The readings from today’s Mass speak about who it is that God finds important: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing…” God finds everyone important – the little no less than the great! We all have apart in His plan for humanity.
This past Friday we celebrated the Memorial of St Thomas Aquinas; a man whose studies of theology and his writings earned him the official church title of Doctor of the Church, and the unofficial title Angelic Doctor. He was a giant among the giants of theology of the 13 century and his works are still one of the standards in theology in which theologians are compared to.
But I am always struck by what I consider was his greatest academic achievement. In the last year of his life he had quit writing. When his secretary asked him why he had ceased to write, Thomas answered, “All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” Here was a man that truly understood what it meant to understand God. After all the great writings, poetry, insights and teachings about God he truly understood that God was too great to understand, at least completely.
But what we should understand, what truly mattered, what makes anyone a doctor of the Church; the foolish and the wise, the weak and the strong, everyone, was summed up in just three small sentences. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Academic knowledge, social success isn’t the prerequisite for a relationship with God. A relationship with God is the prerequisite – and He is always making the first step. And for those of us who know this, well, we are match-makers; aren’t we?
We are pilgrims on this planet; our home is with God and we are journeying towards him. Sometimes, the road is very wide and the going seems easy. Other times, the road is very, very narrow and hard and we try to keep our feet moving homeward, asking for the Lord’s help; which he is always ready to give. But most of the time, the road is very boring, spiritually lonely, and we just seem to be on auto-pilot – not noticing what is around us – the road isn’t inspiring – we become numb to our surroundings.
We forget that we are not on this road alone and we should be looking for others to help on their way. It is our responsibility to help others! I heard a saying yesterday: ‘The difference between man and the other animals is that we know that we need not be.’ That we exist is from the grace of God; we are here because God wants us here. Of course that means that everyone is hear because God wants them here. They are gifts from God as we are, hopefully, to them. Love our neighbor as our self and the road again becomes a wide and scenic highway!
Today, Christ starts His public ministry of proclaiming the loving plan of His Father. Today, He submits and is baptized by John. Not that He needed it, He is without sin, He is God. But with this action He embraces both:our journey and struggle from our fallen nature towards our eternal home; and His passion, which starts as He comes out of the river Jordan.
His passion, by necessity, needs to start with the start of His public ministry. He needs to call to everyone and proclaim the saving grace of God. He needs to move towards that ultimate act on Calvary in front of everyone – so that His passion will have the power of example. If He hadn’t walked this path then His crucifixion would have been another death of another self-professed profit – not noticed by the people. But He walked and talked and ate and worked the proclamation of Love from the River to the Cross – and the world was changed.
In a way – today, our public ministry starts. If the season of Christmas and this feast of the Baptism of Lord has had any effect on us; our desire to reenergize our witness should start anew. As we come up out of the season of Christmas we should, in our hearts, see the cloud open and the Holy Spirit descend, and we should hear the Father say to us: ‘you too are my adopted children – go and bring me others so that I may be well pleased with everyone’.
The Christmas lights in the neighborhood are thinning out – the world is closing out the Christmas season. Catholics, too, are winding down the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of Lord coming up. It is always a bittersweet time for me as I take the ornaments off the tree. My mother used to buy my brother and me an ornament each year for 20 years. She has been gone now for 20 years and my father for 7 years and I remember them as I am putting the ornaments back in the box. The beauty and the promise of the Christmas Tree when it was put up is now turned to, as I said, reminiscence, fond memories and this is good.
We Catholics should be looking to the past as well – we need to look back to move forward. We are who we are because of those who came before us. The ‘ornaments’ of our Catholic patrimony is very important; it is how we pass the faith. We learn from the past; we ask for prayers from those who preceded us. We run the risk of trivializing faith if we view the past as a quaint story to look at. Faith such as that can become nothing more than feelings of the moment and the Truth isn’t absolute but takes on relative quality. Our faith, based on the Revelation of God, is a multi-millennial story of which every part is integral: ‘as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.’
The Holy Father said ‘We must always see in other human beings persons with whom we shall one day share God’s joy.’ It is in reference to a discussion about the fact that, as humans, we are a ‘rough draft’ of what we should be; we are in transition.
We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we know only too well our own failings and faults; so, when someone treats us poorly, or is less than loving, we should understand that they are on the same journey as we, they are in transition, and they need the love we desire.
This is easier to say than to do; our initial reaction is to protect ourselves, but what are we protecting, really? If we are not in physical danger our reaction of protection is mostly interior pride. This type of pride isn’t love and it damages both the one we are reacting against and ourselves. It moves us backwards on the journey to being truly human. But how do we do otherwise, how to we love back in response to mistreatment? We need to always keep in our eyes the promise of the person we are dealing with; we need to see Jesus in them – We need to embrace Love, embrace them and both move forward on the path towards God’s joy.
‘And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.’ (Matthew 2:12)
The Magi, following the star of Bethlehem, found the Lord. The Lord reveals himself to the ‘wise’. He is constantly revealing himself to both the ‘wise’ and the ‘simple’ – to everyone. But what do we do after we see the Lord? What is our path after we have an encounter with the Lord?
If we are true to the Lord, then we too go ‘another way’. How can we not? Like the Magi’s adoration of the Kings of kings show us; if we allow the Lord to enter our lives; what we hold important changes; our lives are different. Indeed, our lives are not our own anymore, for Christ lives in us. ‘yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me’ (Galations 2:20). This is a very difficult task for us since we have been raised to view success through the eyes of competition. But the Lord calls us to a new competition, the challenge of love.
This morning, after holding a communion service at a local assisted-care living center I sat by our manger scene and prayed Terce (Mid-morning prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours). As I prayed the words ‘The Lord will guard you from evil, he will guard your soul’. I looked up and saw the Lord in the crib of hay. I was struck by the fact that here is the Lord who will guard me – and that at this point in his life it is he that needs protecting.
This was followed by looking up and reflecting on the figure of Mary looking lovingly into the eyes of the baby Jesus. She, who protected Jesus throughout the previous nine months. She, whose heart beat above her creator’s heart for those months. She, whose entire life is centered around her baby and savior. The love of a mother is total, and the love of the mother of Love itself is boundless. She protects her child so that He will protect all of us. Her child loves each of us totally, without reservation, and Mary His mother loves with the same intensity with the same totality. Mother of God, mother of us all – pray for us.