We were having brake problems on one of our community cars. At the garage I started to tell a mechanic about an interior light that was out and some scratches on the right rear fender. He interrupted me, "If you are having brake problems let’s take care of that, first things first." He was right and was more focused on the main issue than I was – "First things first."
I can hear an echo of the mechanic’s voice in today’s gospel. Mark, like that mechanic, gets right down to business as he opens his gospel, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). First things first. Today we are still in the first chapter and John the Baptist is spelling out the focus of this gospel – "One mightier than I is coming." The rest of the gospel will tell us more about this One who is coming, whom the Baptist tells us, will pour the Holy Spirit over people ("He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit").
Mark makes sure we don’t miss Jesus’ importance and the significance of the event. Immediately after John baptizes him, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and he hears the voice from heaven affirming his identity. If this were a movie there would be a blast of trumpets; if it were a play, a spotlight would suddenly shine on Jesus. Mark does a similar thing – he turns a "spotlight" on Jesus with the voice from heaven. Later in the gospel he will introduce a similar voice at another dramatic moment, on the mountain of Transfiguration (9:7). At Jesus’ crucifixion, a Roman soldier speaks the message, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (15:39).
At Jesus’ baptism there are two familiar biblical images – water and the Spirit. These biblical themes go through the Old Testament, all the way back to the opening lines of Genesis – where there were also water and the hovering Spirit. Today the prophet Isaiah invites, "all you who are thirsty, come to the water." Mark is suggesting that, through Jesus, a new creation is about to take place. What was destroyed by sin and disobedience is about to be restored by the coming hoped-for Messiah who brings the Holy Spirit with him and offers us thirst-quenching water for our parched spirits and world.
On the first Sunday of Advent we heard the lament from Isaiah that became our prayer of longing, "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down" (Isaiah 64:19). Today, Mark tells us God is doing just that, answering our prayer and coming to our aid: the heavens are "torn open" and the same Spirit present at the creation of the world, has again come upon the face of the earth.
I write early in the morning. The just-arrived newspaper I glanced at with my coffee reminds me that the new year continues to hold so much pain for so many, leaving us waiting stil and hoping. Looking through the window in my room I can see the pink eastern sky with purple and pale green clouds on the horizon. Besides human misery there is so much beauty at every turn in the world. But this beautiful earth itself is damaged by our sinful excesses. Is it the smog over nearby Dallas that makes the sky color so? We need to be washed and cleansed in the same Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism. That Spirit can move us to reach out in healing ways to a damaged earth, sky and sea.
Today’s scriptures and feast assure us that our Advent prayer is answered. God has torn open the heavens and come upon us and also on the waiting earth. Mark makes it clear that the rending of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit and the voice itself, were personal experiences for Jesus. ("On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn and the Spirit, like a dove descending on him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’") Jesus is being commissioned; he will now begin his life of public ministry. From this point on his ministry will manifest the power the Baptist anticipated. Yet, Jesus will meet resistance from powerful forces that will eventually crush him. The confirmation Jesus received at his baptism will be a strength for him as he faces rejection from religious leaders and even abandonment by his disciples.
I didn’t hear any voices at my baptism – I was an infant. I dare say neither did those baptized as adults. But we have heard that voice many times since our baptisms, haven’t we? Whenever we were faced with choices: the easy way out, or the way of integrity; the truth, or a lie; an opportunity to help someone, or move on; an effort to correct a wrong, or turn a blind eye – didn’t we hear an interior voice reminding us who we are by our baptism? "You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased." Didn’t we pray for guidance to make the right choices and strength to follow through on our decisions? Or, did we let the opportunity to act like one baptized into Christ slip by?
At those decisive and testing moments were we strengthened by that same Spirit the Baptist promised Jesus would baptize us with; a Spirit that is powerful, recreates us and forms us into, what Genesis describes as, God’s image and likeness? Those who are called to give witness to the God of love, compassion and justice are not left on their own by God. The Spirit is given them to do their work – God’s work. We can look it up: the gift of God’s Spirit is right there in every book of the bible, starting in Genesis and now present at the beginning of Mark’s gospel – and Jesus freely anoints us with that Spirit that was with him and now is with us.
John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize us with the Spirit. Baptism inaugurated Jesus’ mission and Mark was reminding the early Christians, as he does today for us, that through their baptism they too were sent on mission. We are not baptized into a stay-at-home community to enjoy our gatherings, sing our hymns and say our prayers. The signs are staring us in the face: there is too much need in the world. But, we are reminded, if Jesus’ life with the Spirit is any clue, we too will face resistance, suffering and possibly death, as Jesus did.
During the reading Mark has entered our thoughts. He may have interrupted our usual patterns of thinking – as the scriptures frequently do. They invite us to once again Jesus, the faithful Son and Servant of God. There is a lot that awaits us and will challenge our commitment to Christ. How will I respond? On my own – "forget about it." But today Mark reminds us that we are not on our own. We have been baptized into the Spirit of Jesus, a Spirit of power expressed in service that may require much personal sacrifice. That Spirit is more than enough to finish the work God has begun in Jesus and continues in us.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/011021.cfm
Thus says the Lord: all you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!
Isaiah 55: 1
"People should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." "Giving them handouts will just make them lazy." "If they are poor, how come they have an IPhone?"
What did you think when you read Isaiah’s words versus the quotes you might have heard or said in today’s world? It is certainly better to teach a person to fish rather than just give them a fish but there are times in life when a hand out is a hand up. As a student of the way of Jesus, how do you respond to the poor or disadvantaged? But even more so, when you do respond, is it with disdain or out of obligation or do you act out of heart-felt joy?
Today is the feast day of the Baptism of the Lord and we should try to visualize and feel, in emerging from the rush of swirling water, the realization of the joy of life with God that we have been given. We leave judgement behind in the cleansing water--judgment of ourselves and others. Because we, as Christians, are not to be bearers of judgment but rather bearers of joy.
There are so many good causes that are in need of our joy-filled talents. I find myself thanking God for the cooks in our meals ministries; our crafters who make masks and blankets, booties and caps; those who feel called to hammer a new home into existence; others who labor to advocate for the immigrant, or the unborn and their mothers, or pray with fellow human beings in prison; the interviewers bringing some hope of financial aid for overdue rents; those who give so generously to our collections of food, baby needs, Christmas presents, and clothing drives or work at our food pantry; parishioners who walk for a year with a homeless family to help them out of poverty; for those working to create a nonviolent world and/or caring for creation; and, for parishioners who bring awareness to unjust issues by walking, running, or marching in solidarity. We live in a vibrant and joyous community of believers here at the Cathedral. If you are not so engaged, "come to the water"--come to the living water! Be a bearer of joy in 2021.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
On coming out of the water Jesus saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize us with the Spirit. Baptism inaugurated Jesus’ mission and Mark reminds us that, through our baptism, we too are sent on mission. We are not baptized into a stay-at-home community to enjoy our gatherings, sing our hymns and say our prayers. Through our baptism each of us has been called to serve others in Christ’s name.
So we ask ourselves:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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