Sunday Reflection with Fr Terry Tastard - 10 January 2010

 The newspapers this week carried a photograph of Korean children doing physical exercises in the snow.  They were shirtless, despite the freezing cold.  The caption said that their parents paid for them to do this course in order to give them mental and physical stamina.  I can’t see it catching on in suburban London.  But it is thought-provoking. 

As children grow up they will have to overcome obstacles and rise to challenges, and parents do sometimes worry about how their children will cope with life as they grow and move into the world.  Initiation ceremonies around the world often hint at this need for courage in our daily living.  You find it in our baptism ceremony, when the priest anoints the child on the chest and says, ‘We anoint you … in the name of Christ our Saviour.  May he strengthen you with his power who lives and reigns for ever and ever.’ 

We should remember this when we think about the meaning of the baptism of Christ.  As the sinless one, Christ did not need baptism for cleansing from sin.  But baptism was a public act.  Indeed, our gospel today opens by telling us that ‘a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people’ (Luke 3.15).  Baptism was an acceptance of his ministry and his calling as Messiah.  Shouldering this responsibility would expose him to public gaze.  It would provoke admiration – and hostility.  Baptism for Jesus was an initiation into his life in the public arena, in which he would be mocked, dogged by spies and involved in controversy.  His
healing and counsel would be in such demand that he and his followers would sometimes have no privacy and no time to eat.  Ultimately, it would lead to the cross. 

We move from remembering his baptism to remembering our own.  This too is an initiation.  In one of the opening prayers that can be used this Sunday, the priest prays ‘Keep us your children born of water and the Spirit faithful to our calling.’  We are reborn to be his people in the world, to be witnesses to the love of God made visible in Christ, and to the love of neighbour that Christ taught and practiced himself. This is our calling.  It will require stamina from us in the daily living of our life.  It will demand courage and commitment from us, just as Christ’s calling demanded courage and commitment from him. 
Will today’s young people have the stamina necessary to keep the faith?  Stamina to resist or even rebut sarcasm and cynicism about Christianity.  Stamina to persevere through the shocks of life, drawing strength from Christ himself to overcome adversity.  Will-power to resist whatever is wrong, and discernment to see the difference between good and evil.  Our initiation in baptism calls on us to have the courage necessary for this life of faith lived in the public eye.  

We are given help.  As the letter to Titus reminds us today, we are reborn through water and the Spirit.  Through water:  a people of God who have passed through the waters of baptism.  Being part of a people gives us encouragement from our fellow-pilgrims, and the knowledge that Christ is at our head.  Through the Spirit:  the life of God within us is nourished through the Eucharist and the other sacraments.  Baptism promises us the help of God in meeting the challenges of life.

Fr Terry Tastard is parish priest (pastor) of Holy Trinity, Brook Green, in the Hammersmith area of London.  His new book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, from religious booksellers and from the publisher.


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