[Homily: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord]
In just a few days, Pope Francis will be here. For his Mass in the Luneta millions will gather from all over the country. For his visit to the Yolanda-victims, people are converging on Tacloban in ferries, busses and jeepneys, to encounter the holy visitor. He who said pastors in the Church ought smell like the sheep, will be immersed in the sweaty, heated, passionate, enthusiastic, fanatically devout throng of the Filipino flock. They will converge on him as they reach for Our Lady in him; they will shout “Viva!” They will press in upon him as they reach out for the black Nazareno in him; they will sing, “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno!” He will smile. In compassion for this crowd (Mk. 6:34), he will rub shoulders with them, the shepherd now with his sheep. He will bless the people, he will kiss babies, he will share life, he will share light, he will bring hope. Smiling, he will encourage the brokenhearted, the depressed, the sad, themselves to smile, to once again find joy in the Gospel, and in joy to share its Good News.
He will come to be close to the people. Though really few will get close to him. They would wish to touch him, embrace him, to shake his hand, to exchange words with him, to eat with him, to laugh with him, to be touched by him personally. But no matter the intent of the shepherd, that privilege is reserved for the few who are specially blessed: the Yolanda victims for whom the Pope in compassion comes specially, the youth in U.S.T, the ticket holders in the Cathedral, privileged representatives of government, President Aquino, the selected representatives of priests, religious and lay persons, the key representatives of different Christian confessions and different faiths, the organizing members of the clergy, Cardinal Chito Tagle, Cardinal Orly Quevedo, Archbishop Soc Villegas, those for whom special encounters have been quietly arranged. And no matter how much it is insisted, this pastoral visit is not about the Pope personally, but about the mercy and compassion of Jesus, for the Filipino it is very personal. The healthy, the sick, the young, the old, the energetic and the dying are praying, pleading, pulling strings, somehow to be able to encounter, to be introduced to, to be touched by, to be moved by this holy man.
That might remind us of the passages in the Gospel where Jesus encounters great throngs of people who had converged on him from near and far. They come to him dry; life has become dreary. They come to him confused, pressured by life to travel roads they would rather not take. They come to him hungry. They have tasted, but their food does not nourish; they have eaten, many even well, but are not satisfied; they have drunk, but are still thirsty. In mingling with these crowds, Jesus “has compassion on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. He teaches them many things” (Mk 6:34). With wisdom, he feeds their spirit; with bread, he feeds their bodies: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). Later, he would himself address their hungers, deeper than the churning in their stomachs, and say: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35). This was his same message, his giving in self-sacrifice, when at the Last Supper he broke bread and give it to them to eat saying, “This is my body which is given for you’ (Lk 22:19), then offered them to drink saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you” (Lk 22: 20). This self-giving, of course, was inseparable from his self-giving on the Cross, when he poured himself out for us, “emptied himself…humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, death on a cross…” (Phil. 2:7).
As many of us yearn for an invitation to be introduced to Pope Francis personally, Pope Francis himself lives, moves, breathes and pours himself out in joy so that we all, without exception, might be introduced personally today to Jesus. “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, or at least to an openness in letting him encounter them; I ask you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy of the Lord’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 4). Where some are disappointed because all their efforts to meet Pope Francis personally have been frustrated, Pope Francis says, “The Lord does not disappoint those who take the risk [to meet Jesus personally]; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize he is already there, waiting with open arms” (ibid). Readily, Pope Francis would repeat the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). For any and all of us, the greatest grace that can be gained from being introduced personally to Pope Francis is to meet Jesus.
Today, as we recall the Baptism of Jesus, it is not just Pope Francis who introduces us to Jesus, it is the Father himself. It was in the Father’s compassion for humankind, that his Word is made flesh and dwells among us. As Jesus takes up his mission, immersing himself in the waters of the Jordan in solidarity with us sinners, he is baptized: “A voice came from the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mk. 5:11). It is the same voice that in the Transfiguration accompanied his divinity refulgent in his humanity: “A cloud came overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” It is the voice within bidding us to listen when he says, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:48). “I have come to bring you the fullness of life” (Jn 10:10). “Love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
Desire that someone introduce Pope Francis to me.
But not just for a selfie…
God introduces Jesus to us.
For a deeper encounter…
Homily Notes: Baptism of the Lord
“A voice came from the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”
A cloud came overshadowing them, and I voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Isaiah 61:1-2a (from Morning Praise)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.
Isaiah 42:1-4;6-7 (Second Reading)
“This says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen whth whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard on the street…
“I the Lord have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you and set you as a covenant to the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon