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01/12/2020 Baptism of the Lord - Fr. Reggie

The day of Jesus' baptism is one of the pivotal moments in his life.

It marks the beginning of what the Church traditionally calls his "Public Life."

The life of Christ can be divided into four major sections.

First, what is called his "Hidden Life." This includes Christ's infancychildhood, and young adulthood. The Gospels record little of these years. History and tradition fill in some of the blanks, but for his first 30 years, Jesus lived a normalrelatively uneventfulworking-class life. In a small town where everyone knew everyone else, he spent his days helping Mary, Joseph, and their neighbors make ends meet. We call it his "Hidden Life" because his true identity and mission were hidden from the world during this period.

The Second section is his "Public Life." This starts with his baptism and goes until the Last Supper. In this period he traveled the highways of Galilee and Judea, preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles, and training his Twelve Apostles. During this period, his identity as Messiah became known to the public - first with the dramatic revelation at his baptism, and then through his words and mighty deeds.

The third period is his Passion.  It goes from the Last Supper through his trialsscourgingcrucifixion, and burial. This is the culmination of his mission, when he reveals the shocking depth of God's love for us sinners and offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The fourth section is the period of his Resurrection

It goes from Easter until his Ascension into heaven - the final fulfillment of his mission.

These four sections are not random. Christ lived them for us - and they correspond to the four phases of Christian life - the phases by which we attain Christian maturity and wisdom.

As Christians, our Hidden Life usually begins with something significant or extraordinary.

Christ's birth on Christmas Day was surrounded by supernatural glory and drama - the angels appearing to the shepherds and the Magi bringing their gifts from the east.

So too, every Christian should be able to identify some moment when they took personal responsibility for their faith. Maybe it was at First Communion. Maybe it was at Confirmation. Maybe it was when you got married. Maybe it was after a retreat, or on a pilgrimage, or in the aftermath of a family tragedy. It can happen in many different ways and places, but it has to happen.

To follow Christ in a mature manner, we have to consciously accept his invitation, to make a fundamental option in our lives: to declare ourselves for or against Christ.

This is sometimes called a moment of conversion or repentance.

But that's only the beginning - just as Christmas was the beginning of Christ's Hidden Life.

Once we have made a decision to follow Christ, then the process of what spiritual writers call "integration" begins.

This is our Hidden Life - the hard work of putting our lives in order. Only God sees this work. But it's essential. We start living like Christians: our relationships become healthier, we become more responsible, dependable, balanced, patient, joyful - but it only happens through a steady effort supported by prayer and the sacraments.

Integration is like the period of spring training for baseball players: it's getting our lives into shape - into Christ's shape.

Once we have made our fundamental option and made progress in our integration, we will soon be ready for the third phase - generosity. God is like a good coach - he loves us too much to let us settle for mediocrity. And so, once we get the basics down, once our lives are free from habits of serious sin and we have developed some spiritual maturity, then he invites us to follow him more closely. Something will happen to test us, to purify us, to push us to deeper faith and more selfless love.

We get pushed out of our Christian comfort zone - just as Christ was pushed out of the comfort of his home in Nazareth at the start of his Public Life.  From his baptism on, he faced temptation, opposition, and exhaustion as he fulfilled the mission he had received from his Father. The same thing happens to us when we are ready for it - God gives us a mission that demands more generosity. Maybe he sends us hardship - physical, emotional, or moral suffering. Maybe he will nudge our conscience with a new idea - like give up a lucrative job in order to serve the Church. Maybe he will invite us to a whole new level of adventure by calling us to the priesthood or the consecrated life.

These invitations to generosity come in little things and in big things, but they keep coming

And every time we respond generously by accepting the invitation and adjusting our level of integration, we will experience God more deeply, grow in wisdom and virtue, and achieve a new level of Christian maturity

And then God will send us another invitation to generosity, and the growth will continue.

God will never be cruel to us. He will never ask too much of us - ask or invite us to a level of generosity that is beyond us.

But on the other hand, he will never ask too little of us either. He loves us too much to leave us stuck in mediocrity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ showed the extent of his love by suffering and dying on the cross. He did it that way on purpose. He knows that since we live in a fallen world, a world ruled by selfishness, we too will have to die on our crosses in order to fulfill our vocation to love as Christ loved.

And if we do our best to carry generously the crosses that the Lord allows to come our way, then we will be well-prepared for the final phase of Christian life: perseverance

This simply means staying faithful to our friendship with Christ "at the hour of our death," as we pray in the Hail Mary.

It is comforting to remember that when that hour finally does come, we will not have to face it alone - Jesus will be there with us.

In fact, he is with us each step of the way, if only we look with the eyes of faith.

That's the message of Christ's baptism.  Our Lord became one of us, getting baptized even though he didn't need to. He took our place here in this valley of tears, so that we can one day take our place at his side in the heavenly homeland. That's the destination we look forward to as we move from our fundamental option, through integration and generosity, to final perseverance.

 

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