I recently celebrated a birthday. There were plenty of years I did not celebrate it – not because of any reason other than I was not with a group of people for whom it wasn’t on “their radar.” As best I can remember all the birthdays between high school graduation and leaving the service of the US Navy passed by. A lot of the time I was at sea and spent my birthday on watch. I know the date was in my personnel file. But I only remember celebrating the Commanding Officer’s birthday and that was because his wife had bribed the Supply Officer to make it happen. Upon returning to dry land, there was always a stack of birthday cards and well wishes waiting for me. From family and close friends, people for whom my birthday was important. Every year they remembered
One of the great communal celebrations is to welcome an infant into the community through the waters of Baptism. There are many ways in which the celebration occurs, depending on the construction of the church – especially the location of the baptismal font. At my previous parish, to give you an idea, there was no narthex. The large wooden front doors were perhaps 16 feet behind the last pew and opened up to the sidewalk and the main downtown thoroughfare.
It was right at the front doors that we greeted the beaming family and their newborn, along with the godparents. The first part of the Baptismal ritual occurred there at the doors of the church, the family was escorted to their pew in the front of the church as part of the entry procession, and we continued with the celebration of Mass. Continue reading
From today’s readings: While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” (Luke 11:29-32)
This year our parish will not celebrate the baptism of the catechumens/Elect at the Easter Vigil – such as the times of living in pandemic. It is our practice to practice immersion at the Vigil, but alas, this year that moment will be missing from the Liturgy. And so will one of my favorite songs, one that we use to call the Elect to the waters of Baptism. Missing from liturgy this year, but available online. Enjoy!
From time to time some Christians tell other Christians that their baptism was not valid because it was not done by full immersion, the only way Jesus authorized people to be baptized. The claims sometimes go on to claim that “sprinkling” was an invention of the Catholic Church in the 4th century when people began to flood into the church and it was just more efficient that the required full immersion. Continue reading
Jesus Responds. It would be good to know Jesus’ tone of voice when he responds. Is it exasperation caused by their continuing blindness? Is it said as a tired sigh but with a willingness to again engage them and lead them to a deeper understanding and awareness? Does it have an edge? It might well be the simple inquiry to uncover what they understand: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
There are several lines of interpretation regarding Jesus’ reply. Some scholars hold that the images offered (“drink” and “baptism”) do not hold the same significance for the disciples as they do for Jesus. In this line of thought, the cup and baptism point to Jesus’ voluntary obedience unto death for the sins of humanity; whereas, the images suggest the disciples moral participation in Jesus’ passion. [Lane, 379]. But the construct of the sentence is in the present tense. In other words, right at his moment, Jesus is drinking and being baptized. This seems to point to something other than a future moral participation in the Passion. Continue reading
Several years ago, I wrote a series of pastor columns on aspects of what it means to belong to a parish. If you would like to read the whole series, it can be found here: friarmusings.com/belonging
Where to begin? At the beginning is always a good place – and for Catholics the beginning is Baptism. Each time we enter church it is our tradition to mark ourselves with the Sign of the Cross using water from the holy water fonts. It is a moment to recall the words the priest proclaimed at your Baptism: “I claim you for Christ.” From that moment you belong to Christ and are a member of His people. You belong, not in some abstract way, but in a time and place and with a community of people. Continue reading
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, it makes me recall the words of Revelation 19:16 where the expression “King of kings, Lord of lords” is spoken of Jesus in his second coming. But did you notice that the word “king” is hardly mentioned in our readings today. It is used once in the gospel, not at all in the other readings. Odd, don’t you think? But then again, “He will sit upon his glorious throne…” are the words in the opening verse of our gospel – rather “kingly” I would think.
The idea of kingship fills Scripture. We speak of the kingdom of God and who can forget King David of Israel. But did you ever wonder how Israel got a king? Abraham, the father of all believers – not a king. Moses – not a king. The great judges and leaders of Israel, Sampson and Deborah – not kings. So where did the idea of king come from? That is an interesting story, told in 1 Sam 8: “Israel gets a king.”
The Lord had always watched out and cared for Israel, raising up great leaders when needed – like Moses and the Judges. But the people of Israel got tired of instability and this ebb and flow of anointed leaders, and so one day they ask the last of the judges, Samuel, to go to God and ask for a king – so they can be – not God’s people – but people like other people. Reluctantly Samuel does. God tells Samuel, this is disappointing, but then Israel has always been hardheaded. OK, but tell them the king will have certain rights. And so, Samuel tells the people, OK, but here will be the rights of the king:
He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.
“Still want a king?” The people say “yes” only proving the old adage of being careful what you ask for. In 1st and 2nd Kings, as well as 1st and 2nd Chronicles, scripture recounts the failings of all the kings of Israel (and Judah) from David to Jeckoniah. At the end of each account of the king, the accounts give an assessment of the king on how they did in shepherding the people of God in their covenant with God. Notice “shepherding” – not any of the regal, lofty terms we would use to describe the actions of a king
Where our readings today hardly use the work “king” there is no shortage of references to “shepherds.” Listen again to the words of the first reading from Ezekiel: “For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly.” Our Psalm cries out, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
So, you have two descriptions of kings: one from 1st Samuel that describes a king as an absolute monarch who takes from the people for his own benefit. And then there is the one who comes as King of all those other kings, and yet will be as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing. The one who sits upon the “glorious throne” a reference to the great vision of God as King – there upon the mercy seat in the Temple.
Maybe now, the scene foretold by Jesus to his disciples about the great end-times judgment makes sense. There is Jesus, judging, enthroned upon the Mercy Seat, separating the sheep from the goats – and the criterion is “were you kingly? Not as people imagine a king, but as you were baptized?” In your baptismal ceremony, the words were spoken that say, Just as Christ is prophet, priest and king, so too … “so too” – and that means you. “So too” do we share in the kingship of Christ. The king who rules as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food,” said Jesus, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
We care for the poor not out of guilt, ascetic renunciation, some secular theory of a socialistic ideal that rejects private property, nor because the poor are virtuous. Rather, in serving the poor we care for our own souls by imitating the character of God himself.
Christian care for the poor isn’t just a utilitarian act of social justice (Bill Gates does that), an altruistic act with no element of self-interest or expectation of reward (per Emmanuel Kant), and not even merely a sign of a believer’s personal faith (per the Protestant Reformers). Rather, care for the poor is the privileged way to serve God and to live out our baptismal vows.
It is the way it has always been. When St. Paul met with the early Church leaders in Jerusalem and was commissioned to be an apostle to the Gentiles, he says that the only thing he was asked to do was to remember the poor, “which is the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
If you are to claim Christ as your king, if you are to claim your part in the kingship, then right and holy shepherding of others is part and parcel of that claim. You are anointed in baptism to share in Christ’s kingship, his right shepherding.
May the grace to live out that anointing… may that grace be yours.
From today’s readings: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. (Mt 12:38-41) Continue reading
This Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29-34) speaks of the Baptism of the Lord, yet that was celebrated this past Monday. Some of the more observant among you might be thinking “Isn’t the Baptism of the Lord a Sunday celebration?” Most years it is, unless Epiphany falls on January 7 th or 8 th which it did this year. In such cases, the Baptism of the Lord celebration falls on Monday. Not sure what to make of that, but there it is. It made we wonder why the Baptism of the Lord is so connected to the Epiphany. Continue reading