The liturgy the past week in between the Feast of the Epiphany and the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism today gives us what we might call a “pabaon” (a parting gift) as we enter ordinary time this coming week.
At the start of the final week of the Christmas season, we saw Christ as someone who compassionately responds to the needs of the people—spiritual, emotional and material. He preaches, heals, exorcises and feeds the people.
After working with the crowds, he shows the depth of his presence in our life. When in the midst of his disciples’ anxiety and fear as their boat was being tossed by the waves and thinking Christ walking on the water was a ghost, he calms them and tells them, “Take courage. Do not be afraid. It is I.”
Coming closer to the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism, we saw him proclaim, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon us” as he declares the fulfillment of God’s plan in his coming, the coming of God’s Kingdom in our midst. This is followed by the cure of the leper and finally John the Baptist declaring he, John, must decrease and Christ must increase in him.
In today’s feast, we have the Gospel narrative of the Lord’s baptism, which many say is the vocation story of Christ. It is the moment when, with great clarity, Christ understands who he is and why he is in the world—his identity and mission. It is the beginning of his ministry, his journey to the Cross. This moment, a beatific vision, is the moment that Elizabeth Braddon writes about as the moment ”…we are invited to step out into the journey that beckons us.”
This is part of the beauty and drama, the grace and the spirit of our liturgical cycle. It is a dramatic reminder that the most powerful moments are meant to be lived out in the day-to-day. Grace and God’s spirit is meant to have an effect in the way we live our day to day life.
The drama and power of this beatific vision—in cinematic grandeur, the heavens opening, the dove descending and a voice declaring, “This is my Beloved Son in who I am well pleased”—is the prelude to going back to ordinary time. Live out the graces in the day to day. As Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, used to tell us, to find the extraordinary grace of God in the ordinary moments of the day-to-day.
This past week we not only experienced this transition in the theme in our liturgy, but also in our physical surroundings. At home, in the office, in most familiar places we go to, the festivity of the Christmas decorations is gone, as one by one, places take down the décor and store them for the next 10—some, only eight or nine—months.
Somehow this signals a fresh start; almost like a sense of tabularasa, a clean slate.
We see beauty and promise again in the simplicity of the day-to-day. Christmas was good to recharge; to renew ties and bonds with family and friends; to do things we could not do in the daily grind of things.
This recharging gives us “fresh legs,” as they would say in sports, as we again hit the salt mines. Back to work. Back to school.
The story of the Baptism of Christ is a reminder to us as we go back to the daily grind that there lies in the renewed self a renewed sense of identity and mission.
Just as Christ experienced the joy and ecstasy of the beatific vision, the road ahead became clearer; the journey became defined and he knew he had to make his way to the Cross. He began his ministry that led him to the Cross, fulfilling his mission as the Beloved Son.
It is important to note that this same beatific vision is repeated in the Transfiguration, midway through the journey. We hear the voice saying again, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Down from the hill
Peter was so enthralled that he wanted to stay on top of the mountain, but Christ clearly tells them to go down from the hill. In the words of my alma mater’s song, “down from the hill, down to the world go I.”
This is the grace of Christmas. It gives us a break. It gives us a chance to renew many things in us, in our life. As the Christmas season ends with the story of the Baptism of Christ, we are given an important pabaon.
We live the ordinary infused with extraordinary grace, a sense of mission and a renewed identity that we are Christians and as such, we—paraphrasing again one of my favorite lines from Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ—are called, sinners though we are, to be companions of Christ in his mission to save the world and for us to make our world a better world.
I can actually end here, but indulge me a few more lines.
This year is an important year for us Filipinos. It is an election year, and it is also the 115th anniversary of our independence. What happens with the former will surely have important ramifications for our country.
The latter is a good reminder that there is still much work to be done to give our people real independence: freedom from poverty, freedom from hunger, freedom from ignorance, freedom from the lack of basic healthcare and the freedom to choose the path and destiny of their life—and, yes, the freedom to dream and to dedicate themselves to a worthy dream. (In short also, in some cases, freedom from manipulation.)
I was recently talking to a fellow priest, and he shared with me the points in a recollection given to his community by one of our bishops. The bishop said that one of the great challenges of the Philippine Church is to be a listening church, and to truly listen she must be a humble church.
I thought it would be good for all of us to reflect on this, and if I may add, we are the church. We must make it our responsibility as followers of Christ, as companions in his mission, to make our church a humble and listening church.