Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baptism of the Lord-"What is God like?"

(Feast of the Baptism of the Lord; This homily was given on 11 January, 2009 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Mark 1:7-11)

What do you think God is like? If you could sit down with God and ask Him questions over a cup of coffee, what kinds of things would you discover? What are His likes and dislikes? What moves Him? How does He love? These are the kinds of questions that have preoccupied the saints in every age.

The mystics in particular—St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena; not to mention St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi—they were consumed with finding the answers to those questions. Who is God? What is God’s nature? How can I know Him and have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with the living God?

Of course, we could never know the answers to those questions…ever…unless God Himself revealed them to us. At the core of our faith as Catholics is the belief in a God of revelation; the God who reveals Himself, makes Himself known in time and space, and in human history.

Certainly we can know that God exists from reason. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm and many others offer us proofs for the existence of God. It is perfectly reasonable and even accessible, this belief in a God who created the ordered universe that we live in. We can look at a beautiful sunset, or recognize that every winter—even one as cold and bitter as this one!—each year, is followed by spring…and it is always beautiful. We can know that God exists from reason.

But only through God’s own decision to reveal Himself can we know what He is like. Isn’t that what we have been celebrating for the past several weeks? God has revealed Himself in the Incarnation; we come to see the God who became man in the person of Jesus Christ. God, who chose a people for Himself—Israel—and revealed Himself to them; made a covenant of love with them, and promised to be their faithful spouse; God, who sent the prophets to call them back to fidelity to the covenant; this God ultimately promised them the Messiah, one who would rule over the House of David forever.

A few short weeks ago we celebrated the birth of that Messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of God born in Bethlehem. Last week we celebrated the Epiphany, God made manifest not only as the savior of Israel but the savior of all the nations of the world. We see that God, and then we have the answer to our questions. We know—through Jesus Christ—what God is like, how He loves, and what it means to have a deep and intimate relationship with Him.

We come here to a place like this, and listen to the Scriptures—the Old Testament and New Testament—we gather together as the Body of Christ; we come to this altar to receive the God who reveals Himself in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and we know what God is like. What an amazing gift, to be Catholic!

But there are dozens of people—in your life and in mine—that we encounter every week, who will never pick up a Bible and read about this God of revelation. There are dozens of people who will never come to this chapel or approach this altar for the Body and Blood of Christ. They will never know, as fully as God desires, the answers to the questions: What is God like? How much does He love us? How can I have a real and intimate relationship with Him? They will never know the answer to those questions…unless we tell them, and share that amazing news with them.

That is at the heart of the feast we are here to celebrate this morning: the Baptism of the Lord. We listen to St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Have you ever wondered why Jesus, the eternal and sinless Son of God, is being baptized? People were coming in from all over Palestine, repenting of their sins and beginning a new life with God. But Jesus is God, and He has no sins to repent from!

We could look to the Christian Sacrament of Baptism for clarification, for we know that two things happen whenever someone is baptized: the soul is cleansed of Original Sin, and the person is given new life in the Holy Spirit. But Jesus is born without Original Sin; furthermore, He does not need new life in the Holy Spirit because He is already one with the Holy Spirit, from all eternity!

So why is Jesus baptized? The fathers of the Church and our tradition clearly answer that question: He is baptized in the Jordan River for the same reason He became man in the first place: FOR US. Jesus, who took upon Himself our human nature in order to redeem us, now takes that same human nature and plunges it in the Jordan. He comes to cleanse us, and to reveal for us God’s perfect plan for our salvation. That is why He is baptized. That is why the Holy Spirit descends upon Him and He immediately begins His public ministry.

Christ sets out to teach, and preach, and suffer, and die, and rise again, FOR US. He has cut a path of holiness right through this world we live in, and now we are the ones—as His Body, the Church—who must follow in that path. That is what the saints have done, and we are called now to walk in their footsteps as they followed Christ.

Today we, who have been baptized into Jesus Christ, we who have received the anointing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation, are called to go forth, sent by the Father, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to make Christ known, to reveal Him in the world we live in. Are we ready to do that?

Because there are thousands of people in this world right now, many of them very close to us, people we see on a daily basis, who are longing for the answers to the questions that burn deep within the human heart:

Who is God? How does He love us? How can I have a real, deep, and intimate relationship with the living God?