Tag Archives: baptism

September 17: the Stigmata of Saint Francis

More from the Letters of Fr Andrew SDC, pioneer Anglican Franciscan, 1869-1946.

As you know, the word ‘sacrifice’ … just means the thing that is made holy.

It could not be God’s will to desire a thing because it was painful; no pain, no sorrow, no evil can be His ultimate desire. The pain of sacrifice is for a while: the holiness is for all time.

But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear … our life here is not only baptised but signed with the Cross. There never was yet an unscarred saint.

WT

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September 14. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XII: Forgiveness is a relationship and not just absolution.

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The fact that forgiveness is a relationship and not just absolution means that it just doesn’t apply to my past. The Spirit forgives – And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven [this is not reserved for the Sacrament of Reconciliation]; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven – John. 20.22. The Spirit is also the Spirit of Judgement and Discernment When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:  about sin, because people do not believe in me – John. 16.8. Jesus filled with the Spirit, is himself the judgement of the world, without uttering a word. As the Body of Christ the Church is called to be the conscience of the world by its authentic presence. It must start, obviously, with self-scrutiny to discern how, when and where it is turning to the Word.

This is crucial since no one is entirely free from creating victims. What kind of Gospel can be preached when the Church is unable to cope with the moral collapse of its ministers – except by silence and punitive measures? Excommunication, instead of being the penitent state, a breakdown in relationship, actively seeking restoration – has become simply an imposed penalty.

The Eucharist begins with locating ourselves as sinners, recognising through the gift of Grace of the pure victim that it is our entitlement to Christ – I have come for sinners, and so gathers to do this in remembrance of him. St Paul shows the connection between the Paschal Mystery and Baptism –

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life – Romans 6.3.

Jesus refers to his own death as a baptism – Can you … be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? – Mark 10.38. Death isolates and severs relationships – for Jesus it is the opposite; it opens a new network of relating, the antithesis of isolation. Jesus’ death came to be seen as the source of a new way of living, in the Resurrection he is given back to the world as the one in whom anyone can be graced by hope.

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During his life-time he showed what living non-violently means, holding no one and nothing in disregard; and the Resurrection shows this is how God lives as a human being. He is not just a memory of something past, nor simply a resuscitated individual. He has a human history. What he is now shows that he doesn’t belong to the past in the sense that everything about him was over and done with 2000 years ago; nor is he present now simply as a good example. We are confronted with real presence in a way that shapes life in a totally new way. He is met wherever there is creative forgiveness – but the Church [his body] is able to say explicitly where forgiveness comes from – the risen victim is forgiveness.

We are baptised into this reality into a life meant to witness to the Resurrection; as one author put it I am the dance, he is the dancer. This says that life is for us not just to talk about him or even hold celebrations for him, but to make him present by the way we are present. That is the mission of Baptism, being enabled to live in such manner as to make the Lord present and able to be met – as Pope Francis urged: show others who Jesus is for you – and for them; in a world without barriers – where each individual and all together are welcome.

The integrity of our Eucharist celebration comes through those celebrating living by the new way the Risen and present Lord has brought. Baptism lets me call God what Jesus calls – [and for the same reason]: Abba. The gift of the Spirit is to be able to name reality for God, God who also chooses to be called by name. Wherever there is salvation its name is Jesus, and its grammar is cross and resurrection. It is the risen Christ not the crucified Christ who is salvation. Jesus crucified easily becomes the God of my situation if my world is one of failure, humiliation and exclusion – myself as victim.

It is important to distinguish God’s i.d. with the victim from a moral approval of the victim’s cause – to live in Good Friday is to see the cross reflecting my condition; and if I look for the God of my condition on Easter Day I will not find him – like the women expecting to find a corpse. Why seek the living among the dead? He is risen, waiting to be met in an entirely new way – the cross is his, not mine. I need to see the cross as the cross of my victim – not myself as victim.

Jesus is living proof that the new way of being human means we are not trapped in the inevitability of pain. Easter brings this change – not to see the cross as mine. I need to meet the crucified and risen Jesus – who has bridged the gap between oppressor and victim. Whatever I expected to find in the tomb – isn’t there. The Risen Jesus cannot be confined to a memory of what was. The Church is not founded to preserve what was – it is the community meeting him every day.

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The memory of one who had inspired hope, even though the hope had not been realised, the wistful Emmaus road setting saw Cleopas puzzled by an empty tomb – no body. In this narrative Luke brings us face to face with letting-go consoling memories. Three times the Gospel presents Jesus as unrecognised: Emmaus – Magdalene – Galilean appearances. This element of not recognising is evident – for some it was meeting with a stranger. At Emmaus he takes them to task for not seeing the connection between suffering and glory – he is not what they thought him to be.

The Lordship of Jesus is not a construct of memories – but in meeting him totally new. The Church is not a continuation of Jesus, but the ongoing group of those meeting him afresh. We must not interpret his story in the light of our stories – he’s not there, he is risen. The Church is not a preservation society – but sets out each day to meet him afresh. He is unchangingly always new – we can never get used to him who makes all things new.

I cannot be in charge of the change required to let this happen in me; I need to be led into ways I do not know – as a way of life, not a once and for all happening. To actively desire this to happen is to face real poverty in as much as I can truthfully say I do not know what I want! This means letting go of everything that qualifies as I had hoped, a tale where I was the hero. St Francis: as the Lord has shown me what it is mine to do, may he show you what it is yours to do.

The risen Jesus confronts me with eager acceptance and total forgiveness; I no longer have to compensate for what is lacking by victimising. My response to Grace is to receive what is offered, and to become each day what I have received – for others. I can be articulate in speaking of the cross, injustice and suffering – but I am completely lost for words seeing the empty tomb.

I am empowered with a new way of speaking when I am there to meet the stranger on the shore. When Jesus risen is recognised it is as one who is simultaneously dead and alive: and become one with him.

Become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith – Philippians.3.9.

When the post Resurrection appearances ceased the Easter faith did not change, since it is bound up with the community living this – the Church: Then Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed – John.20.29. Thomas’ failure was not a failure to understand – but not realising that the fact of the Resurrection is not just to see Jesus. It is by the faith of the Church that the world comes to believe – not a list of events:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you love me – John.17.20-23.

 AMcC

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August 24: An unexpected challenge.

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Towards the end of last school term, my 13 year-old god-daughter Rose set me the question,

What are the challenges facing religious people today?

A challenge in itself. Here is my brief answer. Now what would you add  from your personal experience?

Maurice.

Hello Rose! I’m delighted to help with your RE homework. As you well know,  I’m a 67 year-old married Catholic with four grown-up children and one grandson. I am, of course, also a godfather to you and your younger sister.

I take it that by religious you mean someone who believes in what the Creeds say and attends church: that description fits me. I’m comfortable with that.

For the last 20 plus years I have worked as a tutor to children and young people who don’t attend school, usually because their behaviour has been dangerous to others – bullying and aggression – or else because they have not been learning and have made it difficult for other people to learn – or teach, or because of a particular set of needs, such as autism.

This often brings me to homes that are chaotic, often filthy, usually loving, sometimes neglectful. Parents and other adults may abuse drugs; they may also abuse their children verbally, physically, even sexually.

So I have dilemmas that would be the same for any other professional working with these people. For example:

  • Is it part of my job to get pupils out of bed when they don’t come to lessons (their phones are usually on silent at 9.00 in the morning).
  • Do I quietly help the parents in little ways, such as giving one family the bed Harry had grown out of, or a packet of tea bags – strictly speaking not allowed.
  • What steps do I take if I think my pupil’s dad beat him up? Even if the boy says he walked into the kitchen door?

But there are other challenges that arise because I’m religious:

  • Do I keep quiet about being religious? Or more accurately, how openly do I claim to be a Catholic at work? When working with other Catholics it is a help. Others may need answers to questions like, ‘Is God going to be angry with me because I did so-and-so? Why did Nan die so young (I could only start from telling the boy what he already knew: she smoked too much.)
  • How much confidentiality is appropriate? – the Father Confessor problem! Example: a year 11 pupil gets a job in a chip shop. Strictly illegal, but not hurting anyone else, and she soon realises that she is being exploited and packs it in. A boy in year 9 was working in Scrap Metal; illegal on any number of accounts: age, no gloves, no safety boots, slave wages and more. I did not want him in trouble, nor his mother, so she and I spoke seriously to him and showed him that he could get her into far more trouble that the measly pay was worth. No more needed to be done in that case but I would have had to put friendship on the line if he hadn’t dropped the scrap dealing. Good job, as the police were soon onto his ‘employer’ who went to prison.

I hope this gives you a taste of the challenges I, as a religious person, can face at work.

Your loving Godfather,

Maurice.

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August 13: H is for Holywell.

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There are Holy Wells all over Britain, most more than half forgotten. But people still leave little offerings and prayers tied to branches or stuffed between stones at St Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire. Even in Rome, coins are tossed into fountains to bring people back to the eternal city. Are they trying to force the hand of God or some lesser local deity?

R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest-poet, had a holy well in his parish where he would pray. Whom did he and other visitors pray to there?

‘ where the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

Holy wells challenge me, if no-one else! Whatever lies behind the legend of St Winifred’s well springing to life where her severed head fell, water has bubbled up here, people have prayed here, people have been cured and have left their crutches behind.

Is it superstition to ‘ask for more’? And is seeking bodily healing asking for more – or less – than a draught of ‘the pure spirit that has lived there always? More than likely people came to the holy well before the Welsh saints gathered around it.

Certainly water was a powerful sign to people before the coming of city plumbing and clean water on sale in plastic bottles. Here is Philip in the earliest days of the Church, riding in a chariot with a potential convert (Acts 8):

Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

 And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

May we never take water, or the Spirit, for granted!

Find out how to share the benefits of reliably clean water here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Winifred and her Holywell depicted in a window at her church in Plowden, Shropshire.

 

 MMB.

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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June 19: Shared Table II, the Dignity of the Child.

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Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.

If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence.                             p52.

We could also read this paragraph:

Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.                  p124-5.

Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)

So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before  receiving the Sacrament themselves.

Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.

MMB

 

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19 May: The Great Lie.

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Reading for Sext

All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

(Galatians 3: 27-28)

I loved books as child and read my way through the whole of the children’s library in my local village. As the day of my adult membership came nearer I marked in my mind the books on the adult shelves I was going to read first. I had a mind that loved all things supernatural and as a child read about faeries and goblins and witches; traditional tales of Hans Christian Anderson that still make me weep and sci fi. Oooh I love sci-fi but also classics like Jane Eyre, the Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner.

One book has stayed in my conscience and I recollected it recently after MOAB was dropped by the US in Afghanistan. It was a sci fi story and I cannot remember author or title – not a well-known one, I think – about an Earthman who was called to investigate a growing darkness spreading across the galaxy like a dark finger. All planets in contact with this darkness went utterly mad. He witnessed the madness but could not fathom its cause. It was utterly destructive. In frustration, he went to the Central Planets and awaited the inevitable doom of the people whom he had come to love and respect. He asked them to steel themselves and prepare for the worst, but they ignored him and carried on joyfully and peacefully with their lives, as they had always done. He was tearing his hair out as the darkness consumed one planet after another in the solar system, getting ever nearer this special place. The darkness enveloped the planet, yet nothing happened. No madness, no wars, no mental breakdowns. All went on as before.

Puzzled, he went to talk to the beings who had commissioned his service in the first place and realised what had happened. The inhabitants of the planet immune to the darkness were uninfluenced by the one thing that had destroyed all the other planets. They paid no attention to lies. The darkness was The Great Lie.

Christ calls Satan the Father of All Lies and perhaps the humble sci fi writer from the 1950’s used this as inspiration to suggest to us, in the form of a simple story, to pay no attention whatsoever to what is not truth. To do so means we need to clothe ourselves in Christ, so we may discern truth from lies.

In this era of fake news, tragedy and frightening weapons, maybe we can take heart from these simple, joyful beings who pay no attention to anything that is not of Christ. Oh, yes, we have them living among us – Franciscans! May the force be with you.

CW.

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29 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: IV, ‘A mature choice for a life of faith.’

Walking with young people builds up the community.

Dear BBB,

Today I’d like to share some thoughts from the preparation document for the coming Synod of Bishops. You ask: Are we experiencing the decline of faith and church as we know it?  Well, that’s one way of looking at it, but I agree with Doug that hardly means Christianity is dead.

Baptism, the Bishops remind us, is not the same as making a mature choice for a life of faith. Arriving at this point requires a journey which sometimes includes unpredictable paths and uncustomary places which are far removed from ecclesial communities. In this regard, Pope Francis said: “Vocational pastoral ministry is learning the style of Jesus, who passes through the places of daily life, stops without being hurried and, by looking at our brothers with mercy, leads them to encounter God the Father (Address to Participants in the International Conference on Pastoral Work for Vocations, 21 October 2016). Walking with young people builds up the entire Christian community.

Precisely because the proposed message involves the freedom of young people, every community needs to give importance to creative ways of addressing young people in a personal way and supporting personal development. In many cases, the task involves learning to allow for something new and not stifling what is new by attempting to apply a preconceived framework. No seed for vocations can be fruitful if approached with a closed and “complacent pastoral attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” and without people being “bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities” (Evangelii gaudium, 33). Three verbs from the Gospel, which describe the way Jesus encountered the people of his time, can be of assistance in adopting this pastoral style: “going out”, “ seeing” and “calling.”

If we want to be seeing young (and older) people in our church buildings, we have to go out to them; only then can we be used to call them.

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19 March: 3rd Sunday in Lent, Jesus and the Woman at Jacob’s Well.

 

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We were bowled over by the beauties of the Baptistry of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in the Swiss town of that name. It is worth a detour, or spending a couple of hours between trains to make a journey into a pilgrimage.

In John’s Gospel, chapter 4, Jesus was returning to Galilee from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he sat down by Jacob’s Well and asked a Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water. The well, of course, was there before the Jews and Samaritans went their separate ways: ‘Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore,’ said the woman.

Instead of getting into an argument with her, Jesus tells her:

 The hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.

This text is used for one of the Scrutinies – special prayers within the Sunday Mass for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. We can pray these words for ourselves, too:

God of power, you sent your Son to be our Saviour. Grant that these men and women, who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water, may turn to the Lord as they hear his word and acknowledge the sins and weaknesses that weigh them down. Protect them from vain reliance on self and defend them from the power of Satan. Free them from the spirit of deceit, so that, admitting the wrong they have done, they may attain purity of heart and advance on the way to salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Let us pray, too for the grace to treat as sisters and brothers all the baptised, of whatever Church.

Let us pray for the freedom of everyone to adore  God, in church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

 

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An Ash Wednesday message from Bishop Patrick Chisanga OFM Conv, former student at FISC.

 

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From the Missionaries of Africa Website.

Bishop Patrick leads the diocese of Mansa in Zambia and was recently a student at FISC.

Spiritual Warfare against Evil Intensified: Ba Minshioni Ba Lelo Nifwe.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

  1. On 1st March we begin the Season of Lent – the intensive 40 days’ spiritual journey towards that great summit of our Christian faith and worship: the annual celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead, the ultimate victory of good over evil.
  2. The Word of God that is proclaimed during the liturgical celebrations of the subsequent five Sundays (Year A) have a particularly rich pedagogical character that guides catechumens towards the waters of baptism and general Christian Initiation on the Easter Vigil. All the faithful must equally endeavour to draw maximum benefit from the wealth of these carefully selected passages, in view of their own solemn renewal of the baptism promises during the same Easter Vigil and in order to be spiritually recharged for the ongoing battle against temptations and sin.

The Sunday Gospel passages that will lead the way during this Lenten itinerary include: (1) The Temptations of Jesus – Matthew 4;7-17, (2) The Transfiguration of Jesus – Matthew 17:1-9, (3) Jesus’ Encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well – John 4:5-42, (4) Jesus’ Healing of the Man who was Born Blind – John 9:1-42 and (5) Jesus’ Raising of Lazarus from Death – John 11:1-45.

As you may notice, the last three passages from the Gospel according to John are quite lengthy. However, with adequate preparation, these Readings may be proclaimed using the role-play format, as is done on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The priest and selected faithful could take the respective roles of Jesus and other individuals in the passage. By so doing and, when done diligently, this manner of proclamation enables the congregation to follow with greater attention.

I invite all priests to carefully meditate upon these Readings during this whole period of grace so as to be able to deliver a fitting message to the faithful during the celebration of the Eucharist. Furthermore, in view of the so many Centres that still do not have priests on Sundays, I ask all parish priests to ensure that there is sufficient prior preparation of the prayer leaders and/or catechists who are selected to comment on the Word of God during the Sunday worship in their respective outstations.

In addition, I enclose, with this letter, the Lenten homily notes that the JCTR has graciously shared with us. Let them be further distributed to the Small Christian Communities (SCC), Lay Groups as well as individuals for further reflection and appropriate action that is inspired by the Word of God.

  1. This year’s Lent coincides with the Pastoral Theme in our Diocese according to which we celebrate the ministry of the pioneer missionaries and declare that “We are the Missionaries of Today” (Ba Minshioni ba Lelo, Nifwe). Let us recall the sacrifice, availability and pastoral zeal of our gallant pioneer missionaries and in turn make a commitment to the effect that their works will live on through each one of us. Indeed, the Church, in Mansa Diocese, shall continue to announce the Good News to all creation, in obedience to the great commission of our Lord Jesus (Mark L6: 15).
  2. To rekindle this missionary zeal, the Lenten Season offers us the instruments of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving according to the guidance of Jesus, as proclaimed in the Gospel passage of Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18). These three pillars of Lent, when taken seriously, have the capacity to bring about lasting positive change in our lives, especially in overcoming the sinful habits that we repeatedly struggle with. I invite each one of you to pray, fast and give alms with the intention of being liberated from any such demeaning slavery.

Furthermore, in order to intensify our spiritual warfare against evil through combined effort and, in response to the appeals made during the Pastoral Council Meeting last October, I again invite the faithful in all our parishes to observe the “24 hours for the Lord” on the Friday to Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent (24 – 25 March). Let this day be flooded with prayers, songs, Eucharistic adoration, catechesis and actual celebration of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. lt would be fitting that this special day concludes with the joyful Eucharistic celebration of the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord on Saturday, 25th March.

I implore you, my dear brothers and sisters in the Diocese, to take the invitation seriously and spare this ’24 hours’ exclusively for the Lord. Bring to this special period of intense prayer the needs of our society and individual members for healing from anger, guilt, unforgiving heart, drunkenness, sexual immoralities, pride, selfishness, etc. Through this prayer, let us also invoke Divine intervention to end the ongoing violence against the sanctity of human life, the values of marriage and family as well as the integrity of God’s creation.

  1. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you. I wish you a fruitful and grace-filled Lenten Season 2017.

Given on this First Day of March in the Year of the Lord 2017, the Ash Wednesday

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9 January: The Baptism of Our Lord

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When my ten-year-old godson was baptised, he chose a new name, one that was important to him: his Father’s name.

When my son was baptised he was given names from his grandfathers and godfather. Our daughter’s names, too, were chosen to say something about who they were and where they came from.

We can learn something about a person – and their parents and ancestors – from their surnames.

And so it is when Jesus is baptised; we are told something about him: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

While John was right to say that Jesus did not need his baptism of repentance, by accepting it Jesus witnessed to his relationship with his Father – a relationship John encouraged his penitents to renew at a personal level through a symbolic death and rebirth in the water.

Let’s pray for the grace to be faithful to our baptism by daily witnessing to our relationship with the Father and by daily renewing that relationship in our moments of reflection and repentance.

MMB

The Baptism of the Lord, Basilica of the Holy Family, Zakopane, Poland.

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