Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism and the Beginning of Ordinary Time

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times begins her column by mentioning a woman who was persuaded by her best friend to go to a Catholic Church for Mass. She had some familiarity with Christianity, having gone to a Protestant Church and studied at their mission middle school, but going to Mass with her friend was her first exposure to Catholicism. 

One day she decided to study for baptism, and was given the name Catherine. The way her friend used to make the sign of the cross before she would eat, the columnist found very moving.  But her friend often was bored by the study, though finally passing the exam and was baptized. On the day of her baptism, she was filled with great emotion and cried.  Her godmother's hands and the cold water on that day, she said, all were warm. The Catholic neighbors from her village came with small gifts, which made for a memorable day. She soon became a devout member of the Church, reading many spiritual books and becoming a member of the Legion of Mary. Her whole family gradually were baptized.

However, the columnist tells us that she has become what is called a "tepid Catholic." Though many reasons for the change can be given, the result was she became like a wilted cucumber, from which all the water had disappeared. She would repeat to herself that she should be going to church, but as the word 'tepid' says, she was neither hot nor cold, just lukewarm, when it came to living her faith. And after missing her first Sunday Mass, it became easy to miss others. The other members of her family soon followed her lead. Even before the sprouts of the faith were allowed to grow, they dried up and died.

The columnist, her friend, tells us that because of different work commitments they were not able to see much of each other, though they did keep in touch over the years. Hearing that her friend was not going to Church gave her a heavy heart, and although she didn't consider her own spiritual condition one that allowed her to speak with confidence, she did feel she should have done more to help her friend with her problems in living her faith life. She did send her a book on the sacraments, hoping it would bring back some of the feelings she had at the time of baptism. These stories of Catholics losing their enthusiasm for the life of a disciple and the accompanying mission work they once considered important are all too common.

This Sunday, marking the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time of the liturgical year, is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the beginning of Jesus' public life and mission. At our baptism, we also become sons and daughters of God and are given the same mission that Jesus was given. We too can repeat the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus spoke at his first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:19), for they also refer to our own mission: To make known "a year of favor from the Lord."

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