When gets complicated in my life, I like to go back to the basics. When my computer starts to act up and I don’t know how to fix it, it’s easier just to turn it off and start over again. When an appliance starts acting up, it’s easier just to unplug it and plug it back in hoping the problem will reset itself. When I find myself with an ethical questions before me that I might spend a couple of days contemplating, eventually I get to a point where I revert back to the basics and often that solves the puzzle.
Well friends, I think its time for us to go back to the basics. With all of the craziness going on in the world, I’m afraid we have made life too complex. I’m afraid we have gotten ourselves into a mess and the only way to get out of it is to unplug and plug back in, to hit the reset button, to go back to the basics. Fortunately for us, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, that is exactly what the Church invites us to do today. To go back to the beginning where it all began; our own baptism. Very few of us remember our baptism, many of us were brought to baptism by our parents well before we could remember it. Others of us who are converts remember it.
Whether we remember it or not, baptism is very very basic and very very simple. All you need water and a person to say the words. You don’t even need a priest or a deacon in an emergency or for that matter you don’t even need another Catholic to baptize in an emergency situation. Baptism is about as basic as it gets. Water is poured over the persons head and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” are said and the person is baptized. Yet for as simple as it is for us to perform that sacrament something very profound happens and we get an insight into it in today’s Gospel. When Jesus is baptized, we are told that the heavens opened and the Father proclaimed “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Friends at the moment of our baptism, even if we didn’t hear it, God made the same pronouncement over us. For you see in baptism, two very powerful things happen; sin is washed clean from our life and we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. From the moment of our baptism God looks upon us and says “This is my beloved son or this is my beloved.” How many of us actually believe that? It totally changes the way you live your life. Do we actually have the confidence that God loves us? Because it we do, the way we live our life can never be the same.
I learned this firsthand way back in the seminary. You see the most common question people ask me is why did you want to be a priest and the answer is really rather simple I didn’t. But since I stayed awake every night of my senior year of high school unable to get the idea of the priesthood out of my mind, I finally made a deal with God. I would go to the seminary for two years and then I leave and He would give me everything I wanted. Well when I got to seminary and actually started praying for once in my life, something very powerful happened, I began to realize that God really does love me. As God, He is the one who created me and so He knows me better than I know myself. Since He loves me He wants what is good for me so the best thing I can do in my life is to let Him love me and to live my life in that love.
I think if you ask Catholics they will say yes, I know God loves me and I have no doubt that we believe that, but unfortunately what happens is sometimes we project the failed human notion of love on God. For we live in a world of fallen love, a world of breakups, a world of conditional love, a world where love often lets us down. So what do we do? We take that notion of love and we project it on God and we come to think that is how God loves us. You see, that was my problem originally. In my thought of God’s love for me, I thought I had to somehow make Him happy. Somehow if I could do something, I could convince Him to let me do what I wanted. Like a little puppy, if I just looked at Him in the right way, He would think I was cute and let me get away with something. But that is not how God loves us. If we ever doubt how God loves us, all we have to do is look at a crucifix. That’s not a conditional love. That’s a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for the good of another, knowing full well, that this loving sacrifice will be met with imperfect love. That’s a love that says I will give you everything even when I get nothing in return. The challenge, then for us, is not to project our fallen notion of love on God, but rather to reflect God’s perfect love onto our fallen world.
My friends you can search anywhere you want to find peace and love, but until we understand the very basics of who we are it will never make sense to us. Unless we actually get a point where we can honestly acknowledge that each and every one of us is loved by God that He has laid down His life for each of us, nothing in this world will begin to be as it ought to be. You see, once we come to experience and know how God loves us, it not only effects our relationship with Him, it affects our relationship with everyone around us. For it I truly believe that God loves me, that Christ died on a cross for me, then in all honesty, I have to look at my neighbor and acknowledge that God loves him or her as much as He loves me. And if God loves me in that way and my neighbor in that way, then I ought to treat them in the way as thought they have been loved in that way by God.
We get ourselves in trouble when we make things more complex than they have to be. This is why when Jesus summarizes all of the commandments, He condenses them into two; love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourself. If we actually love God in any way similar to how He loves us, we have to love our neighbor. So as we close out this Christmas season, the Church holds out for us the Baptism of our Lord to invite us to beginning, to go back to the basics, back to the moment of our own baptism and to acknowledge the reality of how God loves us and our neighbor and then to actually live that way.
Back when I was in seminary a friend of my sister who was a senior in high school came to me and said that she planned to leave the Catholic Church when she graduated high school, but wanted to know if I had any advice for her life going forward. As I thought about the advice, I could give her, the best I could come up with was know who you are and live who you are. Know that you are truly loved by God and live your life as thought you are loved in that way. My friends, if we truly acknowledge that at the moment of our baptism we were adopted as sons and daughters of God and that God loves us unconditionally, we will find ourself with Him and right relationship with our neighbor. So, as we continue this new year, I think there is an invitation to each and every one of us to unplug, to hit reset, and go back to the basic. To in all honest acknowledge who we are, sons and daughters of God and to actually live that way, trusting that if we actually live in that love that God has for each and every one of us then those two great commandments will always be fulfilled.