25 January 2012

Feast of the Conversion of Paul (Reprise)

Today is the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, and my own feastday as well. We know Paul's story well. A good Jew, indeed, a scholar of the Law who saw the early Church as a distortion and danger to orthodoxy; he was one who understood that a crucified person was godless and shameful and could in no way be a faithful Jew or prophet, much less God's anointed one, persecuted the Church in the name of orthodoxy and for the glory of God. In sincere faithfulness to the covenant Paul hounded men, women and children, many of whom were his own neighbors. He sent them to prison and thence to their deaths. He, at least technically And according to Luke's version of things), colluded in the stoning of Stephen and sought to wipe Christians from the face of the earth.

While on a campaign to Damascus to root out and destroy more "apostates" Paul had a dramatic vision and heard someone call out to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul inquired who this voice was and was told, "I am Jesus whom you persecuteth." In that moment everything Paul knew, believed, and practiced, was turned upside down. God had vindicated the One whom Paul knew to be godless acording to the Law. He was alive rather than eternally dead, risen through the power of God as the Christians had claimed. For Paul nothing would ever be the same again. So it is with conversions.

Perhaps it is a matter of faulty perception on my part, and if so, I apologize, but it seems to me that conversion is not something most Catholics regard as pertinent to their lives. Conversion is something non-Catholics do when they become Catholics (or vice versa!). It is a onetime event that those "born into the faith" don't (it is thought) need to worry about! Those "born Catholic" may think in terms of "growing in their faith" or "becoming a better Catholic" (and there is certainly nothing wrong with thinking this way!) but "conversion" (metanoia) seems to be a word that is simply little-used for these processes. Somehow (perhaps because of the story of Paul!) conversion is too dramatic and messy a process it seems. It disrupts and is marked by difficult and abrupt discontinuities and conflicts or tensions. It demands a spiritual praxis which sets one apart from the norm, a prayer life which is central, engagement with the Word of God which is profound and more extensive than usual -- not minimal or nominal, and a faith life which does not tolerate compartmentalization. Growth, becoming, etc, are safer words --- demanding, yes, but somehow less total and more socially acceptable than references to "conversion."

In monastic life, and especially in Benedictine monastic life the primary vow is to conversion of life. This vow includes those ordinarily made in religious life, the vows of poverty and chastity. One commits oneself to continually allow God to remake one into the image of Christ (and into one's truest self). There is a sense that such conversion is a gradual and lifelong process of growth and maturation, yes, but there is also an openness to conversion as dramatic and all-consuming. Here conversion is something which does not allow monastics to divide their lives into sacred and profane or to compartmentalize them into the spiritual and the non-spiritual. Here the Word of God is expected and allowed to convict, challenge, transform, and empower. Here the Spirit of God is accepted as the spirit which moves within us enlivening, edifying, consolidating, and purifying --- the Spirit which humanizes and sanctifies us into the covenant reality we are most truly. It is a pattern which should be true of every Christian.

Paul's initial conversion experience was dramatic by any standards, but drama aside, it did for Paul what encounter and engagement with the Word of God is meant to do to any of us. It caused him to see his entire world and life in terms of the risen and Crucified Christ. It put law completely at the service of love and made compassion the way to accomplish justice. It made human weakness the counterpart of divine strength, mercy and forgiveness the way God's will is accomplished, and in every other way turned the values of this world on their head. May each of us open ourselves to the kind of conversion of life we celebrate today.

24 January 2012

Benedict XVI on Silence and Word: Path to Evangelization

Well, it is unusual for me to post complete texts by others, even if they are the Pope, but Benedict XVI's message on the relationship of Silence and Word and their place in evangelization is right down this blog's alley! Enjoy!!


Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization

[Sunday, 20 May 2012]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we draw near to World Communications Day 2012, I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.

The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive. Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection, something that is often more eloquent than a hasty answer and permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts.

Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives. Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of skeptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever: “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals” (Message for the 2011 World Day of Communications).

Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives. It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things. The God of biblical revelation speaks also without words: “As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21). The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (cf. Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. “We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation “to communicate that which we have seen and heard” so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3). Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.

In silent contemplation, then, the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, divine revelation is fulfilled by “deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (Dei Verbum, 2). This plan of salvation culminates in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. He has made known to us the true face of God the Father and by his Cross and Resurrection has brought us from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the children of God. The fundamental question of the meaning of human existence finds in the mystery of Christ an answer capable of bringing peace to the restless human heart. The Church’s mission springs from this mystery; and it is this mystery which impels Christians to become heralds of hope and salvation, witnesses of that love which promotes human dignity and builds justice and peace.

Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak. This is especially important for those engaged in the task of evangelization: both silence and word are essential elements, integral to the Church’s work of communication for the sake of a renewed proclamation of Christ in today’s world. To Mary, whose silence “listens to the Word and causes it to blossom” (Private Prayer at the Holy House, Loreto, 1 September 2007), I entrust all the work of evangelization which the Church undertakes through the means of social communication.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2012, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.


© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

We are People of the Cross

I received a notice of a new book by Joan Chittester today. It began with the following quotation: [[Christians are not people of the cross. Christians are people of the empty tomb who know that every step on the way to light is Light.]]

Now, I greatly respect Sister Joan Chittester's work and life. I also think I understand what she is trying to say here; had she not said, "Christians are not people of the cross," I would simply agree with her comment and move on. But the assertion that Christians are not people of the Cross is wrong. Just as one does not have a sound theology of the cross without resurrection, neither does one have a sound theology of resurrection without the continuing presence of and focus on the cross. As Paul once rightly said, "I want to know Christ crucified and only Christ crucified."

There is an approach to Jesus' death and resurrection which divides the two events and treats resurrection as the undoing of what happened on the cross. It as though the cross was ONLY some sort of tragedy and not also revelatory of God and authentic human existence. What I have written here before is a second approach to the cross. It says that resurrection makes eternally valid what was revealed on the cross and that is something we must always bear in mind. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this is only a partial quote, Sister Joan's bald statement makes me think she has missed this basic point. Ours is assuredly a God which darkness cannot overcome, and one who regularly transforms darkness into light. We know this because darkness has indeed been transfigured in our own lives. Even so, as yet unredeemed darkness is also real in our world.

Therefore we are people of the cross; it is simply that we are people of the paradoxical cross of triumph as well as that of tragedy. We are people of the cross because it is the cross which reveals who we are in light of sin: we are the ones who, if our own autonomy or honor is threatened, will do whatever we can to destroy life, castigate innocence, and profane the sacred. We are people of the cross because the cross reveals that authentic humanity depends totally on God, even in the face of the worst injustice, shame, and horror we might experience. The cross makes this kind of humanity real in space and time, and baptism initiates us into THIS particular death and the new life it revealed (made known and real). But we are also people of the cross because it is the cross that reveals (again, makes known and real) the fact that our God is one who enters into the deepest, darkest, most godless places in our lives and world; he is a God who refuses to allow anything separate us from him.

Had the crucifixion remained the last word, it is true that we would not be people of the cross. But the empty tomb allows the cross to say that death did not and will never have the last word. Still, it is precisely for this reason that we cannot allow the cross to simply fade into the past as a terrible accident or a tragedy which God corrected and expunged with resurrection. In light of the resurrection the cross is capable of revealing us to ourselves --- both the horrors we become under the sway of sin and the saints we become under the sway of grace. An empty tomb does not and cannot do this. The cross is similarly capable of saying that godless death does not have the last word; God's love does. An empty tomb may merely speak of the righteous (or the messianic!) and the fact that God rescues them from death. The cross, however, reveals not only that sin and godlessness are powerful realities, but that our God loves all of us in spite of our participation in these realities and died for us while we were yet sinful, godless people.

God forbid that we become pseudo Christians somehow subtly enamored with the horror, blood, criminality, torture, shame and suffering of the cross. Pseudo-mystical misery is not what we or the cross is about. Self-proclaimed and self-absorbed "Victim souls" who, it seems, cannot begin to imagine the real degree of suffering existing in the lives of their neighbors and who seem to believe the cross was ineffective in dealing with sin, may be "into" this kind of thing, but Christians are not. While it is possible to find instances of people even today offering to suffer so that God might save someone else from cancer or other serious illnesses, such a God and such bargaining with God is contrary to the revelation of the cross itself. The empty tomb certainly helps remind us we are not people of the cross in these distorted senses. Yet, the authentic cross is the symbol of a God who will not abandon us and instead will enter exhaustively into our lives and world to redeem and recreate them. In forgiveness and mercy his justice-creating love will bring life out of death, meaning out of meaninglessness, triumph out of tragedy, honor out of shame, and vindication out of failure. In this sense we are indeed people of the cross and therefore of the empty tomb.

22 January 2012

Women and Spirit Exhibit comes to Sacramento, January 24th through June 3rd 2012

Honored by both the American Catholic History Association and the US House of Representatives (who honored the women this exhibit memorializes), Women and Spirit, the exhibit on the history of Catholic Sisters in the United States, is coming to Sacramento --- its last stop on a tour of regions of the US over the past three years. The exhibit opens the eve of the 24th January and remains until June 3rd. There will be a special concentration on Sisters in California in this particular incarnation of the exhibit. The website devoted to the exhibit reads, in part:

[["WOMEN & SPIRIT: Catholic Sisters in America" is a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center. It reveals the mystery behind a small group of innovative American women who helped shape the nation’s social and cultural landscape.

Meet women who corresponded with President Thomas Jefferson, talked down bandits and roughnecks, lugged pianos into the wilderness, and provided the nation’s first health insurance to Midwestern loggers. Discover sisters’ courage during the Civil War, the Gold Rush, the San Francisco Earthquake, the Influenza Epidemic, the Civil Rights Movement, and Hurricane Katrina.]]

or again,

[["Women & Spirit" offers history museums across the country an opportunity to display artifacts and images that have rarely been seen by the general public. With a balanced approach that draws upon first-hand narratives, visitors will discover an untold story in American history.

The exhibit is fully-funded for a three-year tour and includes supporting education materials as well as retail items. A comprehensive sales and marketing program will boost attendance in each venue, drawing upon significant contacts within the Catholic community. Public programming opportunities include volunteer docents, film and speaker series.

From the time the Ursulines arrived in New Orleans in 1727 up to today, women religious have made an incalculable contribution to this nation. Running schools, hospitals and orphanages from America's earliest days, these women helped foster a culture of social service that has permeated our society. Over the centuries these courageous women overcame many obstacles--both physical and cultural--to bring their civilizing and caring influence to every corner of the country. Understanding and celebrating the history of women religious is essential to understanding and celebrating the history of America.]] Cokie Roberts, news analyst and author

The exhibit is touted not as a feminist or feminine exhibit, but a significant historical exhibit which anyone with an interest in American History should be enthralled by. Sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, those unable to attend in person should consider buying a DVD of the exhibit. (Actually, I suspect a lot of us who ARE able to attend will do the same anyway!) The significant contributions made by women religious to the culture and history of the US is incredibly rich, and also incredibly underrepresented in history texts or common knowledge. At a time when we hear all too often about "Sisters in Crisis" or the supposed disintegration of religious life in the US, attention to the remarkable diversity, and rich intellectual and faith history through the past 225 + years can help us see clearly the courage, contemporaneity, and prophetic character of these women and the life they represented --- and of course, still represent!!

Personally, I am interested in seeing a bit more about the history of religious life during the late 1700's and early to mid 1800's. I had a great, great, great, great, great, . . . aunt (on my Mother's side of the family) who was a Sister of Loretto, not only in Kentucky (Motherhouse), but in a number of frontier missions. She taught German and music and was known for her fine singing voice. As a convert to Catholicism, I had been unaware of any Catholics at all for a number of generations; I heard about Sister (Isabella) for the first time about 14 years ago from a cousin I also had not known. I only just learned she was a musician about 3 years ago! It was astounding the kinship I immediately felt to her, and how important she became to me. To discover a pioneer like this on one's own family tree is a powerful experience --- especially in terms of religious life! After all, in my own admittedly humble way, I too am a pioneer of sorts with regard to canon 603 and contemporary eremitical life. (Of course, as Sister Simone Campbell, SSS reminds us, "Catholic Sisters are always pioneers. We don't set out to be pioneers. What we set out to do is to meet the needs that surround us.") Anyway, I hope to see a bit of Sister's personal world when I attend this exhibit; what it would be like to be a Sister on the US frontier in the 19th century is hard to imagine.

Congratulations to Father Robert Hale, OSB Camaldolese, new Prior

Congratulations are due Father Robert Hale. Dom Robert was elected to serve as the new Prior of the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur on January 20th. He will be installed on Wednesday, January 25th (Feast of the Conversion of St Paul). Dom Robert succeeds Father Raniero Hoffman in this role. He had also been Prior from 1988-1999 and was succeeded by Father Raniero in 2000. Fr Raniero chose not to stand for re-election at this time. Brother Bede Healey will serve as vice-prior. Unlike some congregations, the OSB Camaldolese do not have Abbots. For those oblates and friends of the hermitage who would like to attend the installation, you are welcome. Mass is at 11:00 am and there will be a simple lunch available afterwards.

Readers who would like an introduction to Dom Robert might take a look at his book, Love on a Mountain: The Chronicle Journal of a Camaldolese Monk. It provides a good look at the nature of this congregation and the way they live their lives. There is wisdom and wry humor, gentle criticism, astute insights on the roots of monastic life, and surprises all the way through for those whose notion of monks is rather stereotypical. However, what was most striking for me when I first read this book was how deeply rooted in Scripture is each day of these monks' lives, and how each life is one not merely of prayer, but is a kind of extended lectio. The lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers is echoed throughout --- as well they should be! In an entry from this journal dated January 26th, Dom Robert cites Rilke. It is a passionate contemplative sentiment I (personally) believe he carries with him into Office:

Extinguish both my eyes: I see you still;
Slam about my ears: I can still hear you talking;
Without my mouth I can implore your will
And without feet towards you I keep walking.
Break off my arms: I shall still hold you tight;
My heart will yet embrace you all the same,
Suppress my heart: my brain knows no deterrent;
and if at last you set my brain aflame
I carry you still in my bloodstream's flow.

My gratitude to Father Raniero for his service over the past 12 years! Dom Raniero will spend some time travelling to various Camaldolese houses in India, Brazil, Tanzania, and Italy over the next six months. My own prayers are with Frs Robert, Raniero, Brother Bede and all of the Camaldolese family today and each day, but will especially accompany you on the 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul -- and my own feast day as well!

19 January 2012

I'm BAAAAACCCK ---- at least almost!

Thanks to those who wrote asking if I was okay (or had abandoned my blog), etc! All is well; have no fear! I have been working on some of the ideas that have surfaced here over the past 5 years. The most important of these is "the silence of solitude as interpretive key to canon 603." As I have written here before, it is the silence of solitude which is not only the environment in which the hermit lives, it is the element of canon 603 which serves as the depth dimension of the other elements and establishes them as "eremitical," it constitutes the goal of the vocation, and finally, it is the gift or charism of solitary eremitical life to both church and world. So, I am spending time writing about all of that. However, I will try to get back to the blog as well in the next few days. (I have a concert this weekend so it will probably be after that!) Again, thanks to those who wrote.

10 January 2012

National Vocation Awareness Week, January 9-14

National Vocation Awareness Week, January 9-14
Vocation awareness week
(Taken from the Blog of the Sisters of the Holy Family)

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks Jesus’ initiation into public ministry. At his baptism Jesus is named the Beloved Son of God. With this celebration we recommit ourselves to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.Initiated through our baptism we too are commissioned to proclaim Good News with our lives. The observance of National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW) began in 1976 when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year as the beginning of NVAW. In 1997 this celebration was moved to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.The USA Council of Serra International promotes all Catholic Church vocations. This NVAW kit is designed to assist preachers, teachers, catechists, and other ministers. By fostering a culture of vocations, the Church is strengthened in its universal call to holiness. May this resource meet your particular needs and enhance your local celebration.

From the USCCB:

WASHINGTON—The Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW), January 9-14. The celebration heralds a week dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education.

This distinctive week gives Catholics an opportunity to renew prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.

“It is our responsibility to help children and young people develop a prayerful relationship with Jesus Christ so they will know their vocation,” said Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “Through a culture of vocation in families, parishes, schools and dioceses Catholics can nurture an environment of discipleship, commitment to daily prayer, spiritual conversion, growth in virtue, participation in the sacraments, and service in community. Without this environment, promoting vocations becomes simply recruitment. We believe we have much more to offer our young people.”

People can visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/usccb) during the week to see examples of clergy and religious. They also can view reflections under the Vocation Retreat Tab where each day a scripture passage, reflection and prayer will be posted.Resources for promoting National Vocations Awareness Week, such as prayer cards, Holy Hour materials, prayers of the faithful and bulletin-ready quotes, are available on the USCCB vocations webpage at http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations.

National Vocation Awareness Week began in 1976 when the U.S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for NVAW. In 1997, this celebration was moved to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on January 9 in 2012.

09 January 2012

Feast of the Baptism Of Jesus (Reprised with More Tweaks)

Of all the feasts we celebrate, the baptism of Jesus is the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of Baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name". Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart for God establishes him as completely united with us and our human condition. This solidarity is reflected in his statement to John that together they must fulfill the will of God. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of HIS humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true divinity, for our's is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it, just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS, and matures into his identity as God's only begotten Son. We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God from true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to and by the one he calls Abba and to the service of his Kingdom and people. A God who comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission, and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? In fact, none of this was comfortable for early Christians either. They were embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John --- as Matt's added explanation of the reasons for it in vv 14-15 indicate. They were concerned that perhaps it indicated Jesus inferiority to John the Baptist and they wondered if perhaps it meant that Jesus had sinned prior to his baptism. And perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached signals to us we are getting this right theologically.

After all, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a consecration and commissioning by God which is somewhat similar to our own baptismal consecration. The difference is that Jesus' accepts life under the sway of sin in his baptism. The story of his temptation or testing which follows underscores this acceptance. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying to self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self which must die -- as each of us has --- but because his life is placed completely at the disposal of his God, his Abba, in solidarity with us. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way which subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal and surrendering all other life-possibilities always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too -- complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which sin makes necessary so that God's love may conquer precisely here as well.