The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (B)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Following the horrific event that transpired in our nation’s Capitol this past Wednesday afternoon, a good number of people are asking how it could have happened. And, depending on an individual person’s political leanings, blame has been hurled in many different directions. But the assigning of blame does not actually answer the question, “How could this have happened?” This demonstrates that when they ask such a question, they are not actually looking for the true answer to the question; rather, they are simply seeking political points, as if that somehow helped the situation.
The fundamental answer to the question, “How could this have happened?,” is simple and cuts to the core of our fallen human reality. It is an answer that almost no one wants to talk about, even most religious leaders. The ultimate answer is, quite simply, human sin. We like to think that if we just teach the right thing in the right way, or if we create a new policy, or if we follow the proper procedures, then evil deeds will simply disappear. We think all of this, but we never really address the fundamental issue behind evil deeds; we never address the fundamental issue of sin.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (1849). Regardless of the motivation behind those who committed such atrocious acts, it has to be said that was done was evil, that what was done was sinful. Without question, the destruction and violence in the Capital showed no real use of reason or right conscience; it was clearly a failure of genuine love for God and for neighbor; and it certainly wounded human solidarity.
By entering the waters of the River Jordan to receive the baptism of John, Jesus “allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’ (John ).” Though he himself had no sins, Jesus accepted the baptism of John to show his solidarity with us.
We have received a baptism greater than that of John the Baptist, for we have been baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. The baptism of John was an outward display of repentance, but it could not forgive sins; the Baptism of Jesus is not only an outward display of repentance, but it also carries it with the forgiveness of sins committed until that moment.
Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and “walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).”
What we saw this past week was hardly Christians walking in newness of life.
If you will allow me to say so, what we saw in our nation’s Capitol
is evidence of a people not formed by the Gospel to think about the common good. And the fractured, divisive, escalating tribalism and hatred between red and blue is evidence of a people not formed in their hearts by the Prince of Peace. So is the fracturing of the family, the sin of racism, the ubiquity of pornography, the marginalization of the poor, and the death of the unborn.
Put more simply, if few of us really know God, is it any wonder we treat each other so hellishly?
All of this demonstrates that our nation is thoroughly marked by sin. This sinfulness is not found one side or the other; rather, it is found all around. And we cannot forget that one sin does not – and cannot - justify another.
This weekend brings to a close the liturgical season of Christmas as enter again into the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is the liturgical season that is not focused on one particular aspect of the life of Christ, as Christmas and Easter are. Rather, Ordinary Time is given to us to reflect on the entire mystery of the life of Christ.
If seems to me that we can use these coming weeks before Lent to make a good examination of conscience, to ask the Lord to help us see into the depths of our hearts. It can be a time for us to question how much sinfulness still resides in our hearts. It can be a time to consider how closely my heart resembles the Heart of Christ. How often do we commit offenses against reason, truth, and right conscience, which is to say, how often do we attempt to justify our thoughts and actions when we know they do not conform to those of the Savior? How often do we fail to love God and neighbor genuinely? How much more attached to temporal goods are we than to spiritual goods? How often do we wound human solidarity by insisting on dividing into camps?
We must beg the Lord to root out these evils from our hearts so that we can truly walk in newness of life and in fidelity to the Baptism we have received. This is the only to heal our nation of its many ills. It cannot start with others; rather, it must start with me and it must start with you. May the Holy Spirit assist us in striving to conform ourselves to Christ Jesus so that the Father will be well-pleased in us, his sons and daughters (cf. Mark 1:11). Amen.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 536.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 536.
 J.D. Flynn, “Proclaiming Christ in fractured America: What are the Church’s priorities right now, and what do we believe?”, The Pillar, 7 January 2021. Accessed 9 January 2021. Available at https://www.pillarcatholic.com/p/proclaiming-christ-in-fractured-america?fbclid=IwAR3Hnlj68nwiks3u4lePqFpNwCMGnUsWbWLd1JzOM1eTnIfoaklySpDUpaA