Mgr Francesco Follo 13 12 2017 @Oss - romano

Archbishop Follo: The Baptism of Jesus: Epiphany of Humility, Mercy and Grace

With the invitation to live the baptism not as a reminder of a moment of the past but a journey of our whole life in God, daily.

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III Sunday after Christmas – Baptism of Jesus – January 12, 2020

 Roman rite

Is 42.1-4.6-7; Ps 29; Acts 10.34-38; Mt 3,13-17

Ambrosian rite

Is 55.4-7; Ps 28; Eph 2: 13-22; Mt 3,13-17

1) The prophet who points out God to us.

To understand this Sunday’s Gospel passage, it is useful to remember that John the Baptist is – as Jesus himself says – more than a prophet. The prophet in the Old Testament is doing two things that are a decisive help in living the faith.

The first is to remind man of God’s promise, otherwise, man lives in forgetfulness. The prophet says the Word of God and calls us to it. This is the first attitude that man must have in order to meet the Lord so sought after and awaited: listen to his promise, his word, adopt his criteria and his way of thinking.

The second thing is to prevent the idolatry of the word. The prophet does not only call to attention but calls to the observance of the Word because it is dangerous to only observe the Word. In fact, there may be a child who has read the perfect child’s manual and observes all the rules that are written in it but does not know his parents or even love them. So, the prophet is the one who prevents the fetishism of the Word and its legalism and calls to the One who speaks, to the conversion to the Lord.

In other words, the true prophet has the dual function of making us observe the Word and God who speaks. By looking at the One who speaks, we discover not only what God wants us to do but we enter into communion with Him. Through his Word, God does not simply ask us to carry out his orders but to enter into communion with Him. The religion he proposes is not a set of rules and rituals, but a religion of children guided by the law of freedom, the freedom of children of God.

If we forget that behind the Word there is the One who speaks, we shut ourselves inside legalism and we do the enormous sin of building our own justice by observing laws and eventually imposing them on others without ever entering into communion with God. We make our “I” become our “god”.

If we remove the prophecy from Israel, it would remain only a religion of the book, that is, a religion of the law. Instead, it is not. In addition to the law, Israel always has prophets. And if you neglect the prophets, you don’t understand the Lord. In fact, the point of arrival of the prophecy is always the new heart which, living in communion with the Lord, makes the Word live from within. It is prophecy the passage from the Old to the New Testament, the passage from the Word to the One who speaks, and the Baptist represents this threshold, the threshold that must always be in each of us: attention to the Word, to the promise and to the One who commits himself with his promise.

Therefore, the Baptism of John which, for those who went to him, was a baptism of penance and conversion, becomes for Christ a gesture of love through which the Father presents him witnessing to his divinity and indicating him as the Beloved. He is the “beloved Son” and upon him rests the Spirit who invests him of the mission of prophet, who announces the message of salvation, of priest, who makes the only sacrifice pleasing to the Father, of king and messiah who saves ( cf. Preface of today’s Mass).

2) The Baptism of Jesus, the Loved One, the humble Messiah.

                The feast of the Baptism of Jesus follows the manifestations that the liturgy of Christmas proposes to celebrate, contemplate and live the Mystery of Love of the incarnated God.

At Christmas, together with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we have contemplated the fact that in a humble stable in Bethlehem the incarnated Word, manifestation of God’s Love for us, was born.

With the Epiphany, the Messiah has manifested himself to all people represented by the Magi, the wise men that knew that “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:2).  They knew that God can be seen in the Creation “But, as sages, the Magi also knew that it is not with any kind of telescope but rather with the profound eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and with the desire for God, motivated by faith, that it is possible to meet him. Indeed, it becomes possible for God to come close to us”. (Benedictus XVI, January 6th, 2011)

Today on Jordan’s banks “in Christ’s Baptism the world has been sanctified, the sins forgiven: in water and in Spirit we become new creatures” [1]

Today Jesus reveals himself to John the Baptist and to the people of Israel and, receiving the baptism, he reveals two aspects of his mystery: humility and charity, the humble God of mercy and the Son, the Loved One, the Anointed by the Lord.

Humbly he presents himself among the sinners. Like them, he receives the baptism as a sign of repentance and at the same time the Father declares that He is His beloved Son.

John is bewildered when he sees Jesus in line with the sinners to be baptized. He has identified him as the Messiah, the Holy by God, the One who is the Sacrificed Lamb. John expresses his bewilderment. He, the Baptist, would have desired to be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus invites him not to object “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15). Giving this answer to John, Jesus makes clear to have come into the world to do the will of the One who has sent him to do all that the Father asks” Jesus is pure reflection of the will of God, pure spontaneous echo of the will of the Father” ( H.U. von Balthasar)

Jesus’ concise and firm answer manifests the divine mercy that fulfills every justice. Divine justice doesn’t oppose human justice but goes beyond it, completes it, and transforms it with love. We could say that justice along with love equals mercy.

The Baptist, even if puzzled by this unexpected action by Christ, believes Jesus’ words and bends to God’s will as every man should do. We should abandon our way of thinking to embrace the one of God For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD”. (Is 55:8) He judges by truth and redeems according to his mercy.

It is to obey God’s will that He became man, “has lowered himself” to become one of us and has humiliated himself to the death on a cross (see Phil 2:7). In conclusion, the main aspect of the Mystery that we celebrate today is the one of humble mercy and loving solidarity. It is the action of the One who wants to become entirely one of us and indeed gets in line with the sinners. He, who is without sin, let himself be treated as a sinner (see 2Cor 5:21) so that he can take on his shoulders the guilt of all humanity, even our guilt. He is the “servant of God” of whom Isaiah speaks in the first reading. His humility is dictated by the will to establish a full communion with humanity and by the desire to achieve a true solidarity[2] with men and with their condition.

The second aspect is the aspect of the “anointment”, as Jesus teaches us when he explains what has happened to Him when he received the Baptism by John the Baptist. He has left the Jordan and is now in the synagogue of Nazareth. He applies to himself the words of Isaiah” The Spirit of the Lord is over me; He has anointed me with his anointing.” The same word “anointment’ is used by Saint Peter (see second reading) when he speaks of the baptism of the Lord “God has anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

3) The Baptism of Jesus: epiphany of Grace

         Let’s go ideally to the Jordan’s banks where John the Baptist gives a baptism of penance urging conversion. In this extraordinary event, John sees the realization of what has been said about the Messiah born in Bethlehem and adored by the shepherds and the Magi. He is indeed the one announced by the Prophets, the Father’s beloved Son whom we must search while he can be found and whom we must invoke while he is near.

Today the shepherds and the Magi are not the ones who recognize the Son of God. It is the Father who recognizes Him “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) and by the outpouring of the Spirit consecrates his Son as Messiah. From the open Heavens, from the Womb of the Father, the Son sees the Spirit of God that, like a dove, lands on its nest” The heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him” (Mt 3:16) and stays with him forever (see Jn 1:32-33). This Man, over whom the Holy Spirit comes upon like a dove, is the Son of God that through the Virgin Mary has taken our flesh to redeem it from sin and death.

This mystery of grace and salvation is great indeed. It is a mystery in which every one of us is included thanks to the sacrament of Baptism by which we have become children of God, “children of the Son,” children of His Love.

There is a deep connection between the Baptism of Christ and our Baptism. At the Jordan, the heavens were opened (see Lk 3:21) to indicate that the Savior has open for us the road to salvation and we can follow this path thanks to the new birth “of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5) that is realized at Baptism.  With it we are inserted into the Mystical Body that is the Church, we die and rise with it. “He has risen us in His Love, donates himself to every one of us to assimilate ourselves to him, to be his faithful replica, to disappear in Him and become another He “(see Marthe Robin) and we take Him on as Saint Paul writes in his letters (see 1Cor 12:13; Rm 6:3-5; Gal 3:27).

The commitment that flows from Baptism is “to listen” to Jesus as true disciples that believe in him and follow him experiencing a personal friendship with Him. To do so it is not enough to follow him and to listen to Him superficially. We must live with Him and like Him. This is possible only in the context of a relationship of great familiarity and total confidence. It is in this way that everyone can aim to sanctity, a target that, as taught by the Vatican Council II, is the vocation of all the baptized.

The way with which the consecrated Virgins aim to sanctity shows that the faith donated to us on the day of our baptism is a gift to cultivate and to testify.  These women are committed to carry the light of Christ into the darkness of the time (as it is the meaning of the lamp that they receive on the day of their consecration), to live the Gospel of Hope in the world of doubt, and to be a model for those who do not intend to listen to the voice of the Most High. They are committed to be adult Christian, aware of their redeemed actions, not bearers of a Promise but of a Presence, evangelist of the Word made flesh. May these women be of example to us to behave like disciples according to the “logic” of Christ following the invitation of Saint Paul, Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus”  (Phil 2:5), and the one of Saint Peter, “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. (1Pt 2:4-5)

[1] Antiphon of the Benedictus of the Liturgy of the Hours: Lauds of feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

[2]Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or superficial tenderness for the misfortunes of so many people near and far. On the contrary, it is firm and constant determination to cooperate to the common good” ( John Paul II Sollicitudo Rei Socialis  #38)

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