January 11, 2009
BAPTISM OF THE LORD (B)
You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. – Mk. 1: 11
Can we predict the future? Suppose someone said, “I am about to tell you of every romance you will ever have, every blue ribbon & every dented fender in your future. I can tell you about your career, what will happen to your children, the year, the minute & the hour each of your friends will die, the moment you will die & your last words.” What would you say? Would you dare let the future be opened? Predicting it is not the comfort we might think. We tease ourselves with it as a game, knowing full well we dare not really undertake it. We know it is not part of our nature to know these things, & if we did know them it would be hell. The future, you see, is not a secret to be disclosed, but a risk to be accepted.
In a speech at the Univ. of Chicago , Cardinal Koenig of Vienna once said, “All human endeavor is beset by risk. Thinking risks error. Speech risks misunderstanding. Faith risks failure. Hope risks despair. The risk of life is death. And man is man only by virtue of his assumption of the risks of the future.”
Unless we take that risk there is no future. What is history but the succession of little futures that have already been risked? Jesus showed us that taking a risk is brave but it is not bravado. It is a calculated risk based on the most important prediction He ever made: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you.” While the non-believer speaks of chance & fate, the Christian speaks of hope, because the heavens opened at our Lord’s baptism & showed us along with Him where we truly belong & what our real destiny is.
Today may be the first day of the rest of our lives, but baptism is the first day of our eternal lives. However, it does not present us with a fait accompli but a challenge with all the attendant risks. After the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea , they still had a long way to go to the Promised Land; & many of them didn’t make it. Still, our heavenly Father’s mansions are the only future worth having. The details may not be filled in, but the outline is there. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier once put it this way:
I know not what the future hath, of marvel or surprise. Assured alone that life & death God’s mercy underlies. I know not where the islands lift their fronded palms in air. I only know I cannot live beyond his love & care.
We have many people today telling us how to increase our life expectancy: nutritionists, cardiologists, oncologists, etc. Nevertheless, in the most fundamental sense of the phrase, it is really the job of the priest. When we, like Jesus, become the vehicle for God’s harmony on earth, then the future has already begun. Heaven is already here. If we fail to take this gift seriously or use it wisely, the consequences are far more fatal than not watching our cholesterol levels.
A penitent once said to his confessor, “Father, I’m only aiming for purgatory.” What we aim for affects our quality of life far more than we may think. St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, imprisoned in the tower of London by Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge the royal supremacy in matters of marriage, was visited by his wife, who said to him:
“I marvel much … that you, who have hitherto been taken for a wise man should now so play the fool as lie here in this close, filthy prison, shut up with rats & mice, when you might be abroad at your liberty enjoying the favor of the King & Council. You might dwell at peace in your fair house in Chelsea with your library, gallery, & garden, & be merry in the company with me, your good wife & your children & household.”
He replied with a wry smile, “Why good Alice , is not this prison as near heaven as my own house?” She sneered, frustrated. He replied, “Nay then Alice , How long, think you, can one live to enjoy this house of ours?” She predicted 20 years.
“Well now, my good Alice , you are a very bad calculator that even for a hundred or a thousand years would risk loss of eternity.”
God has done, & continues to do His part. The rest is up to us. AMEN!