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HOMILY FOR FEAST OF THE LORD’S BAPTISM

Dear friends. As a priest I have baptised many children. One of the lines from the ceremony that always blows my mind comes near the beginning after the parents have publicly named their child. The priest or deacon then traces the cross on the child’s forehead with these words: ‘(Name), the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Saviour by the sign of the cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead and I invite you parents and godparents to do the same’. What? Are you serious? Someone else claims my life? How dare they! What on earth does this mean?

The belief that we are claimed for Christ is another way of saying that God loved us first and chose us before we could ever chose him. In our mother’s womb, we were created uniquely by God and endowed with gifts that are meant to be put to use for the accomplishment of our mission that God has assigned to us in life. As Jesus said on the night before he died: ‘You did not choose me, I choose you and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last’. Yes, this teaching is certainly counter-cultural. We live at a time when self-determination has become the highest value – ‘It’s my life, my freedom, my choice. No one can claim my life except me’.

But our faith blows this apart. Because of our baptism, it says that ‘your life is not only about you but about God’s purposes for you. It about you being created by another, loved first and then chosen for a mission that is unique to you’. This is what baptism is about. It is the sacrament of God’s choice of us and us being consecrated for mission in the world.

In order to do this, God gives us a share in his own divine life. We become sons and daughters of God the Father by adoption and by grace. Through baptism we have been grafted into the life, light and joy of the Trinity – the life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is why we call God our Father and Jesus our brother.

How awesome this is!! For a Muslim, to call God Father is blasphemy because its is too close, to familiar with God. For the Muslim, their relationship to God is akin to a slave and its Master. So how daring, bold and yet how privileged are we to call God ‘Father’!

So friends, never think your life has little value or that you don’t matter. You and I have been loved first, chosen, consecrated, anointed with the Spirit as a child of God, a son/daughter of the Father, endowed with gifts and finally sent to accomplish a mission  that God has reserved for us.

And so the next time you bless yourself or teach your children to do so, let us be reminded of these wonderful truths. Our baptism is not just something that happened many years ago. Rather it is a gift that we once received and still possess – a gift that continues to define our whole existence and identity as a beloved child of God, given a share in God’s own life and consecrated for mission.

Finally, I began with a line from the baptismal ceremony. I conclude with a rite from the funeral liturgy of a baptised Christian. During the prayers of commendation at the end of the funeral Mass, the priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water as a sign of the persons baptism. So from the very beginning of a person’s life to the very end, their journey has been marked by their baptism.

At the very end of our lives may our loving God claim us as one of his own, just as we were claimed for him on the day we were baptised.