Thursday, September 20, 2018

25th Sunday of Year B ( Gospel: Mark 9:30-37) Love in the heart of the Church



St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
On the 30th September 1897, a young lady of just 24 years, died in a Carmelite Convent in the north of France. She was virtually unknown. She had been very ill with Tuberculosis for 18 months and was eventually reduced to half of one lung. Her religious name was Therese of the Child Jesus. Today she is better known as St. Teresa of the Little Flower. She is considered a saint for our times and I would like to try and explain why.

When she was in the convent she was considered very unimportant and not particularly talented. When she was dying she accidentally over-heard two sisters talking about her and one of them said, ‘I wonder what Mother Abbes will say about her when she dies, because she never really did anything.’ Before she died her sister, who was the abbess at the time, asked her to write an account of her life. If we didn’t have this, we would know almost nothing about her.

One of the reasons why she has become so popular, is because God gave her a particular insight into our life on earth, which applies to all of us. Therese realized herself that she was not a particularly talented person, not capable of great fasts, or penances, or impressive works. She wrote that she would love to have been a missionary, or a priest, but here she was, a nun in an enclosed Carmelite convent, unknown to most people and not doing anything significant. She began to pray to God asking him to show her what in particular she was meant to do, in her situation. She knew she had a vocation as a nun, but she wanted to know more specifically if she was called to something. As she was looking through the Scriptures, she came across the passage that you often hear at weddings. It is the passage from one of St. Paul’s letters which says,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13:4-7).


And it finishes with the words, ‘In the end there are three things that last; faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love’ (1 Cor 13:13). She says that when she read this she realized that the most important thing she could do, was to be the love of God in our world, exactly where she was, hidden away in a convent, virtually unknown to the world. Even though she felt she was not particularly talented, she realized that the most important thing she could do was to be the love of God, exactly where she was. It sounds simplistic and maybe it is, but what her insight shows us, is that all of us without exception can do this.

People often ask me what exactly they can do for God. It always seems to be more attractive to be somewhere else, living an impressive life of helping the needy or educating the poor. Most of us are not called to this and most of us are limited by our own circumstances, married or single, just getting on with day to day business. But no matter what our circumstances, all of us can bring the love of God into the very place that we find ourselves. It doesn’t matter whether you are the president or someone living on the streets. All of us can do this.
  

Recently I was watching a documentary about one of the missions of the 101st Airborne division in Afghanistan. They were on a mission in a place known as the Hornet’s Nest, which is considered one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan and they were trying to overthrow one of the Taliban leaders. Several of them were killed in this operation, even though they were eventually successful. Apart from the politics of it, I was inspired by the individual responses that the many of the soldiers made, to the journalist who was interviewing them. Many of them said that they just wanted to try and make a difference and make the world a better place. Young men in a very dangerous situation, but they wanted to make the world a better place.

There is good in everyone and at the heart of most people is the desire to do good. All of us are capable bringing the love of God into the exact situation in which we find ourselves. That is how the world is changed. But we can only bring the love of God to people if we are focused on God ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have. For us as Christians, that is where our faith comes in. We keep coming back to the mass each week, to worship God and to be refilled with his love, so that we can bring it to the world around us. Each of us has a unique part to play. No one can replace us, but that part is to be played exactly where you are.

In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.’

Friday, September 14, 2018

24th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mk 8:27-35) “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me”




There is a tradition I came across in Bosnia, where a couple getting married bring a crucifix to the church. The priest says a prayer of blessing over the cross and when the wedding is over the couple bring the cross to their new home and place it in a prominent position. The idea is that they will come before the cross in their sufferings and difficulties and ask Jesus to help them. They will not run away from their problems, but face them and ask for God’s help to work through them and most importantly, that Jesus Christ be at the center of their home. One of my sisters did this at her wedding. 

Today we are being constantly bombarded with the message that you shouldn’t have to suffer, that you should have everything your way, that you shouldn’t have to make sacrifices, sometimes even for your children. This is the complete opposite of what Christ teaches us, which means we have to decide who we are following. Am I following the way of Jesus Christ, which is difficult but so worthwhile, or am I following the way of the world, which tells me only my fulfillment is important? This has also become a modern mentality with marriage. If things are not working out, then move on, but that is not the teaching of Christ. Sometimes marriages don’t work out, but divorce and separation should be the last possible resort. It always troubles me when I hear a couple who are not long married, going through difficulties and the word divorce is already being used. The problem is that it has become part of our thinking. Currently in the US, one in four marriages break up within five years. That means that marriage is in crisis in this country.

The word sacrifice is at the heart of what we believe. Jesus sacrificed himself for us. He gave everything. We are called to sacrifice ourselves for each other. A husband and wife are meant to lay down their lives for each other and sacrifice themselves for their children. I am meant to sacrifice my life for the people God asks me to serve. That means that it is not about me being fulfilled, but about me giving of myself.

 
Moses said the same thing to the people in his time, after he had been given the Ten Commandments. He said, “Choose today whom you wish to follow. Choose life or death, blessing or curse. Follow the Lord or not, but make up your mind.”

In the book of Revelations, Jesus uses very strong words.  He says:
Here is the message of the Amen, the trustworthy, the true witness… I know about your activities: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth’ (Rev 3:14-16).

In another translation it says, “I will vomit you out of my mouth.” That is very strong language. The Lord was not afraid to shock us and he still isn’t. He simply wants to make us wake up to reality. In order to grow, our focus must be on the Lord and not just on our own fulfillment.

Christianity is unusual in that it does not try to run away from suffering, or to rise above it, in any way. Rather it teaches us that suffering is part of the path that brings us to God. This is something we have always found difficult to understand. Two thousand years ago it was just as hard to understand. Peter is horrified when Jesus announces to them that he is going to suffer and be put to death and he tries to talk Jesus out of it. He says, “Lord, this must not happen to you. People won’t believe you, people will turn away from you. You are to be the King and all people will bow down to you.” And Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan (enemy) for the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s.” Jesus was saying to him, “You don’t understand this, but it has to be this way. If you want to follow me you will suffer too.” Suffering has its place, even though it makes no sense to us.


When we suffer we often cry out to God, “Why have you done this to me? I shouldn’t have to suffer.” I used to hear this all the time when I worked in the hospital. People say, “Fr., why has God done this to me, what did I ever do wrong?” as though this was a punishment. We forget the line from Scripture that says, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Does this mean that we shouldn’t try to get rid of suffering? Of course not. We should do everything we can to help those who are suffering and to make our world a better place, but we will never be fully rid of it, it is simply part of this life.

Perhaps what is most important is why the Lord asks us to follow this path. It seems to be some kind of doorway we have to pass through, which helps to form us as people, and which brings us closer to God. It is not just suffering for the sake of suffering, which would be sadistic. The death of Jesus led to his rising from death and winning eternal life for all people. That’s what we have to remember. If we are allowed to suffer, it is because through it, God will lead us on to something much greater, although we may not see this until the next life. Padre Pio used to say that if we understood how powerful suffering was, we would pray for it.

We say that we are followers of Christ? Do you have a crucifix in your home? If you don’t, maybe it’s time you got one. By having a crucifix in your home where people can see it, you are saying “I belong to Jesus Christ.” I believe in what he has done for me; Jesus Christ is Lord for me.” We have no reason to be ashamed of what we believe in. Acknowledging the way of the cross is also a recognition of the world to come. If there was nothing after this life, then the way of the cross would be meaningless. But what it is saying is that the struggles we go through and the sacrifices we have to make in this life are worthwhile, because they are leading to something greater. That’s why we keep our eyes fixed on the world to come. If that is our ultimate destiny, then everything we have to sacrifice to follow the Way of Jesus is worthwhile.


Recently I was watching a documentary about how they caught Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo,” the drug lord who ran the Sinaloa cartel. What was so sad about him and the others caught up in these drug cartels, is that they invested so much in gaining everything for this life. They were found with huge quantities of cash and jewels and they were prepared to kill and butcher others to get it. They don’t seem to have any sense of the purpose of our life here on earth. Apart from being evil, it is also very sad. Ironically, many of them also had big chapels built in their homes. What a contradiction!

Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.”

 




Saturday, September 8, 2018

23rd Sunday of Year B (Gospel: Mark 7:31-37) Sickness and healing within the Church


 
"I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance" (Rev 2:19)

From the time I was ordained, every time I celebrate the mass there is one line that nearly always stands out in my mind. It is the line after the consecration of the wine where the priest says, ‘This is the chalice of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’ That really sums up what the whole mass is about. That is what the death and resurrection of Jesus is about; ‘so that sins may be forgiven.’

More recently I find myself hearing the words at the beginning of the consecration which say, ‘On the night he was betrayed…’ What we are going through at this time, is the revelation of a terrible betrayal of Christ within our Church and it is very painful.

During the week we had a meeting at the cathedral for all the priests of the diocese along with our bishop. This was to address the whole abuse scandal in the Church. I wish that you could have been there and heard the anger, pain and frustration that was expressed by so many priests, at what has happened. I think it is good to be reminded that all of us priests are as angry and disheartened as any of you. You can imagine how difficult it makes our work as priests.


The challenge for all of us at this time, is not to give up, but to stay faithful and above all to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. He is the only one that matters and all of us are trying to follow the path that leads to him. During the week I read on Facebook a message from a young mother who wrote: ‘The best thing we can do now is to raise the best generation of Catholics ever.’ That is the right approach. The best thing we can do is to live our faith as well as we possibly can and to bear witness to Jesus by the way we live.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus said to Peter, ‘
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:31-32).

Judas betrayed Jesus to death, but Peter also publicly swore three times, that he never knew who Jesus was. But later Jesus helped him to recover and then made him the first leader of his Church.


Our Church belongs to the Lord. It is his Church and He will continue to guide it and heal it from this terrible time of betrayal. Everywhere Jesus went, he healed people, helped them back on their feet and encouraged them to keep going. In today's Gospel we have another account of healing and not only that, but the sensitivity that Jesus had towards the man and his disability. He healed him in as private a way as he could. There are many accounts of the different characters in the Bible who wanted to give up because following God’s path had become so difficult. Each time the Lord pushed them to keep going, not to give up and I am sure that is what He is saying to us now. Just keep going and keep your eyes focused on me, not on the world. 366 times in the Bible are the words ‘Do not be afraid’ and they are there for a reason.



Diseased flesh must be removed so the body can be healed and that is what is happening now. God will heal us, because it is his Church and he loves us. What we are called to do, is to be faithful.
Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you. (Is 35:4-5)


Thursday, August 30, 2018

22nd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) We must love one another, but God first.




After mass one Sunday a young man said something interesting to me. He said, ‘Father, I think that at the mass you should be talking about loving each other and not just talking about things from the bible which people don’t understand.’ It is an interesting point and I agreed with him, partly. A few years ago at a wedding a man said almost the exact same thing to me.  He said, ‘You should just be telling us to be good to each other. There is no need for all these words from St. Paul to the Corinthians, etc.’ They are both absolutely right about the need to talk about loving each other, because that is one of the most important things that Jesus asked us to do, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That is how Jesus told us that people would recognize us as Christians, by the way we love each other. But there is another part to it which is easy to forget.

If we are to love one another, and that is what the Lord God asks us to do, where are we supposed to get the strength to do that? How are you supposed to love people who drive you crazy, or who are unjust to you, or who do you wrong, or steal from you, who have cheated you out of money, or offended your family? Since they are in the wrong, are we still expected to love them? Yes we are. ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who curse you.’ It seems to be a lot to ask.  In fact, it can seem quite unrealistic. This is where we have to go back to the Scriptures to see what God is saying to us, to try and make sense of this. And Jesus says, the two most important commandments are, first, ‘You must love the Lord your God above everything else’. Second, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ This may not seem very important, but this is where the answer lies.

 

What God is telling us is that if we are rooted in him, if he is at the center, and we become more and more filled with him and with his love, then and only then will we have the ability to love other people. We get the strength to love people, especially those we find more difficult to love, from the love we experience from God. The more our relationship with him grows, the more this is possible.

Let me give you one example. There is a woman called Sister Alvera, from Italy.  Several years ago she set up a community to help drug addicts recover. She believed that what these people were missing more than anything else in their lives, was the love of God, and that this was where their problem was really coming from. So she set up a center to help them recover, a place where they could experience the love of God first hand from other people. They live like a religious community. They have no TV, no radio and no newspapers. They do a lot of physical work and they pray a lot together. The interesting thing is that through this way of life (which is basically a monastic way of life – prayer and work) hundreds of men have overcome their drug addiction, but more importantly they have discovered faith, discovered the love of God for them and begun completely new lives. Sr. Alvera now has 36 different centers all over the world. They are known as the Cenacolo community.
 

There are hundreds of people like Sr. Alvera and not all religious either. The Missionaries of Charity, whom Mother Teresa founded, are another. How do they do this kind of work? It sounds very noble to work with the poor, but it can be really disgusting and dangerous too. Where do they get the strength to work with people who can be very difficult and sometimes ungrateful? The answer is simple. They are completely rooted in God. Their own personal relationship with God is where they get the strength and energy.

Our ability to love one another, to put up with and respect those we don’t like, or agree with, comes from our relationship with him. The more we come to know God, the more we can love the people around us, starting with our own families, our spouse, whoever is closest to us. As we come to know the Lord more, our ability to love others also grows. The key is in coming closer to God, nothing else.

How do we come closer to God? First, through reading his words in the bible. The Scriptures are like personal love letters to us from God. They are written for us personally. Also, through receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. We cannot get any closer to God than that. And also through repentance of sin, because God asks us to do that. To say that we don’t have any sins or that we don’t need to repent of them, is to call God a liar. We are sinners, we continually need to repent. We also deepen and live our relationship with God through prayer, which is simply communicating with God. 

All of these things help to bring about conversion of the heart, rediscovering God, coming closer to him. Only then will we be able to love the people around us and only then will our society begin to improve.

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. You must love your neighbor as yourself.’


Friday, August 24, 2018

21st Sunday Yr B (Gospel: John 6:60-69) Lord where else can we go, you have the message of eternal life





Do you ever wonder why it is that some people seem to be given the grace to believe and others don’t? I often wonder this myself; it is a strange thing. When I was nineteen I came back to my faith having stopped practicing it for a few years, as many teenagers do and as many of my friends did. Why did I come back? I don’t really know, but I believe that it was a grace that the Lord gave me. A friend of mine who had been to Medjugorje—a place in Bosnia where Our Lady is said to have been appearing—and had rediscovered her own faith through it, began to tell me about what had happened to her and how she had come to see how real God was. Her faith had come alive over there. After listening to her for an hour and a half, she invited me to go to a prayer meeting the following week. Now prayer meetings were not half cool enough for me at nineteen, but she was smart and she got a girl I had a crush on, to invite me and so of course I went. There I discovered something I had never seen before. A whole group of 30 or 40 young people, praying the rosary, singing hymns together, reading the Scriptures and sharing their experiences of faith. I found it both wonderful and strange, because I wasn’t aware that there were young people praying together anywhere, and I could see from them that they had a very real and sincere faith. They really believed in God. The scriptures really spoke to them and they took their faith very seriously. None of them had to be there and they were all very ordinary people from all kinds of back-grounds. I knew I wanted what they had and so I began to come back to the prayer meeting every week. 

A few weeks later they had what is known as a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar, where they teach about the reality of the power of God’s Spirit and about living the Christian life seriously. Then during the fifth week of the seminar they pray with each person that they will receive a fresh outpouring, or new experience of the Holy Spirit, and it is amazing what happens. Although nothing in particular happened when they prayed with me, within a few days I found that I had an extraordinary desire to pray. I found that the words of the bible began to speak to me in a way that they never had before. The mass came alive for me as it never had before. That is the power of God’s Spirit. After continuing to pray with these other young people for about three years I felt that God was calling me to be a priest and I answered that call, and then in 1998 I was ordained a priest. This was all in my home town of Galway. Some others in the group also went on for religious life, but most of the people in the group are now married. They were the ones who taught me how to pray, to read the bible, to love the mass.

I was very fortunate that God granted me the grace to discover him at that stage of my life. I was also very fortunate because my discovery of God was through people of faith and it was a very positive thing. They taught me how it was possible to have a personal relationship with God, with Jesus and that has remained with me to this day, 14 years later.
 


One of the difficulties that we have in our times, is that we often only hear about our faith through the media, who only present us with the controversial aspects. They zoom in on issues like married priests, women priests, abortion, scandals, etc.  And they do their job well, you’ve got to hand it to them. They are not interested in whether you believe or not, or in what you believe. They are only interested in selling newspapers and programs, that’s their job. And so they bring up arguments and get everyone worked up about it. But the problem is that they take all these arguments are often taken out of context. The controversial issues are really only secondary. What is important is our relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what our faith is about. When we develop this relationship with the Lord, then all the other things just begin to fit into place; they don’t seem so important. But if you begin with all the controversial stuff, you haven’t a chance. They are not what our faith is based on, and they are really not all that important. Believing that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is the way to the Father, and the way to heaven, that’s important; that because of him our sins can be forgiven, that he is present to us in the Eucharist, for our benefit, that’s important.

Anyone I know who has grown much in their faith, who has a real relationship with God, they rarely have a problem with the more controversial aspects of the Church’s teaching, because it just fits into place for them. Their relationship with God comes first and this is what enables them to live as a Christian and to love other people. It’s not because someone else told them that this is what they must do, but because they have a real relationship with God and they work at it.

During dark times such as we have at the moment, it is even more important that we ask ourselves what we believe in. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, that the Church is from God, that the Scriptures are from God? If I do, then the one thing I need to focus on more than anything else, is Jesus and what He has revealed to us. I don’t mean that we don’t address the problems that we are facing, but from a faith point of view, keeping Jesus at the centre is more important than anything else.

 

Many people struggled with the teachings of Jesus when he gave them. In fact, it says in this Gospel, right after he had given the teaching on the Eucharist, that many people left him then, because they thought he was crazy. They couldn’t accept what He said. But He didn’t run after them and try to explain what He really meant. Instead He just let them go. They had to decide. He just turned to the disciples and said, ‘What are you going to do? It’s your decision.’ And Peter said, ‘Where else can we go, we believe that you are the holy One of God.’ It doesn’t mean that they didn’t struggle with the teaching, but that was what they decided.

The Lord does the exact same with us today. He is very definite. He gives us an invitation to follow him, to follow the way that leads to life, by following the teachings of Christ. He says, ‘Are you with me or not?’ It’s your choice, but he wants us to make a definite choice. No room for those who are indifferent. In the book of Revelations, referring to one community, Jesus says, ‘You are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one or the other. But since you are neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.’ Very strong words. The Lord wants us to follow him, because it is the only way that will lead us to happiness, but we have to make the choice.
 Jesus said, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Peter said, ‘Lord where else can we go, you have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.





Saturday, August 18, 2018

20th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: John 6: 511-58) Light shines in the darkness



 

After all that we have heard in the last few days about the terrible abuse that happened in the state of Pennsylvania, it is hard to know what to say, and in truth it is not easy to stand here before you during a time of such terrible shame and pain. However, I want to share a few thoughts with you which I believe are important.

A few years ago I was listening to the news reporting similar abuse in Ireland and I noticed at one stage the news anchor, Sharon Ní Bheoláin, said to the reporter Joe Little, ‘So is there any hope at all for the Church...?’ I can’t remember exactly what he said in reply, but he began by saying, ‘Well there is very little [hope], but...’ When I heard this question and response it struck me that the question they had just asked, and the response given were both very human. From a human point of view there is little or no hope. It seems to be the end of the Church as we know it. How could a Church survive with this kind of thing going on? Why would any of us want to be part of it? However, it also reminded me that the Church is not a human organisation, it is from God. If it were a human organisation it would have disappeared centuries ago.

Our life-time is not the first time that the Church has been battered by scandals, and no doubt it won’t be the last either. To me the very fact that the Church is still here at all is the strongest indication that it is from God. What else could survive centuries of scandals, bad practice, corruption, etc? Another thing for sure is that I would not want to be a part of this Church, or continue to be a priest, if I believed that it was merely of human origin. At times like this it makes me question why I am a priest, but then I am reminded that it is God I am trying to serve and it is the message of Jesus Christ that I am trying to pass on, and so why should I be afraid?  


The more I continue to try and work as a priest, the more I am absolutely convinced of the power of God at work because there are far too many odds against us being able to survive, and yet we do. In spite of all the terrible things that have happened people continue to believe; men and women continue to dedicate their lives to God and people put up with all kinds of difficulties. Another thing that continues to amaze me is what in religious terms we call ‘grace.’ In other words, the power of God at work in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times. When all hope seems to be gone, doors open, things happen, people respond. That is the power of God and I have seen it enough times to be convinced beyond doubt that God is working in and through this too. 

The truth is that it is the mercy of God that allows all these scandals to come out, because God could not allow us to continue with all this poison under the surface.  How could there be any fruit in the Church with all this sickness? God is getting rid of the sickness and it is painful, but it is absolutely essential that it happens. You can’t leave diseased flesh in a person’s body. It has to be removed.

Benedictine monastery in Subiaco, Italy
There is a small town north of Rome called Subiaco, where St. Benedict lived for three years in a cave. When I visited the monastery there I saw a quotation on the wall which read: ‘Why do you sit in the darkness seeking the light? But persevere, because the stars can only be seen when it is dark.’ Sometimes it is necessary to go through times of darkness to be able to find the light again properly. Let us remember too that it is God whom we believe in and God in whom we put our trust. And even though we will hear of scandals and other terrible things, God continues to work in and through his Church, because it is His Church and that is what we must stay focused on. One out of the twelve apostles betrayed Jesus—that’s 8.5%—but Jesus didn’t give up on the Apostles, because most of them were good. I was also heartened to read that since 2002, when the Church began to change its policies regarding abuse, there have been almost no abuse scandals. That is encouraging.

The message of Jesus Christ is one of hope. ‘I am the Light of the world.’ That is the light we focus on, not the messages of darkness, but the light that comes from God. 

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’



Saturday, August 11, 2018

19th Sunday of Year B (Gospel: John 6:41-51) The meaning of baptism



If you stepped outside into one of our summer showers here in Florida, you would be baptized/soaked/drenched! That is what baptism means: to be immersed, or soaked in something. I have to confess that for years I never fully understood what priests meant when they would talk about taking our baptismal promises seriously and so I would like to try and make sense to you of why we baptize a child or adult. Is it just because we are Catholic and we have to? Hopefully there is more to it than that. To make sense of baptism we have to go way back to the beginning.

We believe that God created everything: the visible world that we can see and the invisible world of the spirit. It says in the Bible that the last thing that God created was the human being. That is a biblical way of saying that we are God’s greatest creation; his masterpiece. And God created us to enjoy life with him. It says that God walked among them in the Garden of Eden. God was with them and close to them. We also believe that somewhere way back at the beginning, something went wrong. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we call this Original Sin. It was a rejection of God’s word and what God offered us. Because of this we lost the possibility of eternal life with God in heaven. But because God loves us so much, He did not leave us in this situation and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He won back that possibility for us. Jesus became the bridge between heaven and earth. That is why the symbol of the crucifix is so important. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we are now offered eternal life with God, which will be our ultimate happiness.
 

However, God also gave us free will and so He does not force anything on us. Instead He offers eternal happiness to us, but we have to choose it. It is a gift freely offered to us. When we are baptized we are saying, ‘Yes. I believe this and I want this. I believe that God is real and that God offers me eternal happiness. I believe that God has made it possible for me to have eternal life with him and I want that. I want all that God is offering me, which has been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus. I want it all. Let me be drenched in it, soaked in it.’

Why do we baptize a child, since a child is too small to know what is going on? Shouldn’t we wait until they are old enough to make that decision themselves? The reason we baptize a child, is because we want the very best of everything for our children and especially God’s grace. We want this promise of eternal happiness to be theirs from the start. We baptize a child on condition that we will teach them their faith as they grow up. If we don’t, then it is hypocrisy.

If an adult came to me and asked to be baptized, first they would have to undergo several months of instruction, so that they fully understood what they were taking on. Only then would they be baptized. When we baptize a child, we do it the other way around. That is why the parents promise to pass on their faith as the child grows and it is a serious promise, because it is a promise made to God. We are saying, ‘I will be responsible for teaching my child about all that God has done for them.
 
The baptism in the Jordan
 In the Gospels there is an account of Jesus being baptized. It says that when it happens there was a vision of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and resting on Jesus. This is showing us that when we are baptized we receive the gift of God’s Spirit, which enables us to live the Christian life. The oil we use is a symbol of the gift of God’s Spirit.

Most of us were probably baptized as infants, when someone else spoke on our behalf. Now that we are adults, we must speak for ourselves. In a moment we will renew our promises of baptism, which is another way of praying the creed that we say each week, but we do it in the form of questions and answers. Now you are adults, listen to these questions and answer them if you believe them. Each of us must claim this for ourselves. No one else can do it for us.