13 JANUARY 2002
Scriptual Reference: Isaiah 41:1-4, 6-7 Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38, Matthew 3:13-17

Each One of Us Has a Vocation

       Many of you have heard of the famous book "Black Like Me." It was written in 1959 by a white man named John Howard Griffin, a man who had great hopes for reconciling the racial divisions in the U.S. Griffin darkened his skin with medical treatments and traveled through the deep south of the United States. The only way to know what it was like to be black, Griffin decided, was to become black. He wanted to experience first hand what it was like to be, in his words at the time, "a Negro in the Deep South." His six-week odyssey through the South as a black person was a dark journey into racism. He was flashed the "hate stare" by dozens of white strangers, stalked by a young white man, and insulted and disrespected by whites in nearly every encounter. Griffin's book was an important component of the early civil rights movement, and has since sold 10 million copies. It is standard reading in high school and college classrooms today, and continues to invite the readers to discuss issues surrounding prejudice and race.

       Today, we celebrate the feast of the Lord's baptism. As we read the passage from Matthew's gospel, we are immediately confronted with a problematic situation. John the Baptism preached a baptism of repentance. Sinful people were coming to John to be baptized in the Jordan River. John is surprised to see Jesus coming to him for baptism. "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?" he asks. John must realize that Jesus has no sins for the waters of Jordan to wipe away. Jesus says in reply, "allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus realizes that God has a special plan for him. Jesus is the one who will show men and women how to make right their relationship with God. In order to fulfill this mission, to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus came into the world as a man like us in all things but sin. In order for Jesus to be like us, he identifies with us in all that we do, even baptism. Just like John Griffin became black in order to understand their experience and difficulties, Jesus becomes a man and undergoes baptism to understand our experience and our difficulties. In his baptism then, Jesus becomes more like us.

       Ann Landers is known for her common sense approach to advice giving. She responded recently to a letter from a woman who had adopted a son when he was 6 weeks old. She and her husband decided never to tell him about his adoption. One day though, many years later when her son was 31 years old, a drunken family member blurted out the long held secret, creating confusion and upset in the family. Ann responded, "Your letter is especially valuable because it provides me with an opportunity to tell my readers once again that adopted children should be told as early as 3 or 4 years of age that they were chosen-which makes them special."

       At the beginning of today's liturgy we were sprinkled with holy water as a reminder our baptism. In fact, each time we dip our fingers in the water fonts at the entrances of the church, we are performing a baptismal action. Yet, for many of us, baptism is an event that we experienced long ago, probably as infants. We may not even remember it. However, I believe that baptism is the single most important event of our lives. Here's why. In the Gospel, God tells us that Jesus is his beloved son. Baptism, according to St. Paul, is the action by which God adopts us as his sons and daughters, brother to God's only and true Son, Jesus. And that makes us special. Baptism is an affirmation of God's tremendous love for us. And, our baptism is like Jesus' baptism. After he was baptized, he went forth into the desert for prayer, and then began his public ministry. The baptism of Jesus propelled him into a life of service to others. Our baptism has the same effect. Our baptism calls us to service just like Jesus. Our baptism calls us to holy, just like Jesus. In fact, our baptism makes us more like Jesus.

       When I was in high school chemistry, our teacher always kept the most dangerous bottles locked away. For one experiment, she pulled out a bottle of sodium metal. Sodium, in its pure form, looks like a dull aluminum. However, it is highly reactive. She showed us how a small sliver of sodium metal, when dipped in water, created an almost explosive reaction, a reaction which produced a tremendous amount of light.

       Today, on this feast of the Lord's Baptism, we see how the Lord's baptism makes him more like us, and our baptism makes us more like him. Water is where we meet. We are like that sodium metal. When we are dipped into water by our baptism, the reaction is explosive and full of light. It launches us into a way of living that we call a "vocation." This week is National Vocations Awareness week, and our young people in the school and in religious education will be hearing a lot about vocations to religious life and priesthood. I thought this might be a good opportunity to share a little with all you my own vocation story.

       I was baptized one month after my birth in Evansville Indiana. My parents divorced both of them remarried. My step dad moved us up to Indianapolis, when I was 9, and we moved into St. Monica parish. I finished grammar school there, and went on to North Central High School. That was a difficult transition for me; I had a very difficult time adjusting and making friends in such a large environment. It was back at St. Monica and in their confirmation program that the grace of my baptism exploded into my teen-age life. There, I found caring adults and peers who cared about me for who I was. I could be myself, and share my ideas about God and faith. I found a community that showed me the love of Christ. Archbishop O'Meara sealed my baptismal calling in the sacrament of Confirmation, and I responded to that grace by coming back to the next year's confirmation program as a peer facilitator. I continued my involvement throughout my high school years and made a good transition to Purdue University, where I began my studies in civil engineering. I was immediately drawn to volunteer at the campus parish as a leader of their high school confirmation program. During those two years, as I worshipped regularly on Sunday and maintained my involvement in ministry, I began to see that God was calling me away from engineering studies and calling me towards full-time ministry in the Church as a priest. With the careful guidance of my pastor and others, I transferred to St. Meinrad College, and after graduation, continued my studies for 5 more years at St. Meinrad's graduate Seminary. During that time, I could sense the grace of my baptism working powerfully in my life. God offered to me friends and experiences like none I had ever had. God seem to be telling me that priesthood was right for me, and today, I find myself responding to my baptismal call by serving all of you as St. Malachy's associate pastor. I truly love the priesthood, and am grateful to God for the graces God has given to through my baptismal calling.

       There is a clear message in today's feast of the Lord's Baptism: each one of us here has a vocation. Each one of us is called to become more like Jesus by responding to our baptismal call, just as Jesus responded to the grace of his own baptism through his life of service. It is for each one of us to determine how God is calling us. God is calling some of you to renew and strengthen your fidelity and devotion to your family. God is calling some of you to give more of your time in service to our parish and its social justice ministries. God is calling some of you to reach out to those with no faith, and to invite them here. And, I believe with all my heart, that there are young men and women in our midst that God is calling to the priesthood and religious life. We can't ignore it: when we were dipped in the water at our baptism, a explosive reaction occurred, making us God's adopted sons and daughters. And if we follow God's plan for us in our lives, we will hear the words that God spoke to Jesus, "This is my beloved son. This is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased." +

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