Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is it fate, is it luck, or is it the hand of God?

After our beloved New Orlean Saints made it into the SuperBowl this past weekend, there have been endless questions about the how they got there. I don't suppose this question is being asked of the Indianapolis Colts, it was to be expected. It didn't seem to matter they the Colts had a rocky start to the game or that they were behind for most of the game, the Colts are the Colts with the most beloved Peyton Manning, one of our town favorites, as quarterback and no one questions their abilities.
But the Saints....now that's a different story. This last game was not their prettiest win, nor was it their most well played, but win they did and they are going to the SuperBowl. Some people would say it was charma, kismet, luck, fate, destiny that the Saints would go to Miami this year. It was in the cards. Whatever the phrase of the minute, something had a hand in their going to the big game this year. Was it 'something' or 'someone'?
Our faith seeks understanding according to St. Anselm and if we delve far enough, that understanding always leads us back to a higher power that is not of our making. For Catholics that higher power is God, the One, the Good, the Beautiful, the Almighty God. It is through God that all gifts were made, that all gifts are given. God has had a hand in the outcome of the game because of the gifts He bestowed on those players. It becomes the responsibility of the player to hone the gift and to use the gift for the good of others. In this case it was for the good of a city beaten down and given up for lost. A city that has climbed back up from ruin and devastation and continues to climb and come back stronger. I always felt that New Orleans was given an opportunity to show others that you can come back, you can rebuild and you can be better. Isn't that what Baptism is all about? New Orleans has been washed clean and given new life.
In every interview I saw or heard, the players mentioned the city and the fans of New Orleans. It was for them they were playing their best, not for their own glorification, but to show a nation the city is stronger and a vital part of the country. That is the example "men for others". They have stumbled and fumbled but they never gave up, just like the city, they always came back stronger. It is for this reason that they will be the team to beat come February 7th. They are taking the gifts God has given them and using them to bring a city that was on its knees back to stand taller and prouder. So did God have a hand in the outcome of this game...you bet He did!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why did Jesus get baptized?

The decorations are all put away, the tree is bare and laying at the side of the road, the magic seems to have disappeared. Yet the mystery still remains and that is the magic of this incredible season. God becoming man for us is truly a mystery, one we can barely comprehend, but He did it for love of us.

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Another mystery that God brings to us to show us how He truly loves us and how easy it is for us to return that love back to him. When talking to the kids about Jesus' baptism, they are quick to tell me that Jesus got baptized, not because He needed it, but to show us we needed it. It is the one thing we need to do to wash away Original Sin. They are so correct, but then what? After the stain of Original Sin is cleansed from us in Baptism, then what? What is our responsibility to God after that?

We learn from the Gospel that when Jesus was found preaching in the Temple at the tender age of 12, He returned with his parents back to Nazareth and grew in wisdom and grace. Imagine the Son of Man needing to grow in wisdom and grace! After his Baptism, Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray then returned to begin His public ministry of healing and teaching. I believe it was the combination of being filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism and His discernment in the desert that Jesus realized in full what He was being called to do and His divine purpose as a human being, his fulfilling the promises made by God all those years ago to the Israelite people. Now for us we come to know this realization at our Confirmation.

When a child is baptized, he becomes as close to Christ as he will ever be. Think about this for a minute. It is not what you see, it is what you don't see that is significant. It is the invisible reality behind the visible sign that matters most to us as Christians and our salvation. The water we see washes away the stain of Original Sin that marks all of mankind handed down from our first parents fall from grace. We are marked with the Chrism oil as a sign we are now marked as belonging to God. We are His adopted children. The baptismal gown that is placed around us is white to signify we are pure, we have put on Christ. Our parents are given a lighted candle to show we are the light of the world, like Christ we are to be a light for others in our life. After all this we are now so much like Christ, God's own Son, we are truly children of God. How awesome is that? The significance of our baptism is almost too much for me to put into words. God did this for us, for our salvation. It is then at our Confirmation that we can reaffirm that act of faith and say yes to God, we understand what he has given us and we want a part of it.

It was very significant for Jesus to get baptized. He came to show us how to return the Father's love, but it is still left to us to freely give that love back to him. Once we realize we are more like Christ than we could possibly imagine, how could we ever turn our backs on God? It becomes easier to choose the path we want to take, easier to give thanks and easier to show love and forgiveness. But like Christ, we are marked as God's, we belong to God. We must be willing to live our lives for Him and there will be times it won't be so easy. Like Jesus there will be sacrifices and hardship and sometimes persecution for the sake of righteousness. Remember we are not of this world, we are meant for a heavenly purpose and it will be those trials that test us as willing to live as God's children. It is for this we pray. We pray for strength and guidance to live as Christ taught us and showed us. He came to redeem mankind for the purpose we were created. He came to lift us out of a quagmire that we can not climb out of alone. Man fell so far that man could not possibly be the redemption, it took God to send His Son to return us to our rightful place. What a gift He gave to us. Let us be thankful and celebrate Jesus' baptism with a commitment to live the call we received by our own baptism. We can continue this journey and we don't have to do it alone. God Bless and may we continue to love and serve the Lord and one another.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What does epiphany mean to you?

With the New Year comes rejoicing, and the arrival of the Wise Men. It is the Epiphany, the time of the season when Christ is made known to those around him. The Wise Men represent the many different cultures and faiths who welcome the arrival of Christ into their lives and recognize the work of God at hand.

The twelfth night is so many things to so many different people. For some it is known as 'little christmas', the night the gifts of the Magi were brought to the Christ child. For others it signifies the time to take down the tree and other decorations and organize their lives for a new year. Down here around the New Orleans area, it is time to start celebrating age old Mardi Gras traditions of King Cake and parades of revelry prior to Lent. Yet with every significance Christ remains at the Center.

I have only recently wondered at the impact Christ must have made on the Wise Men. Here are three intelligent and learned men, non-Christian, non-Jewish, being moved to travel many miles to gaze upon....a baby. What power God has to manifest Himself in such a way. These men were not fools, nor were they foolish. They recognized the Salvation made known to man, yet there are times when we, knowing our faith, knowing what God has given to us turn away or walk away from that which has been made known to us.
What is even more interesting was the gifts the Wise Men chose to present to the Child...gold, frankencense and myrrh. The insight these men had, to choose gifts that spoke to the Who of the Person in Christ is truly amazing. The gold was to signify the kingship of the Child that would one day rule over Heaven and Earth which is amazing in itself, but did you ever wonder about the oil and incense. The incense was a direct reference to the divinity of the God-man. The Israelites would use the incense at the sacrifices to lift their prayers and offerings to God. The incense reminded them of the Glory Cloud of God who would sit on the Glory seat of the Ark of the Covenant when they rested in the desert during that long sojourn out of Egypt. The myrrh, a fragrant oil used for anointing was a direct reference to the anointing of the Kings, King David in particular, The Chosen One of God, the Messiah. But this oil signified the anointing with oil the women would use to anoint the body at the burial. How prophetic was that? These men got it. They recognized that little body as the Christ, the one chosen by God for our Salvation. Imagine the angels singing while the Wise Men knelt in wonder and awe...remind you of anything?
Next time you are at Mass and kneeling as you listen to the bells ringing, or singing "Hosanna in the Highest", think of those men so long ago who gazed upon the little child in a leanto shelter, with cows and sheep close by. Think of the honor and glory they gave to Him and remind yourself you too are in the presence of greatness, before you is lifted up the Body of Christ and soon you will receive Him into your body and become one with Him as a Bride becomes one with the Bridegroom. Now glorify in the closeness and oneness and ask yourself, do I do enough or give enough to this relationship I have with Christ? After reflection on those questions, go and make your New Year resolutions, do it for yourself and your relationship with Christ and watch how all the other relationships just fall into place. The results will not take place over night, but in time you will see a difference and it will amaze you. Go in peace to Love and Serve the Lord.