Monday, January 13, 2014

Proud Father

Baptism of the Lord by Joachim Patenier
Readings for Sunday, January 12/ Baptism of the Lord:
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17

Three and a half years ago at my diaconate ordination, I made a promise to God and the Church that I would live a life of celibate chastity, forsaking the good of married life and children. That promise, though, didn’t mean that I wasn’t called to be a father. In the heart of every man there is a calling to be a father and in the heart of every women there is a calling to be a mother. So while I may not be a father to a few biological children, I am a spiritual father to far more than a few. The title ‘Father’ isn’t just a nicety or to make me feel better about myself. It’s a daily reminder of who I am called to be to every person who speaks that title: a Father. I didn’t understand this reality of my spiritual paternity until after several months of my priestly ministry. It was in the midst of a youth group meeting that I spoke about going home and being the only one in the family without children and, before I could even finish my sentence, one of the youth responded, “Father, you have us!” Since that time I’ve thought much more concretely of my paternity, and necessarily so, of ‘my kids.’

One of my kids graduated from college a few weeks back and was blessed to get a job at Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge. I celebrated Mass for the CatholicLife TV station this past Thursday and her office is right around the corner from where I was so I stopped in for a bit and she showed me around her office, introduced me to some of her co-workers, and talked with me about some of the jobs she’ll be working on. It was such a joy to see how well she was doing and caused me to reflect on how she had grown as a young woman and as a daughter of God in the two short years that I’ve known her. Later that evening I sent her a little text message saying that I enjoyed visiting her at her office that day and that I was happy to see how well she was doing and would continue to do. A few minutes later she responded with a few words that have been resonating in my mind ever since then. She said, “Every now and then a daughter needs to hear her father is proud.”

This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, that great mystery wherein the One who is perfect receives the baptismal washing for repentance. It wasn’t because He needed but because we needed it. The whole event shows us that reality. When John immersed the Lord in the water, rather than the water cleansing Christ, Christ cleansed the water to make it fitting for the sacrament of baptism. Rather that the ritual be effective on Christ, Christ made the ritual washing effective for us. The Heavens were opened not so that Jesus could know God but that we could come to know Him. He received the Spirit so that in time we could receive the Spirit. Christ heard those blessed words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” not so much for Himself but for us. And not just to that we could know that Christ is pleasing to the Father but that we are too.

All of us are sinners and we all fall short. We know our major faults and failures, our imperfections and those little sins that have bothered us for years. A few years back I was on retreat and I was talking with my director and going down a list of those faults and failures in my own life. I went down the litany saying, “I should do this….I should do that… I should not do this… I should not do that…” and in the middle of my litany the director looked at me and said, “Brent, stop shoulding all over yourself! It’s getting messy in here!” I was stunned when she said it, but what she reminded me of in that moment is that sometimes we take on expectations either from ourselves or others, usually with a good intention, and we allow so many of those faults and failures to weigh us down. We let the weight of not being perfect take away from the many good things that we have done and are doing in which the Father is well pleased. In a life where we are called to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we can easily forget the fact that we are still loved even though we may fall short. Let us rejoice in the love that God has for us today and pause to reflect upon the many ways that He is pleased with us and be encouraged to press forward in light of that rather than in fear of failure. Because sometimes, we just need to know that our Father is proud.