..in the Ordo booklet I keep in the Sacristy which explains the daily cycle of our Liturgy Feastdays Holydays colour of vestments, it says starkly at end of today’s entry “Christmas Season ends after Compline” ..& to launch us out into the deep into another extraordinary year we have the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism..his full immersion not just into River Jordan but into his ministry as the Son of God.. ..for each of us it is the moment where our sacramental life & ministry begins..the root of your Christian belonging is recorded in the baptismal register of the Church where your parents made a life-long commitment on your behalf.. ..& wherever you move to for Confirmation for Marriage for entry to Religious Life to a breakdown in marriage or religious vows, each step is communicated back here to where your spiritual pilgrimage began.. one of many blessings of being a Parish Priest is to preside at a Baptism, & having enquired of the parents & godparents as to what they want of their child I speak to the bambino some of most beautiful words in Christendom.. “Catherine Elizabeth, the Christian Community welcomes you with great joy, & I claim you for Christ..” ..claimed for life, claimed for eternal life..WANTED..
let us recall our own baptism when we too were welcomed into the Christian Church with great joy & in pride of our parents, & ask for Our Lord’s forgiveness for the times we have failed to live up to those great expectations..
“I have called you, taken you by the hand, & formed you..” ; Lord have mercy “appointed you as covenant of the people, light of the nations..” ; Christ have mercy “..to open the eyes of the blind, to free covid captives from prison..” ; Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins & bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
“I must decrease..he must increase” words of humility as John the Baptist prepares to melt back into the wilderness, a little like Fr Gabriel last Tuesday..making room for Jesus of Nazareth..John the Voice initiates him the Word in this splinter group of reactionaries soon to germinate, to incarnate & to be called Christians..baptism “full immersion” over his head, no half measures, no polite drop of lukewarm holy water to ensure the bambino doesn’t cry..& to certify Jesus’ divine credentials Holy Spirit comes down on him, shown above his head on our reredos above the altar..& in case there is any lingering doubt, the divine Voice the Father “you are my son, the beloved; my favour rests on you”..it is no promise of immunity from suffering, as Jesus was to find & we too..it is the divine assurance that the suffering servant discipleship he & we are called into is graced & ultimately rewarded..our own baptism is no less powerful & empowering..it is the Sacrament of belonging, emerging from Our Lords own Jewish initiation as he was presented in the Temple, yet with a crucial impediment..only four chosen trusties to see Jesus presented; Mary & Joseph, Simeon & Anna..like some baptisms here of a Sunday afternoon; mother father two godparents thirty chosen guests, & it is too exclusive..by default if not design, it excludes the top table guests..you & me..all of us for whom this parish is home..& you if not me are not invited..baptism needs to be in the midst of family, the faith family in which the baby will always belong..its rather like Leeds Utd playing Chelsea at Elland Rd in covid; no crowd no supporters just coaches, parents godparents & a priest sitting on a bucket !..20yrs ago at Bamber Bridge we would have 5or6 baptisms a month; a preparation course with maybe 12 couples, two catechists, Sr Elizabeth & me..five sessions where we would really get to know these new parents most of whom had never been near Church for years..warm conversations, lovely thoughtful questions as they caught up on all they had missed..smiles joy gratitude..in final session of each course, I would thank them for all they had given to us for trusting us loving us & wanting genuinely to belong again among us..reactivating their own baptism all those years ago..& I would tell them truthfully of my one deep disappointment at end of each course..it was to realise we would see them on Sunday of childs’ baptism, bringing joy to full Church of maybe 400 at 11am Mass..& then sadly not to see them again..until in 4yrs time they re-emerge when young Catherine then aged four needs a letter from her Parish Priest in order to gain a place in St Marys RC Primary School this next September..sad yes, but a joy to reconnect once again “this is my daughter Catherine, her parents David & Margaret..my favour still rests on them” in the so called good old days, the immersion into the parish family was in three stages; behave [ do as you are told ]; believe [ in what the penny catechism drilled into you ]; & belong [ once you had your stages 1&2 ticked & you committed to coming every week you belonged ]..thankfully nowadays the full immersion rearranges stages..belong [ engage with us come as you are ]; believe [ slowly gradually by full immersion, & example of rest of us alongside you, grow in a spiritual commitment “we want to be here, for what we get out of it, having put what we can into it] ; & behave [ let all you are becoming as part of us be evident in growing serving & giving ]..we have understandably great expectations of them & of ourselves, with warm welcomings & the growth of talents each of you hold..each of you “to whom much has been given, & from whom even more will be expected” Our Lords expects..& more in 2021 than in 2020 please..read recently statistics from one parish where 24% of parishioners were “engaged” growing serving giving & thereby, by example, inviting & inspiring others to come in ; 47% were “non-engaged” passive & unengaging ; 29% were actively dis-engaged, deeply unhappy with way things are, resisting change & tending to be a negative presence. “God expects” you might have read that Britcoins are the most sought after currency of moment, gaining much in these times of recession & loss of confidence in the traditional banking sector..with Britcoins & immersion into this parish family there is much to gain, & also the risk of losing everything..five stages in a journey of re-engagement with all we readily, gracefully, promised as full practicing members of this our parish family “my sons & daughters, my beloved; my favour rests on you” five stages..to worship; to grow; to serve; to connect; & to give.. A story, from this your spiritual home..at Requiem Mass for a deceased loved one we have the coffin here immediately in front of the altar..having “claimed them for Christ 70 or so years earlier, we prepare to hand them back to Christ, for full immersion into Heaven..to allow coffin to sit as close to the altar as possible it sits on a trestle at your end & sits on a block of wood the altar end..some years ago, on block of wood kept safe in sacristy, & in case some keen tidier thought it was just a discarded block of wood, it has written on the side facing the altar & me one word in marker pen “wanted” & each time I celebrate a Requiem Mass, I read it as a statement of belonging from Jesus himself, spoken of the beloved servant disciple now deceased; “wanted” now in Heaven.. it fits appropriately for each of us from moment of our baptism..wanted, & from whom God expects..& particularly from our small yet blessed parish here..great expectations.. & lest you mishear that as a threat, it is a promise of what full immersion in this family of Christ can bring, with his grace & your full commitment.. “baptism is a life-pledge. Every day, perhaps it is possible for me, whether I do it or not, to see, repent of & try to overcome some small degree of my selfishness, my indifference, dishonesty & blindness. If I do it at all, in however minute a way, I do it through the power of my baptism. I do it because baptism has forever given me the power to open myself to a new life of truth, self-surrender & love.” [ Fr Donal Dorr ; Divine Energy ]