Monday, January 8, 2007

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord- 8 January

As mentioned previously, today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. On the Roman calendar, this feast marks the end of Christmas. In today's Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, we read a sermon of St. Gregory Nazianzus, one of the great Greek Fathers of the Church and, along with Sts. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, is also one of the great Cappadocian Fathers, Cappadocia being an area of central Anatolia (i.e., Asia Minor) that comprises the heartland of the Republic of Turkey. This region was a thriving Christian region up until 1922, when the modern, secular states of Greece and Turkey exchanged populations, Muslims for Christians. It is to the Cappadocians that we owe our understanding and articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

St. Gregory begins his sermon by stating "Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us go down with him, and rise with him". His introduction leads to the core of the teaching in this sermon by this holy bishop and gifted teacher of the faith: "John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer," Gregory speculates. Think about that, Christ sanctifying the one who baptizes him, before his baptism! Normally, through Christ- for the Sacraments are always actions of the Father, in Christ, by the power of the Spirit- we are sanctified through baptism, but Christ is already holy. Gregory points out that, according to St. Matthew's Gospel, the Baptizer protests, saying, "I ought to be baptized by you (Matt 3,14). Using a series of metaphors, Gregory says, the Baptizer "is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word (Jn 1,1), the friend [more precisely- the bestman] in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman (Matt 11,11) in the presence of the firstborn of all creation (Col 1,15)), the one who leapt in his mother's womb (Lk 1,41) in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the foreunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again."

St. Gregory continues, "certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water." So, ""Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendents, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God." Just before we move into Ordinary Time, let us heed St. Gregory of Nazianzus today and "do honor to Christ's baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness" because we "are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity".

I might add, that in the Western Church we do not appreciate or venerate St. John the Baptizer nearly enough. Our Eastern sisters and brothers venerate him and give him due regard. Let us today invoke his intercession, St. John the Baptist, pray for us. It was of him and him alone our Lord said "among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist (Matt 11,11).

At the end of the Office of Readings on this feast and to end Christmas, we pray in gratitude the great hymn of praise the Te Deum, for those of us in Utah, let us also offer this hymn of praise for receiving a new bishop. You can find the Te Deum at the end of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Tami it is okay to throw the tree out now. If you can't bear to, have Frank do it.

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