2020. január 14., kedd

The original excitement of our faith (Matthew 3:13-17)

'After the Lord was baptised, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and the voice of the Father thundered: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.' (Entrance Antiphon to the feast, Cf. Mat 3:16-17)

What kind of miraculous sign would make us shiver? What event, related to God, would bring masses, if not all the people, to the streets? (I have scenes of the Netflix film, The Messiah in my mind.) What would make again people 'erect', looking upward? For the Greek word for the human being is anthropos, meaning 'a being looking upwards.' It is the specific name for humans. This name sums up our most important characteristic: we are dependent on a higher power, Life and Love. Only humans can contemplate the sky, and most importantly, God's abode, Heaven. It is said that all the other animals, like the dogs or cats, most of the time look downward. There is sadness in their being. The happiest our pets can get when they see us on whom their life depends.

So, what kind of sign would bring people to the streets, looking upwards? What sign from God would make us 'upward looking' again? Who live with an uplifted heart, with a burning desire for that very life which comes from the open gates of Heaven?

I have found such a sign in the writings of Saint Francis de Sales. His metaphor of the dove invites us to 'feel' the significance of this feast. It is a very positive image which shows the beautiful life which we are given in the Lord's baptism. It is an apt illustration of the 'open heavens' and the beauty what comes from it. Saint Francis compares the wisdom and richness of Christ's teaching to the coloration of feathers on a pigeon's neck. This is one of the most mesmerising collection of colours on earth. The plumage of the feathers plays in crimson, purple, magenta, purple light. For every step of the bird a new living stream of colour is created for our delight – and the delight of his fellow birds!

Jesus' baptism was a similar burst of colours into our lives. It was a big event. A sign of signs. It was a genuine breaking news. The expression 'heavens were open again' gave the chosen people a shiver and utmost joy. They celebrated the fact that there was prophecy and divine teaching given again ‒ after long centuries of God's silence. It was a heavenly phenomenon: though 'invisible' yet the most spectacular sign in the skies.

If we look upwards, we too can be imbued with the rays of this dazzling miracle. We can spot the star of redemption which the Three Kings followed. We can bath in the beauty and richness of the opened sky above Jesus. His baptism was and is a life-giving waterfall of Life. Do we see it? Are we able to perceive it right now?

In order to enable us, today's feast reminds us of two things. First, our personal involvement in Jesus' baptism. We died to sin and were raised to life when we were baptised. Our baptism in the Lord ‒ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit ‒ left an indelible mark in our soul, invisible to us but not invisible to God. He with his angels will recognise us though this mark in our soul. We have become children of God again, part of God's life through the grace of our baptism ­- linked to the power of today's feast.

However, there is a second element in this feast. It asks us: how can we make really ours this most beautiful sign in Heaven? Namely, to 'feel' with our whole being that Jesus has come for our redemption, to be with us. That we may share his personal friendship, teaching and love.

The answer lies in the teaching ministry of Jesus which begun with his baptism. We must find the means of joining his teaching tours, to be on his side, daily. This time, we are not walking physically with him, from town to town. Yet we need to join him in the most real way through the toiling work of prayer. It is a laborious work, in many forms, which we should discover in the 'ordinary time' of the church year which begins today. It is through daily prayer. It is via joining the regular prayer times of the Church. These options remind us of Saint Francis' vision of the plumage of the dove, the many 'throughs'. So, it is through regular holy communion. Through confession, when saying sorry for Jesus, on a regular basis. Through charity: not good deeds in general or by random, but purposefully offered to God before the deed. Then we will see what Jesus saw, what it meant that the heavens were open. The open skies were open by God's life, by God's peace, and God's joy. Though this self-giving, He wants to lift us up, to make us 'upward looking' again, prayerful and charitable persons. To begin our daily toiling, St Francis provides us with a practical wisdom, too. 'Half an hour's meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.'


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