Baptism of the Lord, Year A-2011
Vincent and Louise: one and the same passion
- You did not withhold from me your own beloved son (Gen. 22:12—NAB)
Says Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., in a recent article: “Experiencing the turbulence of church politics in his day, Vincent said, ‘The poor have the true religion’” . In a much earlier article, Father Maloney wrote: “At times when there are tensions between some church members and the hierarchy or scandals within the hierarchy itself, it is useful to note that the church is thriving at its roots in the lives of the poor” .
Turbulence, tensions and scandals continue to this day. One sees them in a National Catholic Reporter reader commenting that Cardinal Franc Rodé goes out under a cloud of various kinds and that the Cardinal’s “legacy is that of a great irony - the supreme irony of a professed son of St. Vincent De Paul (Apostle of the Poor and Founder of the Sisters of Charity) leading a life style of the rich elite” . They can be gathered from a report where there is the admission that “the most depressing finding of the Pew study was that 71 percent of former Catholics said the reason they left the church was ‘that my spiritual needs were not met by the church -- in other words, our fundamental product failed’” . There is clear evidence of them in a reflection that bewails without mincing words attempts on the part of those in high position of power to reverse Vatican II . And if to these turbulence, tensions and scandals I add the disheartening statistics pointing to the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” , then all the more reason I have to turn to the poor, the ones who have the true religion, and keep praying Ps. 37.
In the company of the poor and surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, I must keep my eyes fixed first and foremost on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith (cf. Heb. 12:1-2). Made perfect through suffering and tested—though without sinning—in every way like those he identifies with and is leading to salvation, Jesus is able to sympathize with their weaknesses (Heb. 2:10; 4:15). Also, his presence signifies the fulfillment of the time of worship in Spirit and truth when it no longer matters where one worships or what one’s race, ethnicity or culture is (Jn. 4:23).
Jesus goes back, of course, to the beginning as the Word who is with God and is God, yet he is flesh and dwells among us (Jn. 1:1-2, 14). Notwithstanding the mention of angelic host and of magi from the east being guided by the star, the story of his birth in Bethlehem, not in the royal capital, Jerusalem, portrays simplicity, commonness, humble and poor setting (Mt. 2:1-12; Lk. 2:1-21). Jesus humbles himself, taking the form of a slave and coming in human likeness (Phil. 2:7-8). Ever true to himself as a suffering servant, albeit God’s beloved Son and anointed with the Spirit, he submits to John’s baptism with water for repentance to fulfill all righteousness. Wholly submissive, then, to God’s plan, Jesus who is rich, holy and does not know sin, and through whom and without whom nothing can come to be, identifies with us human beings in the humblest way that he graciously chooses not only to be made poor to make us rich but also to be made sin to make us righteous (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 1:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; 8:9).
Jesus’ embrace of humanity with its limitation, imperfection, weakness, folly and even sinfulness makes me accept my human self and my human condition with humility as well as with hope. God’s descent to earth in his incarnation to be united with his Church—that God wills that his “graces come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight,” (to borrow from St. Teresa of Avila) —is as humbling as it is uplifting. I must humbly accept that there is much in me as a human being that runs counter to God’s provident plan. But there is really no obstructing God’s plan. The most ambitious, careerist or most scandalous of shepherds cannot foil God’s plan any more than the most rebellious, divisive, self-righteous or sinful of sheep can. It does not matter that human beings are not so accepting; what matters really is that one is acceptable to God, fearing him and acting uprightly. God is in control and he provides. When necessary, he writes straight with crooked lines. Like Abraham, therefore, I must leave it to God and acknowledge simply, even if very painfully also, that he will see to the victim to be sacrificed (Gen. 22:8, 14). His grace overflows all the more where sin increases (Rom. 5:20). I can reasonably hope, then, that God will even make me understand effectively and practically why I am held to a higher standard than those, perhaps, to whose level I am tempted to stoop down with vindictiveness . I can hope too that from being baptized into Christ Jesus will logically follow my going about doing good.
The baptized who partake of Jesus’ body and blood, take part in the sacrifice that Jesus offered, he himself being the victim God provided so as to make possible their sharing in his divinity. May I indeed share in the divinity of Christ, so humble as to say share in my humanity. May I not eat and drink judgment on myself; rather, may I eat the bread and drink the cup discerning the body, recognizing and waiting on the poor with true religion instead of showing contempt for the church of God and making those who have nothing feel ashamed (1 Cor. 11:22, 29, 33).
-  “Inventive Love,” America (December 20, 2010) 11-13.
-  “Ten Helpful Distinctions,” America (October 14, 1995) 19-21.
-  Cf. http://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/brazilian-head-vatican-congregation-religious-life (accessed January 8, 2011).
-  Cf. http://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/saying-bishops-scared-panelists-urge-laity-take-lead (accessed January 8, 2011).
-  Cf. http://theswag.org.au/2010/12/reflections-on-an-ordination-golden-anniversary/ (accessed January 8, 2011)
-  Cf.: http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/america's-underclass-the-growing-gap-between-the-rich-and-poor-487302.html?tickers=dltr,xhb,tlt,%5Edji,%5Egspc,kbh,xrt (accessed January 8, 2011); http://pewresearch.org/pubs/593/haves-have-nots (accessed January 8, 2011); http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/28/income-gap-widens-census-_n_741386.html (accessed January 8, 2011).
-  Cf. the non-biblical reading, from a sermon by Faustus of Riez, in the Office of Readings for Saturday—after Epiphany to Baptism, and the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings for October 15, the memorial of St. Teresa of Avila, Liturgy of the Hours.
-  Cf. a letter with the heading “The Crux of the Matter,” America (December 6, 2010) 29.