Today is the celebration of Our Lord’s Baptism and the end of the Christmas season.
Here is a summary of my homily.
During breakfast this week I read the previous edition of the ALIVE newspaper. An article on page 2 caught my attention: DEPRESSION AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY YOUNG WOMEN, HAS BECOME A MAJOR ISSUE IN BRITAIN. A large survey found that 37% of 14-year-old girls reported symptoms of depression and anxiety – feeling unhappy, worthless or unable to concentrate. The figure was up 4% on 2005 and was referred to as a “significant trend” and a “slow-growing epidemic”. Other studies found similar mental health issues among college students (one in four) and indeed with the general population.
The author of the ALIVE article asked what may be at the root of these figures: “The simple truth is that without God, life has no ultimate purpose or meaning, so cultural pessimism and the depression arising from it are not a mental illness. They are, more likely, the appropriate response to a life with no hope of eternal happiness.” As the Bible says: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” A symptom of this inner emptiness is shown in that 80% of Irish university students experiment with drugs. It is a fair guess that the vast majority of these experimenters don’t believe in Jesus or practice their faith. We all desire happiness but where do we find true happiness?
Against this backdrop we can see why Jesus and the Gospel is GOOD NEWS. When we take to heart Jesus’ teachings our lives have more beauty, dignity and meaning than we can possibly imagine. God’s personal love for us is shown in all its glory when we look at any crucifix – Jesus died to save us from our sins. St Therese of Lisieux said that God’s love for us is so great that Jesus would have died if any one of us were the only person to benefit from that great sacrifice.
When did we become God’s beloved children? Above all at our baptism. In the gospel account of Jesus’ baptism we saw the Holy Spirit descending on him and the voice of the Father testifying “This is my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on him.” We are told this detail because the same thing happened at our baptism without the same external signs as at Jesus’ baptism. God the Father still claimed us as his beloved sons and daughters and marked us with the sign of the cross.
The full glory of our adoption into God’s family is spelled out in the baptismal liturgy. After the pouring on of water, the candidate receives the oil of chrism on its head. This is part of a coronation rite signifying that the candidate is now a priest, prophet and king by being united to Christ. A priest is allowed to approach God and offer sacrifice (the sacrifice/offering of our lives); a prophet witnesses to God’s Word in the world; a king is part of a royal household. After that there is the white garment which is a sign of our purity and dignity as members of God’s family. Finally there is the lighted candle which is lit from the Easter candle and represents the new life of the Resurrection. At the very end, everybody present addresses God as Father in the Lord’s Prayer. How easy it is to take for granted that we call God our Father!
In summary: Life without God is a life without any true or ultimate meaning as everything ends with death and oblivion. Life with God which begins with baptism has beauty and meaning beyond our wildest imaginings. This life reaches its fullness when we reach our Father’s House.