Sunday, 11 January 2009

Baptism of the Lord Year B

Sometimes a pithy phrase can mean the world. “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”. Firstly, Psalm 2:7 is used for the coronation of the kings from the House of David. This verse in Psalm 2 is echoed in Mark as he points to Jesus as the Royal Messiah—the one anointed by God. Secondly, Isaiah 42:1 refers to the suffering servant who bears the infirmities of many and here, in Mark, Jesus becomes the Suffering Servant in whom God’s favour rests.

Just a voice from heaven at Baptism and Jesus is revealed as the Christ or Messiah and the Suffering Servant. St Paul in the letter to the Romans says, “When we were baptised, we were baptised into the death and resurrection of the Lord”. This means that baptism not only opens for us the gate to salvation—to the other 6 sacraments but baptism also imprints upon us, the very charisms of being the anointed of God and also His suffering servant. Put it in another way, baptism means that the path of Jesus from Calvary to the Resurrection will also become our path. In short, suffering is part and parcel of the resurrection.

Why must suffering be part and parcel of the resurrection? The 2nd Reading puts it rather well: We can be sure that we love God’s children if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us; this is what loving God is—keeping his commandments. If we keep his commandments, we know that there will be a price to be paid because in John 15, Jesus says, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too”.

We often think of vocation narrowly as vocation to the priestly or religious life. But vocation is more than being a nun or a priest. It is also to be married, to remain single or to be a professional. However, all these are what I would call “secondary” vocations. Our “primary” vocation is that of being called. Baptism is primarily the sacrament of calling because we are called to be sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Christ. It is only in embracing this primary vocation of being called that we begin to express it by becoming a nun, a husband and a father, a wife and a mother, a priest, a teacher, an accountant and etc.

Sometimes we forget that the secondary vocation is the embracing and living out of the primary vocation. What does it mean to embrace this primary vocation? In some countries, the sacrament of baptism has degenerated into a social event. Parents, as a matter of fact, baptise a child because it is the social convention. But if you look at the ritual of baptism, then you begin to understand that it is truly a sacrament which is the foundation of all else. The rite of baptism, properly celebrated takes place at the entrance of the church where the priest welcomes the parents of the child to be baptised and asks two questions. The first question asks the name of the child to be baptised; the name given must not conflict with the faith or recall anything unsavoury. The next question asks the parents what they want for their child. The appropriate answer is “faith”. And during the rite, the parents will be reminded of the faith that they are to hand on to their child. To baptise means that one takes seriously the responsibility of handing on the faith—it is handing on the faith of the Apostles upon which the entire Tradition of the Church rests.

Next week there is going to be a celebration of another sacrament, namely, the sacrament of confirmation. In the Catholic tradition of the Eastern Rite, confirmation is given to infants immediately after their baptism. In the tradition of the Latin Rite, this sacrament is conferred on to teenagers who had been baptised as infants. I am not interested in the theology of the sacrament. However, I want to comment on the “late” age which this sacrament is conferred. It is given that late that it almost becomes a sacrament that somewhat confirms the primary vocation that we have been called to be sons or daughters of God our Father. Whenever we struggle with our vocation in life—be it a husband, an engineer or lawyer etc—apart from the fact that we may have chosen the wrong vocation, often it is because we have not clarified our original intention or we have not fully embraced the reality of our baptism.

Most teenagers go through a phase of rejecting everything that is passed on them (except the money of course). It is a phase of self-determination as if the definition of the self begins when everything is rejected. It is almost as if they want to shout, “I am not everything that you are”. At confirmation, they must decide to accept or reject the faith that their parents have handed to them. Every teenager must make a choice for Christ or not.

Thus, the sacrament of confirmation which some of you will receive next week may be a test of your immersion or baptism into Christ. It is the test of accepting the responsibility and the price of baptism. When we follow Christ, we may lose our family. Those who have gone against their family’s wish when converting may just lose their family. When we follow Christ, we will certainly lose some of our friends. When we follow Christ, we will begin to ask questions: why there is more justice for some people and less justice for others. We will begin to take notice of the less privileged surrounding us. The test of our immersion (because the meaning of baptism is to wash or to immerse) is when we have acquired the heart and mind of Christ.

Some of us fail because we want the benefits of baptism, which is salvation ,without paying the price, which is discipleship. Today, we ask the Lord for the strength to embrace the grace of our baptism as we grow into the heart and the mind of Him who first called us.