1st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Baptism of the Lord

Live and Act Accordingly!
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

In a New York hospital, a group of doctors were having an informal conversation. In a short while, they started talking about marriage and family life. A Filipino doctor gladly shared that he and his wife are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary that week. His colleagues were shocked. They looked at him as if they had seen a ghost. One of them asked: “Why? What the reason for staying together in marriage that long?” The Filipino said: “Well, in the first place, it is because I am a Catholic!” They were speechless with his answer, but only for a moment. Then they burst into laughter. They thought it was a big joke!

What has being a Catholic to do with staying together for many years in marriage? For many people nowadays, there is no connection. But for sincere and faithful Christians, faith has definitely something to do with our lifestyle. Living together in marriage for the entire life is not just a lifestyle: it is simply obedience to the teachings and commandments of God. Jesus said, quoting the Scriptures, said: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19:5-6).

Divorce is not according to God’s design and command. Even if it has now become common and acceptable and even legalized in many countries, divorce remains an offense against God. The Gospel is very clear on this. Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery” (Mt 19:9). This also holds true with many other grave sins being done rampantly in these times: abortion, euthanasia, various forms of sexual immorality, and many other anti-life practices. An act that is intrinsically evil remains sinful even if it is legalized and is being done by many people.

This Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This celebration naturally leads us to the consideration of our own baptism. To most Catholics, Baptism is just one religious ceremony. But the fact is it effects a fundamental change in our whole being. From being just the son or daughter of our parents, in Baptism we become sons and daughters of God. And as God’s children, we are expected to exhibit the characteristics of God. We are supposed to live and act according to our Christian faith. Our whole being should be infused with the Christian spirit and values. We should think, behave, move and live as citizens of heaven. As St. Paul puts it, we are in this world but not of this world. So, we must conform ourselves, not with the standards of this world, but to the standard of God. The Filipino doctor was perfectly right. He remains married to his wife and will remain so for the rest of his life, first and foremost, because it is the proper thing to do as a Catholic. Our faith determines the kind of lifestyle we live.

How many of us are consciously aware of this? This Sunday, I invite you to examine ourselves. I believe this is quite appropriate because we are still in the first days of the New Year. Let us look at ourselves and see what behaviors and activities we have that do not conform to our Christian faith. There are many Catholics who go to Mass on Sundays and even receive Holy Communion regularly, yet they are engaged in drugs, gambling, prostitution and other immoral activities, or cohabiting with another partner other than his own spouse; or are ardent believers in superstitious beliefs, horoscopes, palm reading or various occult practices. And there are more Catholics who are proud, arrogant, liars and are active slanderers and gossips, destroying the reputation of others. We see more of this during election time: Catholics – politicians and voters alike – who practice cheating, vote-buying, character assassination and even commit politically motivated murders, shamelessly go to Mass and receive Holy Communion to show to everybody that they are good Catholics, in an effort to get more votes. I mentioned these things, not to condemn anybody, but to help all of us, myself included, to honestly examine ourselves, and be moved to conversion and change of hearts.

In the Gospel this Sunday, we see Jesus going down the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. He did not need to undergo this baptism of repentance for he is sinless and holy. Yet he did this for our sake. St. Gregory of Nazianzen tells us why: “He comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake.” Jesus made holy the waters of the earth so that we can use it in our baptism to cleanse and sanctify us. Let the feast this Sunday remind us of our sublime dignity we received in Baptism as God’s children. And let us strive to live according to this dignity, so that we may eventually hear the words of the Heavenly Father, “You are my beloved children; with you I am well-pleased.”

Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002

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