The Journey Begins with Prayer: The Baptism of the Lord

 The Baptism of the Lord (C)

It might seem like the most obvious thing in the world to say, but, Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus is found praying with and for others, as well as seeking a quiet place to pray by himself.  He prayed before meals, before and after healings and other miracles, he prayed prayers of thanksgiving and prayed for the faith of his disciples. Jesus prayed when he had decisions to make, and taught his followers how to pray. Jesus prayed on the way to the cross, and moments before he died, Jesus breathed his final prayer.

The first prayer of Jesus’ public ministry occurred immediately after his baptism.

 “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  

—Luke 3:21-22

I wonder what Jesus was praying about, was it a prayer of thanksgiving? Discernment? Guidance?

Many people admit they don’t know how to pray on their own; they say they don’t know what to say; it feels awkward, or they aren’t sure if they are speaking to God the right way, or if they are being heard. I remember one friend who told me she doesn’t know when to “sign off” so she just sort of, ends it. Thanks! Love ya!

The variations of prayer are endless. Plus, other than the Lord’s Prayer given to us by Jesus himself, there is no one right way to pray. The best form of prayer is the one that draws us closer to God. Prayers can be contemplative or centering, a meditation or a chant, a favorite prayer said before bed or upon waking, spoken before meals, or with others during a liturgy or prayer group, to name only a few. The best prayer for me occurs when I share my hopes, fears, gratitude, or anguish with God while doing everyday tasks like cooking and gardening. Regardless of how we pray, if we open ourselves to it, we might sense a holy stillness that expresses God’s presence and love for us.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism beckons us to place ourselves in the crowd of the newly baptized and witness the moment Jesus’ earthly ministry began: with prayer. I wonder what Jesus felt when the sky opened, and the Holy Spirit filled him, and he heard God’s voice.

We can do more than wonder. Have you ever felt God’s presence in times of prayer? Perhaps you have experienced the stillness pulsing in your ears, keeping time with the chant of your heart, “beloved, beloved, beloved.” Maybe you felt the heaviness of the world dropping away, along with your words. Or a sense of well-being, unlike anything ever experienced that blankets you in lightness, and it is just you and God, and nothing else matters.

If we could remain in this state, we would. Because in that moment, which might last only a second or two, God’s delight is evident, and the Holy Spirit of God fills us, like it did Jesus. But, like Jesus, we can’t remain—we can always come back to prayer—but, for now, we must act.

Imagine hearing the words “You are my beloved (son, daughter); with you I am well pleased.” How would you respond?

Christians are baptized as infants, as children and adolescents, and as adults, as in the case of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). Regardless of the age of the person receiving the sacrament baptism is a forward moving, future-oriented event. It’s not “done and over.” It’s not the first sacramental stamp on a passport to heaven. Baptism is a fiat, a yes, a birth. What comes next is life.

Do we remember to pray for the newly baptized after the day has passed? Prayers of gratitude, discernment and spiritual guidance for ourselves and others are needed, because, with baptism, we begin our lifelong journey as disciples.

With today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we bid the Christmas season adieu. Tomorrow begins Ordinary time, a new cycle of discernment, faith formation, and spiritual growth. Let’s begin by reflecting upon Jesus’ baptism, and our baptism, and pray for guidance in the coming year, and let’s strive not only to deepen our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus but to act upon it.

“Lord Jesus, we end our Christmas season by celebrating our rebirth in baptism. We enjoy what prophets and kings longed to see. Help us during this New Year to grow more conformed to you in our thoughts, desires, words and actions. Enable us through the Scriptures as well as through the sacraments of your food and forgiveness to grow to full maturity as your disciples.” 

—Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P.,
Prayer for the Sunday after the Epiphany,
The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings can be found here. .

Fearless wonderment and awe at Christmastime and beyond

Christmas 

I had a dream about angels falling like snowflakes. Outside my window fluffy snowflakes twirled lazily, in no rush to hit the ground, in that lovely way snow sometimes does. As I gazed at the sight, individual flakes began to increase in size. I was mesmerized. First one, then another. Each took on a ghostly form, white and translucent. In my dream I saw wings, lots of wings, and light. I don’t remember if any of the angels touched the ground but I was compelled to move closer to the window and then to the door, which I opened. I reached out my hand and one came to me. I must have exclaimed something because my husband called from across the room, asking what I was doing. “Don’t you see them?” I said, “There are angels!” His brow rose in concern, but when I showed him my hands his expression changed. I could tell he saw what I saw. And, at that moment, an angel landed on his hand.

I have to confess that I don’t spend much time thinking about the existence of angels, but I know many people who do. There is an entire area of systematic theology devoted to the doctrine of angels, appropriately called Angelology. In Scripture, angels are spirit messengers, guardians, and divine agents, and of course throughout the Advent season, we have heard various scriptural accounts of angelic activity. The Christmas liturgies each include references to angels surrounding the birth of Jesus. Angels are active and present as mediators throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and as messengers in the New Testament.

But my purpose in sharing my dream here, and on Christmas day no less, is not to open up a discussion of angels, or to affirm or dispute their presence or activity in the world, or to even interpret the meaning of my dream. Rather, I want to encourage a measured sense of fearless wonderment and awe for the things that give us hope, but which we can’t fully understand. Things like the countless ways God communicates in us, with us, and through us. And, like the birth, life, and mission of Jesus, the Word, whom the writer of Hebrews identifies as the “imprint of God’s very being” [Heb 1:1-6 ].

The reflections for the four Sundays of Advent found here on The Good Disciple blog began with the decision to nurture the tender shoot emerging from our hardened hearts, to open an interior space into which the Word of God could enter, to recognize our own belovedness, and finally to give our fiat to God’s movement in our lives and in the lives of others. With the passing of each week we have worked to prepare a dwelling place which is fresh, unobstructed, expectant, and ready to receive the infant Jesus.

It is my hope that as good disciples, we will continue to nurture this place in our hearts where the spirit of God dwells, inspires, comforts, and encourages us to do God’s will.

May we all experience the Wonderment and Awe of Christmas every day, and the Joy of knowing our God whose loving presence is revealed to us constantly, in countless ways, if we only will open our eyes and see it.

Merry Christmas!