Browsing Homilies

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 35:4-7a | Ps 146 | Jas 2:1-5 | Mk 7:31-37

Our readings this weekend are brimming over with baptismal references. Isaiah uses vibrant water imagery to show that God’s love bubbles up and spills over to give life. Streams and rivers and pools and springs burst forth into dry places, allowing for growth and vitality where there was none. The gospel tells the story of a man who cannot hear or speak and of Jesus’ dazzling command Ephphatha! Be opened! We recall this moment in the sacrament of baptism by tracing a cross on the mouths and ears of infants (and adults alike, when their senses are signed with the Cross from their sponsor).

So perhaps this is a week to revisit our own baptism. Many of us, baptized as infants, don’t remember the gift of this day. A bit sad, perhaps; arguably the most important day of our lives, a defining moment of identity and mission, is lost to our weak human memories. We may have photographs, if we are lucky, but our lack of personal memory leads us to depend primarily on the collective memory of the Church. We know what baptisms are like from our ongoing participation in liturgical life. We rely, too, on the important witness of those among us baptized later in life. Theirs is a different story, often more dramatic, a story of choice and challenge and change. Some adults who are baptized struggle with their family’s opposition to this step. Dealing with this reality takes great courage.

More than any social consequences, though, baptism requires courage on the part of either the neophyte (a newly baptized adult) or his or her parents and godparents because in baptism something real is affected. We are really and truly changed. “You have become a new creation!” This is why baptism can only be done once and never repeated. God claims us permanently. We are once and for all made into children of God.

But living our baptisms is also an ongoing process. In much the same way that weddings are celebrated on one day but begin a lifelong marriage, so too is baptism celebrated once while also ushering in an entire new way of life. We have the chance to choose again and again to live up to our baptisms, much like married people choose again and again to live up to their marriage vows. In both instances, some days are easier than others. On the easy days, our good habits kick in, the choice is easy, and the duties are joyful. On the hard days, our vices and weaknesses may get the better of us. We fail to live up to the holiness for which we were made. But in both marriage and baptism, we are called to lean on the grace of the sacrament, renew our promises, and continue to strive for that holiness.

Challenges arise in part because we who are baptized experience spiritual dryness at times. The effects of baptism remain permanent, but our human feelings and emotions are fickle and don’t always reflect the reality of our having been made a “new creation.” We don’t always feel the life that God has given us. Our hearts are sometimes frightened, and Isaiah speaks to us along with Israel: be strong, fear not! Strength here is counterintuitively found in dependence, for it’s God’s action, not our own, that resolves our fear. Perhaps more common than fear, though, is plain boredom. In this instance, too, we rely on God to bring us through, to grant us the grace to persist even when the emotional reward is low.

It’s clear through all these readings that God is for the vulnerable, always. This is a God who secures justice for the oppressed and sustains the widows and orphans. In the second reading, we are assured that God chooses those who are poor, promising them richness in faith and an inheritance in the kingdom—gifts of baptism.

So, let’s take the opportunity to remember our baptisms and renew the promises we made on that day. If you don’t know the date of yours, try to find out. Put it on your calendar and commit to celebrating in some way. Re-light the candle given to you on that day (or any candle). Have a treat, invite your family to bless you. Parents, make a big deal out of your child’s anniversary of baptism. I have one dad who always texts me pictures of his kids on their day and the ice-cream they picked out for themselves, to which they’re always treated.

Find ways to keep these promises alive and before you, and not just at church when you bless yourself walking in, or when a sprinkling rite is celebrated, but at home, too; so that we may all grow in faithfulness—to our ever-faithful God.


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