The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7; Ps. 28: 1-2, 3-4,9-10; Gospel of Matthew 3: 13-17
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 12th January 2020
At Christmas, we celebrate the Coming of the Messiah, the Light that dispel the darkness of sin, and offers us the Gift of Salvation. In this divine mystery, Mary cooperates with and accepts God’s Will. As a result she conceives Jesus the Messiah, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus the Messiah is then born in the poverty, simplicity and silence of the night, in a stable in Bethlehem.
In the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany last Sunday, this Light of the Messiah not only shines forth for the Jews, but for the whole world. This is actualised and symbolised by the Three Magi from the East; guided by the “Star of Bethlehem” to the manger of the King of the Jews, /whom they worship as the Saviour and Lord, and honouring with their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, encounter Jesus, as an adult; 30 years of age. He presents Himself, at the River Jordan to be Baptised by John Baptist. God reveals Him as Saviour to the world as the heavens open up. The Spirit of God then descends upon Him like a dove, and God the Father, proclaiming from the heavens, “This is My Son, the Beloved; My favour rests on Him.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin our liturgical year of Ordinary Time and also begin this New Year 2020, we are each reminded of our need to live this year with greater wisdom as we renew and recommit ourselves to God more wholeheartedly. To live in God’s Light and Wisdom is to live our lives as Jesus has taught and shown us, through the Gospel Truth of His Life, Death and Resurrection, and the wisdom of the Teachings of the Catholic Christian Church.
Instead of listing down the “dos” and “don’ts” perhaps, let me first share with you what living the life of Jesus can be like, and the fruits of living such a life. I first knew Fr Eduardo Hontiveros, a Jesuit priest, when I was a young Jesuit student of Philosophy in 1985. Fr Honti was a theologian, a good professor and the Dean of Studies of Theology at the Ateneo de Manila University, in the Philippines. Fr Honti is always cheerful, well-loved and well-known for his hearty laughter. He was an accomplished musician, who composed some 250 liturgical hymns that continue to be widely played throughout the Philippines till today. For this reason, Fr Honti is regarded as the father of Filipino liturgical music.
In 1991, Fr Honti suffered a severe stroke that paralysed him. Fr Honti became bedridden and was unable to speak, walk or move his limbs. His psychologists warned our Jesuit superior that it was highly likely that Fr Honti would sink into depression after having lived such an active life. This was to be expected of anyone, as Fr Honti could no longer do what he was used to doing and loved to do, especially teaching and composing music. The news of Fr Honti’s stroke broke many hearts.
However, after some months and to the great surprise of his doctors, Fr Honti started to move his limbs; then slowly and steadily, Fr Honti began to play the piano with the few fingers that he could move. Then one fine day, Fr Honti eventually emerged from his infirmary room into our Jesuit dining room, smiling and greeting everyone with “I am fine . . . thank you.”
From then on, Fr Honti’s recovery progressed and soon, he was able to join all community meals and events. As a tribute to him, his former students in the USA organised a big concert featuring his compositions. At the concert, Fr Honti was moved to tears. For the next several years, Fr Honti continued to touch many hearts with his warm and affectionate ways until he suffered his second severe stroke in 2008, and died eleven days later. To me, Fr Honti, was truly a holy man, a man of God and a great blessing and inspiration to our Jesuit community, those who knew him and the world.
As we begin the New Year 2020, I believe many of us may be wondering what this year is going to be like. Whether we are anxious or excited about what the future holds, /the truth is that none of us really knows what can happen to us, our family, our job or other areas of our life.
We are not in “control” of what can happen to us. However, while this is the reality, we should not live in the constant fear that “bad things” are to happen to us. Neither should we live under the illusion that “painful events” will never happen to us or our loved ones. In other words, we should not live our lives in fear, but in faith.
This is because as Fr Honti has shown us, the greatest “security”, the deepest peace, and the surest direction in our lives, comes from living a holy life that God wants us to live. Fr Honti’s “holiness” manifested in his cheerful joy, unassuming humility, and love for people, regardless of who they were. Fr Honti’s daily living reflected the presence of God and more deeply, his personal relationship with Jesus within his heart. I will always remember Fr Honti for his natural smile and hearty laugh which clearly came from the union and peace that he had with Jesus within him.
Do we have such a union with God? This is the only “resolution” we need for this New Year 2020, and all the coming years of our lives. As finite human beings, we are fallible and vulnerable; but, as Christians, we do not have to live in fear. Jesus is within our hearts, and in God’s Compassionate Love and Mercy, He will always be there for us in our needs.
Even as we beg God for the graces to live a wholesome and holy life this year, there are some realities of life that you and I need to take note of, learn from and accept. There is a story of David, who was trying very hard to become rich, but somehow was unsuccessful. He worked very hard, but no big promotions and big money came his way. So, he begged God for an answer and complained that life was too difficult for him.
One day, God appeared and said to David, “David why are you so unhappy with life? You have a good job and your bosses are good and reasonable. Why are you complaining all the time about life being difficult? There are millions of others who have no job, and even millions are starving without food and shelter. David was embarrassed, but was still unable to resist asking God, what he really wanted ask. So he said, “Lord, how long is a thousand years to you?” God answered, “Just a second.” “And Lord, how much is a million dollar to you?” “ten cents.” God answered. Then David asked, “Lord, can you then give me ten cents?” God answered, “Just a second!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I love God, but at the same time, we can easily get impatient with ourselves, and with God for not granting us what we want in life. As such, we try different ways of looking for easier ways to achieve our desires and dreams in our lives. The questions we need to ask ourselves, as we begin a new year is, “Is there a short cut to success in our career, or is there a short cut in building your family relationships and our relationship with God? Do you think, like David, we can outsmart and deceive God? God may have great compassion for us, but He cannot be deceived.
The basic reality of life and our faith is that if we are sincere about wanting to live a meaningful and wholesome life, then we must be willing to make the needed commitment, and thus the sacrifices to deepen our relationship with our loved ones and more so, with God.
There is another basic reality of life that is also worth taking note of so as to avoid being disappointed with life and with people. There is a story of three men, Jack, Justin and Jude who were stranded on an island. They were desperate and prayed very hard for God to rescue them. One day, God sent them an angel who said the them, “God has heard your prayers, and you can each make one wish and it will be granted. However, remember, you can only make one wish.”
All of them were so happy. Jack who had missed his wife and family so much said, “My wish is that I return home to my family.” The angel said, “Granted.” Jack immediately found himself reunited with his family and was filled with great joy. Justin then thought to himself, “Since I am single, and had always dreamt to be a very successful in life, my wish is that I want to live in a big luxury home, and have plenty of money.” “Granted,” the angel said. Justin immediately also found himself in his dream house of great luxury. Finally, the angel asked Jude, “What about you Jude?” By this time, with both his companions gone, Jude was feeling somewhat lonely said, “I wish that Jack and Justin are back with me here as I am beginning to miss them.” “Granted” said the angel, and to his great delight, Jack and Justin, immediately found themselves back together on the island.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, while Jack and Justin had their own desires and dreams, the reality is that Jude’s desires and dreams, turned Jack’s and Justin’s dreams around. Likewise, if we reflect on our lives, we will realise that the dreams, desires and decisions of others like between: a husband and a wife, children and parents, bosses and subordinates, superiors and subjects in the priesthood and religious vocation, all affect our lives.
To live the Gospel of Jesus is to live inter-dependently and NOT independently of one another. And, to live “independently” of others and to assert our freedom and autonomy, without due regard for the needs of others is to live a self-centred life that will disrupt, divide and even destroy families and relationships. And such a way of living and relating to others is clearly against the self-sacrificing Gospel of Salvation that Jesus proclaims and lives.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jesus never needed to be Baptised as He did not commit any sins. However, in His great Humility, Jesus presented Himself to be Baptised by John the Baptist. In this, our Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI explains, “Jesus loaded the burden of all humanity’s guilt upon His shoulders; He bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated His public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross.”
Jesus bore the entire sins of humankind by embracing the depth of our human suffering that is caused by our sinfulness, and rejection of God’s Love. Jesus willingly Suffered and Died for our sake and Salvation, and so, as we begin the new year, let us also like Jesus be willing to embrace the crosses of our life and faith that come our way.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this means that if you and I truly want to live a wholesome and Christ-centred life this new year, then like Jesus, you and I should not live under the illusion and falsehood that we can take short cuts, like David in our story, and ignore the reality of our need to build inter-dependent relationships that are sincere and committed in our love.
Let us then live daily in ways that deepen our love for Jesus, and like Fr Honti, let us allow God our Father to be our “true security” and the One True Source of peace, meaning and fulfilment in our lives. And, this Truth of Christ, and the Good News of Salvation will unfold itself in Sacred Scriptures in the coming weeks till it climaxes in the Holy Week, liturgy of the celebration of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus at Easter on 5th of April.
Adapted from: Sower’s Seeds Aplenty – 4th Planting; by Brian Cavanaugh,T.O.R.; Paulist Press; New York; Mahwah, N.J.; 1996; nos. 100; pg 73.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.