and others. The word, once uttered, can make for healing or for destruction, for life or for death.
It might do us good to think about the ways “blessings” or their opposite, “curses,” play a role in our lives. Apart from God’s original blessing given to all of creation, we also received personal blessings from the same God. In our own baptism, we too were launched into life and our own mission “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At confirmation, we were “blessed” and fortified with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven powerful “words” that effect what they mean. In the Eucharist, as we “bless the Lord, God of all creation,” we are blessed and touched both sacramentally and physically by the healing touch of Christ hidden in the form of bread and wine.
The words that accompany the sacrament are filled with life-giving emotion and commotion: “He who eats of this bread and drinks of this blood will have life everlasting.” “Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood.” The Lord God has blessed us and still blesses us into life!
Back in 1994, David Blankenhorn warned Americans: “America runs the risk of becoming a fatherless generation.” Not only America, but the rest of the world needs to think about this statement very deeply. It is, in my opinion, not so much the lack of fathers in our society that is at the bottom of so many societal problems, as the lack of “blessing” from parent or authority figures. There is so much listlessness and restlessness in the world today. People go around without a clear sense of bearings and direction. People seem to be adrift in a sea of uncertainty. One sign of this is the so-called phenomenon of the prolongation of youth, the prolongation of adolescence. And this is due as much to the absence of fathers and mothers as to the lack of blessing from either, or both. At the rate we hear young and old people alike not only “dissing” one another, especially elders and those in authority, but also downright cursing and badmouthing each other, (in TV shows and movies, just about every other word is a “cuss” word, or at the very least an “f” word!), one wonders whether good, old Biblical “blessing” that leads to life and health has been sacrificed on the altar of what’s current, cute and convenient.
“O Bless the Lord, my soul!” This is our very short response to today’s first reading. This is nothing but a fitting response to a God who blessed us and still blesses us to life, to healing, to forgiveness and to peace. This is the way to go for one who has been surprised by God’s love and blessing. This is the “emotion and commotion” of one who has been favored by God in ways that go beyond one’s wildest dreams. Steindl-Rast says something so apropos this interior commotion that ought to be in our hearts: “An inch of surprise leads to a mile of gratefulness.” “O bless the Lord, my soul. Bless His holy name!”