Luke 3:15-16, 21-22:
The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Messiah.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”
Recently, I had the special pleasure of writing a piece for the Diocese of Knoxville's 25th Anniversary Jubilee website on the triple meaning of the Feast of the Epiphany. I'll leave you to visit the site and read for yourself to find out more (the link is in the text above), but the short version was that the Feast of the Epiphany had originally celebrated three important manifestations of God and of Christ's divinity. One was the Incarnation and Nativity of Our Lord, one was the Baptism of the Lord, and one was the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water into wine. Many Eastern Christians believe that the Baptism of the Lord was the real beginning of Christ's passion, because it was the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, and it was from that point that the entire trajectory of Jesus' life began to move slowly toward the Cross. It may be with this reality in mind that the Church both ends the Christmas season on this feast and begins what we call Ordinary Time-the majority of the Church year where we are really celebrating the teachings of Jesus in our worship, just as we reflect on the unique mysteries of his life that we celebrate at Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter time. Note that this year, there are exactly 30 days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
Jesus' baptism was both an example for us as well as the beginning of his ministry. As Catholic Christians, it is our belief that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine-completely God and completely man. That's not a mystery that I can begin to explain with due justice, but I will say that I believe that like all of us, Jesus in his human nature received a call from God at some point in his life. Some folks think this was when he was 12 years old and told his parents when they ran back to Jerusalem looking for him and found him in the Temple: "Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (cf. Luke 2:49) There are also some people who think that the real beginning of his call happened on the day of his baptism when the Father's voice said "this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (cf. Luke 3:22) That wouldn't be too different from the rest of us, because whether we were old enough to understand it or not, our call into the family of God began at our baptism. Since I was baptized as an adult, it wouldn't be unfair to say that if the Lord calls me to ordination, that that call-though known to God and intended by God before the foundation of the world-began when I first said yes to God, and when I asked the Church to baptize me. The call comes from God, but the choice to respond to that call rests with us-God is never going to force himself on us, because that would not be an act of love, and God is Love. We know that Jesus was tempted like us, but unlike us, he never sinned-he always chose the better part.
I have shared with you here in recent days that I have prayed and continue to pray that the Lord would give me a great increase in humility. I feel the call to the deaconate even stronger now than felt when I began formation, even as I understand that for me, this entire journey is one based on trust in God, because just as when I began formation, I know not what tomorrow shall bring. I learned that firsthand today. Nicole and I are experiencing some sudden car trouble. Thankfully, we'll be able to have the car fixed without much difficulty (it is an issue with the power steering), but it looks as though I may miss our deanery formation workshop as a result, since Saturday is the one day that we can take the car in to have the issue fixed that wouldn't wreak havoc on our regular daily schedule. When I first heard this, I was distraught-I have never missed a formation weekend or a workshop. I look forward to them with eagerness, and Nicole also expressed to me how disappointed she was that she wouldn't be able to attend-I miss my brother Aspirants when we are not learning together. As much as I was upset at this, nearly to the point of anger, I then stopped to reflect that I had been praying for an increase in humility, and that God often increases our humility through trials and sudden unforeseen difficulties, and I just felt led to say "thank you Lord." Even when things get rough, I have to learn to be thankful.