Sunday, January 13, 2013

Called By Name

I, the Lord, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…”  (Isaiah 42:6)

Two nights ago, I was having dinner at the home of some dear friends and they invited all their friends and their children.  Months ago, this family had asked me to pray for their grandfather who was found to have a very aggressive cancer, and I promised them that I would offer up every Mass for him until he was healed.  That evening, I asked their oldest daughter, who had once upon a time been one of my youth group leaders, how her grandfather was doing, and she told me that he was doing much better and they were thankful for all the prayers.  I told her that not a day goes by that I didn’t mention her grandfather by name at Mass.  Now nearby one of my little girls, who is not so little anymore, was overhearing our conversation and asked me very directly, “Father, do you pray for me every day?”  I responded, “I pray for all my children every day.  I pray for all my parishioners, for all those who have been my parishioners, for those who have been my students, and for everyone I have served.”  She looked at me as only she would with the “I’m not buying it face” (mind you, I’ve known her since she was 7 and now she’s 18!) and said, “That’s not what I asked you.  I asked you if you pray FOR ME every day by name.”  I swallowed hard and confessed that I did not but promised that I would pray specifically for her the next morning.  Another one of my former students (now 22!) was also overhearing and said, “Hey, I also want in on this.  Pray for me too.”  I smiled because even though on one level they were trying to give me a hard time, I know that on a deeper level they really wanted to be prayed for…by name!  No matter where these wonderful kids are in their walk of faith, they still want that personal touch from God above.

As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today, I wanted to focus on this aspect of the sacrament in which we are called by name because it adds a personal dimension to this great mystery. At the very beginning of the rite of Baptism, the very first question the priest or the deacon asks is “What name do you give your child?”  So right there, the parents who have received from God this precious gift are called to name the child so that when the priest or deacon receives him or her at the baptismal font, that child may called by name as the minister says “(Manuel), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We are called by name to become part of God’s family: the Most Blessed Trinity who is present in today’s gospel on the banks of the Jordan in the voice of the Father, in the person of Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove.  Our Holy Father tweeted this morning, “What happens at Baptism?  We become united forever with Jesus, to be born again to a new life.” 

But it doesn’t stop there.  We are called by name to be part of what Blessed John Paul II calls “the great mission of the Church.”  Right after we are baptized the priest or deacon anoints our head with chrism to consecrate us and make us part of Christ’s ministry.  From that moment on, we will forever be called Christians.  The challenge of today’s feast is to ask ourselves if we are living up to our baptismal calling and of the name Christian.  Do people see in me a Christian person?  Am I participating actively in “the great mission of the Church?”  At baptism, we are indeed called by name by God himself, called by name to be part of God’s family, and called by name to part of the mission of the Church and to be “a light to the nations.”  Today we are challenged to answer one very simple question:  Are we living up to that calling?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Where's the Star?

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:2)

Last Monday, I ventured into one of our local malls and discovered that all of the Christmas decorations had been taken down.  This reminded me of when I walked into a Macy’s, the standard for over the top decorations, on December 27th a couple of years ago and not a single trace of Christmas was to be found.  Stores are so fast to put up decorations and are just as fast to take them down.  I’ve been encouraged in my new neighborhood that all my neighbors have left their Christmas lights up because last year when I visited my parents for a couple of days after Christmas, I noticed Christmas trees laying on the side of the road for garbage pickup on December 26th.  I don’t get it.  Why is the world so quick to discard Christmas?  Here in the church the Christmas season lasts until next week when we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, so you will see the decorations even though the world has moved on.  But today is a particularly meaningful day because we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany when Christ is revealed to all nations.  Today our Church must shine as that star did over Bethlehem.  Christ is in our midst yet sometimes we fail to recognize him.  We have opened our presents, and we have rung in the New Year.  Why must we put this glorious celebration of Christmas behind us as if it were something we had to do and are thankful that is finally over?
In today’s gospel, three men from the East come looking for the newborn king of the Jews.  Foreigners come looking for Jesus while his own people fail to recognize him.  All the signs were there: the star, the words in Scripture, their longing for a Messiah.  Jesus was in their midst and even the king’s own priests and scribes failed to recognize what three foreigners recognized.  The beauty of this day and the entire Christmas season for that matter is that we marvel and do homage to this God-child who was born for us.  That is why the first reading tells us to rise up in splendor because our definitive light has come and glory surrounds us.  Like the Magi, we rejoice upon seeing the star, and we prostrate ourselves in the presence of the newborn king who shines brighter than any star.  But the world seeks to hide that star or diminish its light. 
Friday night, some friends of mine passed by the rectory to take me to dinner and their 3-year-old daughter stood in the living room looking intently at my Christmas tree.  She was quiet and hid behind her mother with a sad face.  I asked her what was wrong, but she did not answer.  It took some prodding from her mother for her to finally explain that she was sad because my Christmas tree did not have a star.  (I tried looking for a nice one.  I really did but never got around to finding one and putting it up.)  Even a 3 year old recognizes the importance of the Christmas star and why it should be held high for the entire world to see.  This light must be in the heart of every Christian on this day so the spirit of Christmas doesn’t vanish when we go back to school or to work tomorrow morning.  The world will leave the joy of Christmas behind.  As Christians, we should not.
So it comes down to this as we continue our Christmas celebration:  are we going to be like Herod and his priests who fail to see the beauty of the presence of Christ in their midst? Or are we going to be like the Magi and recognize Jesus in our midst, seek him out and share his light?