Jan 6, 2011

The Baptism of the Lord: What is my mission?

Is 42: 1-4, 6-7
Acts 10: 34-38
Matthew 3: 13-17

No human organization runs well or accomplishes its goal without some sort or plan or direction. Imagine a family in which parents never discipline their children, are tardy on paying their monthly bills, never show concern about who is doing what when and where, and just live by the moment. A government which has no law, no Constitution, no designated leader, and no social programs for the poor and needy is anarchy. A place of employment which establishes no job descriptions for its employees and simply allows them to think it up as they go along. Of course, these are extreme examples but it does illustrate the need for some direction and organization.

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Our first reading from Isaiah describes the mission that Jesus will follow according to the Father’s will: “. . . he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the streets . . . to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness . . .” (Is 42 1-7).

Here God the Father gives Jesus his marching orders as it were. He has come among us in order to establish justice, to bring healing, reconciliation, and hope for the hopeless; light for those in darkness. In other words for all of us who live under the shadow of sin and death we have been offered a new way of life that is according to God’s will for us.

To confirm that plan even more, Matthew's Gospel passage today, the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan river, relates God the Father himself who speaks not only to John but to all of us: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” These are the words of a proud parent (Father) who presents his adult son to us in the same manner that last week’s celebration of the Epiphany saw that same infant Son of God revealed to the larger world in the symbol of the Magi who followed his star.

God reveals his pleasure – that he is pleased with the sign that Jesus becomes for all of us. His plan begins at this baptism, concludes in the resurrection, and is lived out in the life of the Church. But, we too have a plan. We too have our “marching orders” as it were. To carry on the work which Christ began and now is entrusted to us with that same Spirit which descended like a dove over the person of Jesus as he rose from the waters of the Jordan.

What is that plan and how do we know it? As the Father sent Jesus on mission and offered him a plan, he sends us to live that out in our vocation. As married, single, ordained, consecrated religious we live out the purpose for which we were created. A vocation is not an occupation and that is an essential difference. A vocation is the way I am Christian in the world and the overall lifestyle, the direction my life takes. How I am Christ to others and by accepting that “mission” I live out the grace offered me in baptism. For that “doorway sacrament” of water and spirit is foundational to our Christian life but is constantly lived out day by day – for many since infancy and for others at a later point in life’s journey.

An occupation is my job, the place of my employment; the company I work for, the school I teach in (although being an educator is certainly a kind of vocation), the health care institution I serve in, or wherever I am employed – who signs my paycheck is my employer. Of course elements of this we find in the Church because we are a human institution but the overall direction of my life through which I am Christ to others is my vocation. How can I make the person of Christ visible to others through my life choice begun at my baptism?

As priest, I am called to witness to love inclusively rather than exclusively and to humbly serve in the person of Christ as Shepherd. As married person, I serve in faithfulness to my spouse and care for children. As single person, in the exercise of my freedom and the witness of my faith. As consecrated religious, in loyalty to the community of which I am a part and the integrity of the charism of the religious order I represent.

Have you asked lately what God desires for you? As priest, I often find myself just going through daily duties and expectations not giving much thought to the meaning of what I do. It’s a busy but very fulfilling life. Yet, it calls me to self-reflection and to ask each day – “What about today, Lord? What is your plan for me?”

St. Augustine, a great saint of the Church who was no stranger to confusion and bad choice, after his conversion offers this sound advice: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” What and where is the Father calling you to carry on the mission of Christ today?