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At baptism, Jesus begins his journey of solidarity with us

Archbishop Wenski's homily at send-off Mass for March for Life teens, young adults

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Jan. 12, 2019, at St. Mary Cathedral, at a send-off Mass for archdiocesan teens and young adults who will be taking part in the March for Life, Jan. 17-19, in Washington, D.C. The group of teens, with their chaperones, numbers 147 and includes representatives of the following Catholic high schools: Archbishop Carroll, Archbishop McCarthy, Belen, Carrollton, Chaminade-Madonna, Columbus, Immaculata-La Salle, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, St. Brendan and St. Thomas Aquinas. The group of young adults numbers 42 and includes students from the University of Miami, Florida International University, Encuentros Juveniles, and Immaculate Conception Parish in Hialeah.

Today is January 12 – the ninth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. The devastation, as you all know, was widespread and terrible; houses, schools, churches were destroyed and almost 300,000 people died. There is the story of an elderly woman praying outside of what was Sacre Coeur Church in Port-au-Prince. The only thing that had not been destroyed was an outdoor shrine; a concrete crucifix remained standing in the midst of the rubble. A reporter passed by, saw the woman and asked, “Where was God?” And the woman just pointed to the crucifix. There was God, crucified on the cross, in the midst of the pain, the suffering and the grief of the Haitian people. She understood that God was there, suffering with the people. This woman in her faith perhaps understood the mystery of what we have celebrated during this Christmas season better than the more learned theologian. God became man in Jesus Christ to take upon himself our human condition and redeem it. Jesus became man, he accepted to be baptized by John and he went to the cross – all in solidarity with us. 

The baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan is also an “Epiphany” – that is, a new manifestation or revelation of who Jesus is. Of course, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized – the waters of the Jordan could not “sanctify” him, for he is the Holy One of God. But, by going down into the waters of the Jordan, he makes it possible that water sanctify us.

Each of the three Scripture readings gives us a portrait of Jesus. They highlight different aspects of Jesus’ identity. Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant of God – and we will only understand fully the import of Isaiah’s prophecy in the light of Calvary. Jesus is that long desired Servant of God who will redeem his people. But, even more, as we see in the Gospel, Jesus is the Son of God. A voice from heaven is heard. It is the voice of the Father who says, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” And as the voice speaks, the Spirit descends upon him and anoints him as the Messiah, the Christ. In the second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter speaks of Jesus as one who went about “doing good.”

The portrait of Jesus that we see in the readings today is a portrait of the Son of God who stands in solidarity with a suffering and sinful humanity.

The baptism of Jesus is a type of synopsis – or summary – of his whole life. This baptism by John announces and anticipates the other baptism that awaits him, his baptism in blood when he dies on the cross to atone for our sins. We, when we are baptized, received not the baptism of John; our sacramental baptism is a participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection. As we are bathed in the waters of the baptismal font, we die with Christ – and we rise with him – to a new life as sons and daughters of God. In our baptism, the Father also speaks to us and says to each one of us, “You are my beloved Son." The Spirit also descends upon us – and we are anointed, we are christened so that we too, like Jesus, will do the will of the Father. Anointed as Christ was anointed, we become “Christians.”

As the Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, has reminded us – and his words have been repeated already many times by Pope Francis – “One doesn't begin to be a Christian because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation.”

However, as we are only too aware, many of the baptized have yet to fully embrace or understand what it means to be a Christian and what a Christian is supposed to do. Today, one of the great challenges we face is to help awaken and activate the grace of baptism in our people. We are, in many ways, far from understanding what it means to be, in the words of Pope Francis, “missionary disciples.”

How many have buried their baptism under a blanket of consumerism or indifference. How many only go through the motions of religious practice – if they practice at all – without a real, authentic encounter with Christ? Can we allow ourselves to settle for mediocrity or superficiality in the practice of our faith?

Today, we have with us at the cathedral young people who will represent all of us at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. They go to Washington as missionary disciples of Jesus who is the Lord of Life. Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, affirmed the Church’s “particular love and concern” for unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. That abortion continues to be so common today is an example of what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture” in which the weak or the inconvenient are discarded at will. These young people will join thousands of others later this week in our nation’s capital to witness to the inviolate dignity of each human being. We pray with them that every human being will be welcomed in life and protected by law from the moment of conception till natural death. 

We pray also today in a special way for the Haitian people. We cannot allow what Pope Francis calls a “globalization of indifference” to deaden our hearts to the plight of the unborn or to the plight of the poor. Globalization has shrunk the world and, in many cases, has erased borders. Pope Benedict once remarked, “Globalization has made us all neighbors, but it hasn’t made us brothers and sisters.”

As we see in the solidarity of Jesus with all of mankind as he is baptized in the River Jordan, the antidote to a “throwaway culture” which would exclude the unborn from life, and the poor of this world from a place at the table of the world’s plenty, is the globalization of solidarity. 

With his baptism, Jesus begins his journey in solidarity with us all. He indicates an itinerary for us to follow so as to fulfill, as Jesus told John, “all righteousness.” Jesus shows us the path to follow so that we too might be in Christ, sisters and brothers of one another and the beloved sons and daughters of the Father, with whom God the Father is also well pleased.

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