16 January, 2013

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ (C) 2013

Reading: Luke 3:13-17; 21-22 

Our gospel story today shows Our Lord Jesus being baptised by St John. We read that the Holy Spirit descends as a dove on the one who was conceived by the same Spirit. We hear the voice of the Father saying, ‘In you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22). We see the worship of the Trinity revealed – as the liturgy says.
Undoubtedly, we could examine this story under many different lights; we could cross-reference it and compare what the other gospels have to say about the baptism of Christ; we could explore the significance of the Father’s heavenly voice; and we could imagine to be there, putting ourselves in the shoes of the people filled with expectation. However, I would like to focus our attention on the fact that baptism represents the start of Jesus’ public ministry much in the same way that it should do for us all.
In today’s gospel story we see that Jesus submits himself to a rite of purification in order to share the conditions of those he came to redeem. He, who elsewhere in the New Testament is proclaimed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), comes to St John to be baptised and to undergo an act of repentance. Nevertheless, he is the only one who truly doesn’t have to be there on the banks of the Jordan, but he humbles himself to be counted as a sinner in order to share the life of those whom he came to save. So we see that from the very start of his public ministry Jesus becomes the pattern of our common Christian vocation to be a redeeming, saving presence in whatever setting we find ourselves.

Westminster Abbey - West Door
Let me give you an example of what it means to live our baptism in this. If you have ever been to Westminster Abbey you may have noticed that above the west door there are a number of new statues. One of these portrays a Polish Franciscan friar who died in concentration camp at Auschwitz. His name is Maximilian Kolbe. His story bears a resemblance with those of other true modern day saints, whose way of life has been heroic in loving God and loving humanity. Above all his story bears a resemblance with the Christ who shares the conditions of those whom he came to save.
At Auschwitz Br Maximilian was known to give his own food to other prisoners, to hear confessions and, in the face of stern prohibitions, to celebrate Mass daily, singing hymns with his fellow prisoners. However, his most heroic deed was accomplished when he offered his own life to save a fellow prisoner condemned to death by the camp authorities as retaliation after the successful escape of another prisoner."I want to die in place of this prisoner." So he died of a lethal injection not as a priest or a friar but as prisoner whose name had been taken away and replaced by number 16770.
St Maximilian Kolbe

What is perhaps even more surprising than his readiness to die in place of another prisoner is the fact that Br Maximilian had been set free from Nazi imprisonment once before. He used his freedom to save the lives of many who were trying to escape extermination and the horrors of the Nazi regime, but he himself decided to stay in Poland and to do not fight deportation. He didn’t have to be there but his is vocation was to be with the suffering and his call was to be with them sharing their conditions.

In a few moments we will turn towards the font, and we will ask forgiveness for the times we have not been faithful to the Church’s mission; we will ask forgiveness for the times we have turned away from sharing the conditions of the unloved, the marginalised, and the outcast. We will ask forgiveness for the times we have refused to be there for one another and for God. In short we will ask forgiveness for all the times we have failed to live out our baptism.

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