From the Pastor – January 9, 2011

After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Lk. 3:21-22)

Last week we celebrated “Epiphany Sunday,” which has been moved by the U.S. Bishops from its traditional date on January 6 to promote more active participation in the Feast. It’s a bit confusing to us in New Orleans because we still mark “Twelfth Night” as the beginning of the Carnival Season and the first day that we can eat king cakes. Rousse’s must be following the revised liturgical schedule since they had a huge king cake display last Saturday night!

We know that Epiphany is marked by the appearance of the magi looking for the newborn King of the Jews (just like we look for the baby in the cake). But the Church Fathers saw much more in the word “epiphany” than the appearance of the magi. The Greek word for Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation” and the point is that the identity of Jesus was “made known” on certain occasions. Obviously, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph were given an “epiphany” when Jesus was born. The shepherds in the field were given an epiphany when the angel led them to the baby Jesus. But the Fathers focus on three distinct “epiphanies”: the Visit of the Magi, the Wedding Feast at Cana, and the Baptism of Our Lord.

Today’s Baptism of Our Lord is the most dramatic of the epiphanies. Although the presence of “wise men” in the small town of Bethlehem visiting a baby might have been unusual, the sight of “heavens opened,” the “Spirit of God descending like a dove,” and a voice from the heavens saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” sends a clear message!

An interesting part of the “epiphany” is the sentence spoken by the “voice from Heaven.” The words come at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Why is the Father“well pleased”? Jesus hadn’t “done” anything, yet. The point is that the Father loves Jesus, and that is why He is well pleased. And the moment is a reminder to us. God doesn’t love us because of what we “do.” God loves us. Period. We respond to that love by living lives consistent with the Gospel because that is how we can live the happiest, and God wants our happiness. But the love of God is stronger than anything we “do.” And that’s especially important for understanding God’s love for us even in the face of our own sins. God loves us. Period. Our own Baptism incorporates us into the life of Christ, and our availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession restores us when we fall away from Christ and others.

We are God’s beloved sons and daughters. We are loved by God. In us He is well pleased.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty