Asking myself the question I came across an intriguing response provided in a homily preached on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord by a priest friend Fr Michael Murphy SPS. I borrowed some of his thoughts. including the story he used to kick off.
Fr. Damien De Veuster is better known as Damien the leper of Molokai. He was a priest serving in Hawaii in the mid 19th century. When leprosy broke out the authorities forcibly snatched victims away from their families and banished them for life to a remote island, never to see their families again. To minister to these people in their terrible plight Fr Damien chose to go and live on the island. At first he ministered from a distance but came to realise he had to live right there among them to gain their trust. Not unexpectedly he himself contracted leprosy and also was never able to return home.
The lepers embraced him as one of them, sharing their experience, someone they could talk to about their lives, their rejection and shame. Compassion was the driving force behind his ministry.
Centuries earlier Jesus started his mission of compassion with a passion to be one of us, one with us. St Paul says, he humbled himself, even to the point of becoming a slave. He became a servant, a lesser person than John whom he asked to baptise him. John did not understand and neither did many early Christians, knowing well that Jesus was no sinner. Even today it is difficult to understand his humility and solidarity in choosing this way to become like us, Emmanuel, God with us.
Like many others being baptised by John, Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan, but not as a sinner seeking forgiveness and a new life. Jesus, in humility and solidarity, stepped into the waters of the Jordan as if into the depths of human chaos, human need, the needs of each of us. Jesus stepped too into the depths of God’s love, the depths where the Spirit is re-creating and refreshing human life and faith as God meant it to be.
Our MARFAM 2020 family focus includes the aspect of beginnings, creation and all its elements. Water is hugely symbolic as it signifies life and rebirth. It also calls to mind the very beginning of creation, with a formless void and the Spirit hovering over the water bringing order out of chaos. Click here for the overview of thems:https://www.marfam.org.za/2020-monthly-themes/
Later, after the Flood when the waters were receding a dove brought Noah an olive branch as a sign that the danger had past and new creation could begin.
At Jesus’ baptism, recorded in all three synoptic gospels, the Spirit appeared and a voice was heard affirming Jesus as the beloved Son of the Father.
To be baptised is to be filled with the God-love that makes us sons and daughters too not only of human parents but of God. To be baptised with life-giving water, one of God’s greatest gifts, gives the potential to cleanse and renew. Is that not the image presented to us too by St Francis as in his Canticle of Creation where praises Sister Water and Mother Earth as symbols of God’s love.
Water is life but it is vulnerable and needs to be treasured and cared for. Water, in a variety of ways plays a powerful role in the ongoing creation story. It cleanses and feeds. Without pure water creation cannot survive. Water too has the potential for chaos and destruction. Salt water, polluted water, frozen or overheated water have their rightful place but can also threaten life.
Pope Francis in his homily on the feast day of Jesus’ Baptism reminded us of our own baptism. He told his audience that as Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father, we are also reborn of water and the Holy Spirit and we know we are loved children, brothers and sisters of many others.
What can we learn? Why was Jesus baptised? Why in the river Jordan, which flows into and ends in the Dead Sea? Baptism catechesis should be about much more than sin and the duties of parents and godparents to pass on the faith. The reason for our baptism is that God plans and invests in us for a great mission. In spite of all our chaos, our needs and sorrows, be they sickness, poverty, rejection or loneliness, joy is to be found in healthy relationships as we whole-heartedly give of ourselves, witness and proclaim to everyone the boundless love of the Father who is ever-conscious of all our needs.
TR FAMILY WEEKLY 15 JANUARY 2020