|HOMILY FOR JANUARY 15, 2006
We agreed at a recent core group meeting to dedicate occasions during this coming year when we would make a point of highlighting key Catholic teachings, especially as regards the sacraments. Normally, this second Sunday of the year would be set aside for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and I had planned to use the occasion to preach on the sacrament of baptism. But the church in its wisdom decided to relegate the feast of the Lord’s baptism to last Monday but nonetheless I’m going to charge ahead anyway and preach on baptism.
Actually each of the readings today lends themselves to a teaching on baptism. Because the readings all deal with the subject of discipleship and baptism is above all a baptism into the life of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In Church teaching baptism is called, along with first communion and confirmation, a sacrament of initiation, because they initiate or introduce us into the full Christian life. And the full Christian life is all about becoming a disciple.
Don’t forget that when Jesus sent His apostles out into the world after His resurrection, He instructed them to “...go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...” Matthew 28:19-20, what we are used to calling “The Great Commission."
Notice, Jesus didn’t say “Go out and make converts” or “Go out and make church members,” but go out and make “disciples,” and He said to baptize them, not as converts or church members, but precisely as disciples....What is the difference between being a convert or church member, and being a disciple? It lies in the instruction Jesus ends the great commission with: ...teach my disciples to “obey” all I have commanded you. It is that little, four letter word, “obey” that makes a difference between being a church member or a convert, say a follower, of Jesus, and being a disciple.
I would have to check my statistics but I believe the New Testament only mentions the word “believer” a handful of times, but mentions the word “ disciple” something like 300 times. The NT is a book by disciples, for disciples, about being disciples. You can claim to believe everything Jesus said and did, you can claim to be a regular attendee at church, but unless and until you are committed to obeying all He commanded us, you have not truly become a disciple. The reason why there are so many nominally baptized Christians out there, who never darken the door of a church except maybe at Christmas and Easter, and who think it is o.k. to live together before marriage, to get drunk and do drugs regularly, and to support government policies which advocate abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia, and believe in reincarnation and other New Age teachings, is because the church was only concerned to baptize them into church membership, and not into discipleship, thinking the job was done once they had thrown water over their heads and intoned the formula “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Most nominal Christians don’t know the teaching of Jesus Christ on key moral issues, or imagine that what the Church teaches is just man-made and hopelessly old-fashioned, and consider themselves free to pursue their own kind of eclectic Christianity which, usually, is a mish-mash of New Age, media opinion, and vague echoes from childhood catechism lessons. That is not discipleship, brothers and sisters, and that is not what baptism is meant to initiate us into. Baptism is intended to initiate us into a full-on, committed, whole-hearted adherence to pursuing and imitating as closely as possible, the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The readings today show this over and over again. In our first reading today, Eli is a believer and follower of the Lord, but he is not a disciple. He no doubt is punctilious in performing his office as a priest, probably preaches a great sermon, he knows all about God, but he does not know God. It takes him a long while to recognize that it is God who is calling Samuel in our reading today. This is because Eli is disobedient in not reining in his two sons, (also priests), who are carrying out their priestly duties in an arrogant and scandalously wicked way, and Eli does nothing about it. He is concerned more with pleasing his sons, than in pleasing God: do we maybe recognize ourselves in this a little? So Eli hears the word of God, but does not obey it, and pretty soon, he ends up not even being able to hear it clearly. Samuel, by contrast, is a faithful disciple. Once he learns to recognize the word of God, he both hears and obeys his whole life long.
The psalm identifies for us the heart of a true disciple: “I wait patiently for the Lord I give him an open ear and an open heart I delight to do your will, O my God, your will is written in my heart.” I wait patiently for you to reveal your word, I hear your word and I obey it...can we say this is true of ourselves? The second reading is telling us that, through faith and baptism, we have become a new creation, we have joined ourselves, body, heart soul and spirit to Jesus Christ. It should be impossible, then, for us to surrender ourselves to any other master. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God dwells within us through our baptismal anointing and so how can we allow sin to reign in us instead? Yet how many of us, and I ask this of myself also, try to compromise, to please both the call of God and the call of sin? How many of us still retain an affection for certain sins, so that we resist making a clear and final decision to give them up once and for all?
The fact is, brothers and sisters, that the coming revival will be a revival of righteousness, or it will not be a revival at all. There must be a yearning for holiness within us, a desire to have done with the lure and attraction of sin once and for all, or revival, if it comes, will not sustain. At our core group meeting yesterday, Chris gave us a word from 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 and we are all familiar with it, I am sure, but I ask you to hear it with new ears today, and recognize in it a call in this year of decision to make a decision for righteousness, for holiness, for having done with sin once and for all “If my people, who are called by my name (that’s us)..if my people will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways (four steps you notice: humble yourself, pray, seek His face, and repent of sin) then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
Our gospel today shows us that, in order to be a true disciple, we have to be ready to separate out from all else and dedicate ourselves to Christ alone. Andrew and the other disciple of John the Baptist make the decision to leave the Baptist and attach themselves to Christ. They “stay” with Jesus, or, we may say, they “abide” with him: that is, in the gospel of John, the language of true discipleship “I am the vine, you are the branches. If anyone abides in me and I in him, that person will bear much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
To abide in Jesus means to have a living personal relationship with Him, it means to meet with Him daily in prayer and in Scripture, to be about the things which truly delight His heart, to want to do His will more than anything else. Will you, brothers and sisters, in this year of decision, make, with me, the decision to be a disciple of Jesus, and not just a weak sometime-follower, to live the life without compromise, a life of righteous living in His sight, so that there are no hidden areas of sin in us which the devil can exploit to drive a wedge between us and the Lord? It is very simple to do this, not so simple perhaps to live it out, of course, but that is why it is important to keep connected with your brothers and sisters around you, so you can be supported in your decision. What I am going to ask you to do is what we do on a regular basis in our church life: renew our baptismal vows. Remember these are vows of commitment, in fact, marriage vows, in that we make the decision to commit to one person alone, to commit totally, and for life. Our baptismal vows are our marriage covenant vows to the Lord, he the bridegroom, we the bride, and so we answer each question with the words: “I do.”
Fr. Bob Poole