Homily — Baptism of the Lord 2004

Homily — Baptism of the Lord MMIV

Landing of the Spirit Rover on Mars January 2004

One of the fond memories many of us carry around with us is the memory of High School Spirit Week.    Freshmen, Sophmores, Juniors and Seniors all compete to see who has the most School Spirit through events like School Colors Day, costume day, dress up day and Spirit Week Dance.

This last week I was reminded of the School Spirit week I had in 10th Grade at Coventry High School, 21 years ago.   That year, 1983, my 10th Grade class won school spirit week, finishing well ahead of the 2nd place senior class.    My class had spirit all right.  Think of what a humiliation it was for the senior class to be beat out not by the juniors, but by sophmores!    Next year, the class of ‘84 came out in full force to just barely beat us, but we got the title back in ‘85 when we became seniors.

While 21 years ago there was little spirit in the class of ‘83, you sure can’t say that today.    One of those 1983 Coventry High School graduates my class of ‘85 beat out was Jim Bell.  I don’t particularly remember him in school, but now he is Dr. Jim Bell, of Cornell University.  And boy does he have spirit now.  Rover Spirit.

Dr. Bell is the leader of the panoramic camera team of the Mars spacecraft named Spirit.  And last Tuesday, Dr. Bell’s color photo of the surface of Mars taken by the rover Spirit made the front page of every newspaper around the world.  The photo on NASA’s web page has received over two billion ‘hits’.

These detailed color photos are already greatly advancing our knowledge of the nearest planet to our own, and perhaps the best is yet to come.   But in all due respects to my upper class mate of Coventry High, while his Rover Spirit is even more impressive than my class’s school Spirit, its nowhere near as impressive as the Holy Spirit, that in today’s Gospel lands on the earth for the first time.

Because the rover Spirit landed on Mars looking for flowing water, but it has found none.    The Holy Spirit has landed on earth also searching for water, and flowing water it has found.
And not just any flowing water, but Holy Water — flowing water made Holy by Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.

Jesus has turned ordinary water into living water — water that not only gives earthly life but eternal life.    Jesus tells us Unless you are born again of water and the Holy Spirit, you will not enter the kingdom of God.  He told his disciples those who believe in me and are baptized will be saved.

God’s Eternal Son was baptized in earthly water to give eternal and divine life to the water we were baptized in.  Because of Jesus’ Baptism, all who are now baptized in water in the name of the Trinity are now sons and daughters of God destined to live forever.  Today the Holy Spirit lands on earth and finds for the first time this powerful flowing Holy Water in the Jordan River, a water now flowing throughout the Church and the World.

That great color photo of Mars, taken by rover Spirit, shows a dry, lifeless, inhospitable planet.   And that’s really what our planet earth is like before Christ and apart from Christ.  As in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, our earth is a valley filled with dry human bones.

Today we celebrate Christ’s baptism, His immersion into our world.  And now, for those baptized in Christ, our world no longer looks like Mars does.  Now it is teeming with eternal life.

You know, they say that Mars actually does have water — its just frozen deep under the surface.  But liquid water is what’s essential for there to be life.   And unfortunately, many of us Catholics have become Martians in this respect.   The living water we’ve received at Baptism is now frozen and buried deep in our hearts which have grown cold through our own sin or neglect of our baptismal promises to love God.

But as the Gospel today says, Jesus has come to Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with Fire.   And the fire of Christ’s Love will thaw the most frozen of hearts, if through a good confession to a priest we allow ourselves to be immersed in that Fire when it has gone out.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this earth we live on doesn’t need to be a cold, barren, and lifeless planet, devoid of  love and peace.   Today the Body of our Lord Jesus descends into the icy waters of the Jordan, empowering the water, warming it with the fire of His Love.  Through these waters of Baptism may our world always be green and overflowing with the Eternal Life Jesus was born to bring us.

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