Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Baptized For Greatness
Do you notice what’s common in these phrases: guest service; sanitary engineer; personal trainer; flight attendant; downsizing; collateral damage; ethnic cleansing?
Prettied up language is what’s common. But to what end? I never feel I’m a guest of Top’s, Target or Kohl’s. I’m a customer, sometimes bewildered and usually satisfied. Language beautification also masks the menial aspects of work, which the words janitor, coach, steward & stewardess do not mask.
Language beautification may be dirty and deceive: reducing debt by sacking employees doesn’t address management problems or understand that work is integral to human dignity. And to call human suffering “collateral” or to call human extermination “cleansing” is blasphemy.
I won’t deceive you when it comes to the good news of Jesus. Jesus was clear: persecutions were part and parcel of life, and of the Christian life in particular.
The Christian life is a bittersweet life. So is any life, which has disappointments, setbacks, struggles, temptations on a routine basis, and sometimes singes us with intense suffering. Living with and for Christ recognizes that; it also invites us and all disciples to live in a new way. Our scriptures describe a few aspects of this new way of deepening discipleship:
First, we grow to realize position, prominence and influence do not guarantee greatness; serving others’ needs makes one great. Second, this is no impossible task: think of all the spouses, parents, older brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and neighbors who model selfless love to children and youth; and those same people modeling selfless love to each other. Moreover, our Creator and Redeemer Jesus was able to sympathize fully with us and what challenges our daily living because he was fully human and was tested in every way all humans are tested in life.
These enable us to live as a leaven in the mass of society. We affect it by being a sign of contradiction of the world’s way of operating for gain and for self rather than for sharing more equitably the gifts of creation entrusted to our care and safeguarding each other’s dignity. Living as this transforming leaven in society means that our vocation is to revolutionize the world with no other arms save the gospel of our Messiah Jesus.
His gospel is not divorced from the world or opposed to it. Early last week pope Benedict said, “[F]aith in God and scientific research cooperate to the same end, which can best be expressed with the words of Jesus himself: that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Commenting on Jesus’ words, the pope spoke on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Home for the Relief of Suffering, an initiative of St. Padre Pio. Saints, especially those of our day help who help us see without the filter of time or culture, show us children, women and men deeply confident in risen Jesus’ presence with them. They showed Jesus to others; they were his hands, feet, eyes and ears as Theresa of Avila sang; and Jesus encouraged them to challenge the world by living the gospel.
We are a community of blessed people. We are blessed with wealth of all varieties. Many share that wealth generously at home, in school, at work, even abroad. I am most grateful; you inspire me more than you can know. I desire that you never lose heart as you respond generously to Jesus’ personal invitations to you, which began in our baptisms.
Focused on his baptism to serve, Jesus refocused James and John and refocuses us, who want to escape suffering and inconvenience. Invite Jesus to sharpen the focus on our baptism. Set aside 10 minutes to focus each day this week. Become aware of the Divine Persons embracing you in love Praise Jesus, who modeled being baptized and lived it so well. Speak with him about the cup he drank; or converse with him about one baptismal symbol and how it shapes you: the sign of the cross; the water; the oil of chrism; the fire atop the Paschal candle; the white garment. Ask him for the grace you need to live your baptism more candidly, then resolve how you can do so one way that day. Close, slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer.
You won’t deceive yourself.