(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Mass-Blog-for-the-Baptism-of-our-Lord-2022.mp3)
A crime wave overtaking major cities is making residents ponder the roles of their lawmakers, police and religious authorities in bringing peace back to their communities. But as the hearts of those in power converge to try establishing covenants by law, those with the REAL power—we the people—need to look to our own hearts at the state of the covenant written there.
A covenant is a “coming together” over a binding agreement.Biblical covenants were often sealed in sacrificial blood. That’s why in the Old Testament, covenants never held much water because they were sealed mostly in the blood of non-voluntary sacrificial animals to please a god whose face people couldn’t see. Such covenants might as well have been anonymous.
This Sunday’s readings for the Baptism of Our Lord show us that’s not how the God whose fatherhood we share with Jesus works. The covenant for which Jesus volunteered himself invites us to enter it in the same spirit of volunteerism. It is therefore both faith- and face-based. The prophet Isaiah describes that personal covenant as an invitation requiring a face-to-face connection among all of God’s signatories (Is 42:1-4, 6-7).
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
The fact we in the 21st century leave those roles to our civil and religious leaders may explain why violence against the born and unborn is rampant in today’s society. It’s easy to accept such victimhood as a way of life if those victims are as faceless as our fellow citizens.
It may also explain why, in San Francisco, one of our many crime-ridden cities, a Catholic high school taught a rather uncomfortable lesson recently. It came about at an assembly where a pro-life advocate spoke. Many students walked out on it in protest. For them being pro-choice was more sacramental than the baptism that put them in a Catholic school. Therefore, the decision to diss a pro-life advocate was an easy choice because the non-voluntary sacrificial victims of abortion are as faceless as the victims of our cities’ crime waves.
If only the souls of those young Catholic protesters had been as fired-up about the faith in which they were baptized. They might realize that the ceremony that made Catholics Catholic in name was just as personal to our parents and to our God as the one foretold by John the Baptist in Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 3:15-16, 21-22):
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming, I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Amidst this 21st century pandemic in which we are all called to protect each other by masking our faces, it’s easy to lose track of the souls giving those faces life. It’s therefore easier to leave each other’s well-being—the born and the unborn—up to a faceless power structure. Let’s conclude with this reminder from Sunday’s second reading from Titus (Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7) about the deliverables in our baptismal covenant with God …
… to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.
The beneficiaries of our goodness have faces, and our baptismal covenant requires us to be as mindful of the souls expressed in theirs as God is of ours. This agreement’s payback to us is peace in our day. Our names on its bottom line ensure it.
The words of Isaiah seem to really highlight the challenges in our day, as it has been in all days:
“those who live in darkness”
Sadly, as exemplified by the actions at the Catholic High school in San Fran (though many urban Catholic schools have a high enrollment of non-Catholics), so many of us are living in this darkness.
People just don’t seem to realize the greatest gift given to us at our baptism. The power of the Holy Trinity residing (living if you will) in each of us, and we are mostly oblivious to this fact.
It’s like dying of thirst when we have a water bottle in our backpack. We know it’s there, we just neglect to take advantage of it. Sad, but we all do it.
Spirit of Christ, show us the way!
Thomas, on this New Year’s weekend, one of the cable stations had a Twilight Zone marathon, and one of the episodes could have been written about the town in which the high school we mention in this post was based. Isaiah’s prophecy, cited above–seemingly aimed at all of us in this day and age–seems particularly appropriate:
“I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
The TZ episode to which I’m referring is titled “I Am the Night–Color me Black.” It’s set in a town bathed in darkness at 7:30 in the morning–an hour at which the sun should have risen two hours before. But this town–in which there’s to be a hanging of a man wrongly convicted of a murder–doesn’t let this phenomenon change the darkness of hatred in its hearts for the man it condemned in its kangaroo court. For these citizens, mob hatred seems more natural than dawning darkness.
After the man is hanged and the episode ends with this town fading into blackness, Rod Serling’s closing narration (written for 1964 audiences) seems equally appropriate for us at the dawn of Covid in the 21st century:
“A sickness known as hate. Not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ—but a sickness nonetheless, highly contagious, deadly in its effects. Don’t look for it in the Twilight Zone—look for it in a mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether.”