Two weeks ago I presided at two of our weekend Masses as we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. I shared some thoughts with those in the assembly that I would like to share with all of you through this bulletin article. Some took my comments to mean I am leaving. I just want to assure you, I am not leaving.
I have been here at Holy Family with you all for 10 ½ years now. It has been quite a ride; mostly inspiring and energizing. You who make up this Holy Family have revealed to me so much of God’s love, and for that, I am filled with gratitude and celebrate that at every Mass.
My time here has also been very challenging, in fact, the most challenging of my entire life. I’ve tried my hardest to live up to the title of Pastor by being as pastoral as possible. Pastoral in classical terms means Spiritual Guidance, but I was taught by some very pastoral priests in the seminary and beyond that it means to listen, to honor people’s faith lives, to treat them with reverence, tenderness, and compassion, to be a servant and leader.
I’ve tried very hard to do that, but I know I’ve fallen short. I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t always been as present to and with you. There have been times when I haven’t followed through. Lord knows I haven’t been timely in returning phone calls and emails. I can’t always remember your names and that frightens me. I’m 63 and I’ve also had a fair amount of head trauma through years of athletics. Those hardwood floors have taken me to a different state of consciousness if you know what I mean.
If I have hurt you in any way, I am so very sorry and I ask for your forgiveness. If I have disappointed any of you in any way, I am so very sorry and I ask for your forgiveness. I try to and WILL TRY to improve, but ultimately, I can only be me – and, as we all do, I have shortcomings.
Through all of this, I can’t fully convey to you what an honor it is to be with you – to walk with you, laugh with you, cry with you and sing with you. The day I was installed I said that I wanted to sing with you and I really treasure that as an analogy of my time with you. We have sung together spiritually and regularly and sacredly in the Eucharist. It is such an honor to celebrate God’s presence through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit WITH you.
I’ve tried my hardest to do the best I can, but when I feel that I have fallen short, I come to the water that constantly flows at the center of our worship space to remind myself of something, which is the Baptism of the Lord.
Jesus, the human manifestation of God, walked into the Jordan River and was baptized. The water of the Jordan River represents life, all life – your life, my life – and Jesus walked into it to FULLY convey that he is one of us.
John the Baptist, a human being with a limited human perspective, could not quite comprehend what was happening. He says I shouldn’t be baptizing you. You should be baptizing me!
This water baptism is actually a significant part of statements that both John the Baptist and Jesus made. John baptized with water. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says I am being baptized because I am one of you, and the Holy Spirit will carry that on long after I ascend into heaven.
Anyone who was there could have baptized Jesus. Anyone of us could and CAN baptize the Lord. This is why I initiated the statement that we say before each Mass: We are in this TOGETHER! The possibilities for unity among us in that statement are endless. We are in this thing called family together. We are in this thing called ministry together. We are in this thing called team, organization, endeavor, on and on and on, together. We are in this community of faith together.
We can ALL use the water at our fonts as a reminder anytime that baptism means two important things: we are in this faith journey together, and we are in this faith journey with the Lord together. This water ritualizes that. It is in the midst of us and we surround it. This water can be one of the most powerful instruments of the Holy Spirit.
A woman who was visiting Holy Family recently inquired where the holy water fonts were as she entered the church before Mass. I told her where the fonts were near the church doors. She commented that they were so small. I then invited her to bless herself with the water from our large fonts in the center aisle and she commented that they were too far away and that they were “…only for baptisms.” I reminded her that they are in the center of our gathering and blessing ourselves with that water reminds us that we must and can be baptized over and over again and are a reminder that we are in this TOGETHER with each other and the Lord.
As we ponder the Baptism of the Lord, let’s remember that we are in this together because we are human. We are in this together because Jesus the Lord is with us. We are in this together because we can all do better and help each other do better. So, particularly when we, or you, become aware of your shortcomings, ritualize your trust, awareness, affirmation, and confirmation that we are in this together and the Lord has been baptized with us by blessing yourself with the holy water from our font.