3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

In the first reading today, from the book of Nehemiah, the Hebrew people are returning to the city of Jerusalem. The city has been devastated by invaders and it’s in ruins. Think about the people who live along the Meramec River who are trying to rebuild their lives after the devastating floods. Everything is gone and now they have to rebuild.

 

Nehemiah, who was a priest, has called the people together, men, women, and children old enough to understand. He’s reading to them from the Torah, the first books of what we now call the Old Testament. You might say it’s kind of a pep rally. Nehemiah wants to motivate the people for the huge task that lays before them. The job seems almost impossible. I imagine it was a lot like Monsignor Hessoun speaking to the parishioners here at Saint John Nepomuk after the tornado of 1896 destroyed their beautiful church. The people needed inspiration.

 

So, here’s Nehemiah, speaking to the people. He stands on a wooden platform that’s been built for the occasion, and he reads to them from the Holy scrolls. Notice that he spoke from dawn until noon, about six hours. Think about that! In our world, if mass runs much more than 45 minutes, people start looking at their watches.

 

But the Hebrew people weren’t watching the time. They weren’t in a hurry. They were listening to the words of the Torah. It’s their history; their story. How did they respond? They wept! They shouted, “Amen! Amen!” It must have been quite a moment.

 

The Jews, God’s chosen people, needed to be reminded of who they were. Are we that different? Don’t we need to be reminded of who we are? Isn’t that one of the reasons we come to mass every week? As Christians, these stories are our stories. But, I imagine that if I invited you to come and listen to six hours of scripture readings, I might be here by myself. In our modern age we’ve been conditioned to experience the world in sound bites. We may have around-the-clock news coverage on television and on the Internet, but most of us are lucky to sit through a half hour evening newscast, and that includes sports and weather and eight minutes of commercials. We always seem to be in a rush.

 

When was the last time you wept in church? Maybe at a wedding or funeral, but the typical mass usually doesn’t cause people to break out in tears unless the homily is really bad (or long). But as Bishop Robert Barron says, “If we stop hearing the stories we forget who we are; who we are as Catholics.”

 

As Catholics, we have a wonderful heritage.

But in the last fifty years the Church has tried to become more mainstream, more transparent, and I think we’ve lost something. Take a look at this church. We have a lot of visitors and they usually can’t get over how beautiful it is. They don’t build churches like this anymore. So-called “modern churches” look more like gymnasiums than places of worship. We’re very blessed to have the privilege of worshipping in a traditional, CATHOLIC church.

 

Of course God lives in the more modern places, but this chapel is our heritage. It’s our history. It’s a place our ancestors gave their time, talent, and treasure to build, not once, but twice. When we come here we’re reminded of the thousands of people who have worshipped here before us, and the statues and windows remind us of all the saintly men and women who built our Catholic faith over the centuries.

 

What does the future hold? Who knows? I do know that things have to change. Look around at all the empty seats. That’s a trend, not just at our chapel, but throughout the Catholic Church and other churches too. So many people just don’t see the need to worship the God who created them. We’re surrounded by sin. This weekend marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. MILLIONS of innocent children have been murdered in their mother’s wombs. And, according to a recent poll, 50 PERCENT of Americans think that’s OK.

 

We’re shocked and scandalized when a child loses her life from a stray bullet in a shoot-out in our city, and we should be outraged, but when thousands of kids lose their lives in a single day at the hands of the abortionists, half of us think it’s a “women’s health” issue. It’s just a choice. And even those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life don’t do anything to make the killing stop. We shake our heads and say it’s a shame, but other than this one weekend a year, it’s not even on our radar screens. Come this November, many of us will vote to elect pro-abortion politicians, even though we know better.

 

In the second reading, Paul talks about the body having many parts and how no one part is more important than any other. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

 

John Henry Newman said that the Church “is not an organization. It’s an organism.” That pretty much sums up the message today. Don’t ignore your history. Don’t be afraid to speak out when our faith is under attack. Don’t remain silent while our future is taken away from us in the abortion mills. Choose carefully when it’s time to vote.

 

Know your faith and live your faith. When the time comes for our final judgment, we all want to hear the words from Luke’s Gospel that we heard just two weeks ago on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord; “You are my beloved son (or daughter); with you I am well pleased.”

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Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. We’ve heard the story lots of times. John’s baptizing at the river and Jesus gets in line along with everyone else. But, why? He was the Son of God. He came down from heaven and would soon go back. Why did He need to baptized? And why do we commemorate it today?

 

First, the answer is that He didn’t need it. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but you and I needed Him to be baptized. Saint Maximus of Turin, one of the Church Fathers, wrote “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy.”

 

If you remember your grade school science you know that water evaporates, forms clouds, and returns to earth. The cycle repeats itself over and over. The wind blows the clouds so that the water that evaporates in one place comes down somewhere else. Eventually every drop of water on earth is connected to every other drop. When Jesus made the water of the Jordan holy, he made all water holy.

 

Obviously Jesus thought baptism was very important. In John’s Gospel He said, “Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s Gospel he tells the Apostles, “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is our response to Christ.

Jesus died and rose from the dead to defeat death, to save all of us from our sins. But what He does today makes it possible for us individually to be one of his people. Baptism is the beginning of our journey of faith. Jesus’ seemingly unnecessary decision to be baptized by John, someone “not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals”, is actually the beginning of OUR journey of faith.

 

So, why do we celebrate Jesus’ baptism today? Today is officially the end of the Christmas season. Over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated Advent, the time to prepare for Christ’s coming. Then we celebrated His birth on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family on the following weekend.

 

On January 1 we celebrated Mary, the Mother of God followed by the feast of the Epiphany last weekend. We end this holy season by remembering the great gift Jesus gave us; the gift of baptism. In it’s own way, this feast is extremely important and it’s appropriate that we celebrate it at the end of the Christmas season.

 

This year there’s a very short time between Christmas and Lent. Ash Wednesday is February 10, just a month away. But it’s a long month. The days are short. The weather’s not so great. It’s easy to get discouraged and to forget the blessings of the season that ends today.   But the feast we celebrate today reminds us that this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of our life in Christ.

 

Chances are most of us were baptized as infants. Our parents and godparents stood in for us in making our baptismal promises. But those promises, promises we made to God, are just as valid today as they were on our baptismal day.

 

As baptized Christians we reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises. That’s what Satan does. He makes us empty promises. “Do this and this will happen.” But we should know by now that his promises aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on. And we, or our parents speaking on our behalf, promise to reject those promises. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Today, in lieu of the Creed, I’ve asked Father to lead us in renewing these promises.

 

Let’s let today be a reminder that we’re all part of God’s family, His children and brothers and sisters of His Son. We share baptism with Jesus. Water didn’t make Him holy. He made the water holy and by doing that, He made us holy.

 

After Jesus had been baptized heaven opened up and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son and with you I am well pleased.” I don’t know about you, but when I meet God face to face, I hope to hear those same words.