Baptism of the Lord, Year C

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ALEX HALEY’S ROOTS (1:27) “Kunta Kinte. Behold the only thing greater than yourself.”

Called by Name

Introduction: The Baptism of the Lord is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father. Hence, it is described by all four Gospels. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

Homily Starter Anecdote

The conventional wisdom is that every homily should begin with a story to capture the congregation’s attention and to introduce the theme. 

Your Baptism is Your Tattoo

California police and the courts have discovered the tattoos on teenagers are often more than a cosmetic decoration. A few years ago, a juvenile court judge in California observed that a large number of teenagers appearing before him had tattoos – tattoos on the hands, fingers, and faces. The tattoos, he learned, identified the bearer as a member of some particular gang and, frequently as a user of a particular drug. Many of these tattoos were self-inflicted by youth who were desperate to “belong.” The judge also discovered that teenagers with visible tattoos were virtually excommunicated from the job market, since potential employers equated the tattoos with crimes and incompetency and refused to hire the youth. The judge asked the Los Angeles County Medical Association if there might be among its members, a plastic surgeon who, at no charge, would remove the tattoos from juvenile delinquents. Dr. Karl Stein, a well-known Los Angeles Plastic surgeon, was the first to volunteer. Since 1981, Dr. Stein has turned around the lives of hundreds of his young patients through surgically removing the tattoos by excision, laser, and virtually every other known method (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons).

Your Baptism is your tattoo, indelibly imprinted, identifying you as a disciple of Jesus. Would your neighbors see this in your daily life?


Power Source

The Greatest is a film about Muhammad Ali’s career as heavyweight boxing champion. It shows both his natural gifts of agility and strength, and how he trained extensively with rigorous workouts and diets. But Muhammad Ali said one time that although all these things helped, the real secret of his power source was a set of inspirational tapes to which he listened. The tapes were recorded speeches of a Black Muslim leader, the honorable Elijah Muhammad. They dealt with self-knowledge, freedom, and potential. Muhammad Ali would listen to these tapes when he got up in the morning, when he ate his meals during the day, and when he retired at night. He claimed that these inspirational messages gave him the power to fight for his black people, not only for their glory in the ring, but also for their civil rights in the arena of life. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho)

In today’s Gospel, we see revealed the secret of the power of another man, Jesus Christ. The baptism scene drawn for us is another epiphany episode following last week’s epiphany experienced by  the Magi. Three signs accompany our Lord’s baptismal experience to reveal Who Jesus  is. First, the Heavens were opened to symbolize a new Divine intervention in human history. Second, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, signifying the presence and power of God. Third, a Voice was heard saying of  Jesus “This is My Beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.” 


Kunta Kinte, Behold…

One of the most dramatic moments in Alex Haley’s novel, Roots, is the “eight day” ceremony when Omoro gives his new-born son, Kunta Kinte, his name, and the child becomes a member of his tribe. In the culture of western Africa, the name given a child is both a gift and a challenge. Haley describes the naming rite: “Omoro lifted up the infant and as all watched, whispered three times into his son’s ear the name he had chosen for him. It was the first time the name had ever been spoken as the child’s name; for Omoro’s people felt that each human being should be the first to know who he was.” That night the father completed the ceremony: “Out under the moon and stars, alone with his son that eighth night, Omoro completed the naming ritual. Carrying little Kunta Kinte in his strong arms, he walked to the edge of the village, lifted his baby up to the heavens and said, softly, ‘Behold the only thing greater than yourself.” (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Jesus received His calling from His Father. Jesus is greater than all creation, and Baptism makes us one with Jesus.

Scripture Readings Summarized

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5;9-11

The people of Israel spent sixty years in exile, as captives of the Babylonians, from about 600 B.C.E. to 540 B.C.E. The second part of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, prophesies the end of this Exile and the return of the captives to their homeland. Today’s first reading begins that section.  Isaiah says that God has told him to tell the exiled citizens of Jerusalem that their “sentence” is at an end, their exile is over.


Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

Isaiah reminds them plainly that the Exile was a punishment for their sins, but that the merciful God has forgiven them.  The next few sentences of today’s reading describe how the exiles are to return home. They will return as a grand religious procession from Babylon to Jerusalem led by their own God. To pave the way, valleys and mountains are to be leveled, and a highway created in the wilderness. The exiles in the region are coming back to Judah, and within Judah, to the city of Jerusalem, and within Jerusalem, to the hill Zion where their Temple had stood. The last paragraph presents a lonely sentry who never went to Babylon but waited in Jerusalem, always looking out for the return of the exiles. He finally sees the approach of the procession described above, and he can’t contain his joy. He shouts to the city from the highest hill, “Here comes your God with power!”

Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14;3:4-7

The author of this letter wants his Christian followers to behave properly, not to earn God’s love, but in response to that love freely given. The birth of Jesus, the wise men’s discovery of Jesus, Jesus’  baptism, and Jesus’ coming again in glory are all treated in Scripture, and in our liturgy, as unexpected appearances (Epiphanies) of God among us. So the Letter to Titus applies to our Baptism the themes of Divine appearance and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is borrowed from Jesus’ own baptism.


Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

Today’s selection combines two sections, both of which we recently read at Christmas, one at midnight and one at dawn. In this passage, St. Paul teaches how God saves us by incorporating us into Christ. Among the congregation served by the early bishop, Titus, were Christians who believed they had to practice the laws of Judaism and tried to impose those laws on pagan converts to Christ. Paul reminds them that God saved us “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy.” In other words, those law-driven righteous deeds don’t win our salvation, but God gives it freely. We accept that gift by taking the bath of rebirth, when the Spirit is richly poured out on us. It is this, not our observance of laws, that makes us justified (right with God) and that give us the hope of eternal life.


“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” Mark and Luke have the words addressed to Jesus, “You are my Son….” But Matthew’s “This is my Son” makes the words relevant to the bystanders because they are an open testimony to the Father’s approval of his Son … and we should view “Son” as a Messianic title. The Heavenly Voice points to a relationship shared by no other. It is significant, it is “Good News,” that Jesus hears the Father’s declaration, “This is My “beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased”(Mt 3:17), before the public ministry begins. The Heavenly Father is much pleased with His Son’s humble submission and speaks audibly and directly to him for all to hear: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22).  The Holy Spirit, too, is present as Jesus submits to John’s baptism.  The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus for the Messianic ministry which begins that day as Jesus rises from the waters of the Jordan River.


Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

 Who baptized Jesus and why? While there is no doubt that John baptized Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, he does it reluctantly in Matthew’s Gospel (3:13-17), and he’s already locked up in prison in Luke’s Gospel (3:20). There is no portrayal of John baptizing Jesus in John’s Gospel; all we have is the testimony of the Baptizer (1:29-34). Because each evangelist after Mark, commonly accepted as the oldest Gospel, tries to tone down or erase Jesus’ baptism by John, we must conclude that the event caused a problem near the end of the first century because many were saying that John must be the greater, since he did the baptizing. By gradually removing John from the scene, Matthew and Luke elevate Jesus. But there is little doubt that John the Baptist baptized Jesus; if he hadn’t, Matthew and Luke wouldn’t have rewritten Mark’s story. Jesus presents himself for John’s baptism in today’s Gospel, not because Jesus is a sinner, but to fulfill the word of God proclaimed by His prophets. This baptism must take place to reveal that Jesus is the Christ (“anointed one”) – the Spirit-endowed Servant. “In Baptism, all are anointed with that same Spirit, made beloved sons and daughters of God. Indeed, we are Christians – literally ‘anointed ones.’” (Scott Hann).  “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” What this means has prompted much debate. It may be that Jesus was “fulfilling” all the Scriptural prophecies about Jesus which focused on “righteousness.” It may be that Jesus was seen as validating the rite of Baptism for all future generations of Christians. Or it may be that even the Messiah could undergo a re-orientation towards perfect righteousness, and so could repent and be baptized.

Significance of Christ’s baptism:This exalted identity of the “Son of God” revealed at the baptism is the starting point for all that Jesus will undertake—Self-giving ministry, death and Resurrection. It is because Jesus knows Who He is that Jesus does what Jesus does. As we begin Ordinary Time, we do so knowing that, in our own Baptism, God has named us beloved sons and daughters. Like Jesus, all that we undertake must flow from who we are—God’s beloved. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  This means that we, too, must humbly submit ourselves to God’s wise and loving plan for our lives.  He, in turn, anoints us with the Holy Spirit that we may be clothed with His power and grace. According to the Navarre Bible commentary, in Christ’s baptism we can find a reflection of the way the Sacrament of Baptism affects a person. Christ’s baptism was the exemplar of our own. In it the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was revealed, and the faithful, on receiving Baptism, are consecrated by the invocation and power of the Blessed Trinity. Similarly, Heaven’s  opening signifies that the power, the effectiveness, of this Sacrament comes from above, from God, and that the baptized have the road to Heaven opened up for them, a road which Original Sin had closed. Jesus’s prayer after His baptism teaches us that, “now after baptism man needs to pray continually, in order to enter heaven: for though sins are remitted through baptism, there still remain the formes of sin assailing us from within, and the world and the devils assailing us from without.” Thomas Aquinas quoted as in  ( ).Each time we dip our hand into the Holy Water font in a church to bless ourselves, we need to remember that this act is a renewal of our Baptism.

The turning point: Jesus baptism by John was a very important event in the Messianic mission.

  1. First it was a moment of identification with us sinners. Sinless, Jesus received the baptism of repentance to identify Himself with His people who realized for the first time that they were sinners. (As given in the anecdotes, St. Damien, Blessed Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Mandela identified with the people whom they served).
  2. Second, it was a moment of conviction about Jesus’ identity and mission: that He is the Son of God and His mission was to preach the Good News of God’s love and salvation and to atone for our sins by becoming the “suffering servant.” God the Father’s words, “This is My beloved Son,” (Psalm 2:17), confirmed Jesus’ identity as Incarnate Son of God, and the words “with Whom I am well pleased,” (Isaiah 42:1), referring to the suffering servant)pointed to Jesus’ mission of atoning for the sins of the world by suffering and dying on the cross.
  3. Third, it was a moment of equipment. The Holy Spirit, descending and resting upon Jesus in the form of a dove, bestowed on Jesus the power to preach and heal. Fourth, receiving the approval of God, His Heavenly Father, as His Beloved Son presented Jesus with a moment of decision   to begin public ministry at the most opportune time.

Life messages


The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity

It reminds us of who we are and Whose we are.  By Baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven, and temples of the Holy Spirit.


Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

We become incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made sharers in the priesthood of Christ [CCC #1279].  Hence, “Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments” (CCC, #1213).  Most of us dipped the fingers of our right hand into the holy water font and blessed ourselves when we came into Church today.  Why?  This blessing is supposed to remind us of our Baptism.  And so when I bless myself with Holy Water, I should be thinking of the fact that I am a child of God; that I have been redeemed by the Cross of Christ; that I have been made a member of God’s family, and that I have been washed, forgiven, cleansed, and purified by the Blood of the Lamb.

Jesus’ baptism reminds us also of our mission

  • to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children, and to appreciate the Divine Presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility;
  • to live as the children of God in thought, word and action.
  • to lead  holy and transparent Christian lives and not to desecrate  our bodies (the temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Jesus’ Body), by impurity, injustice, intolerance, jealousy, or hatred;
  • to accept both the good and the bad experiences of life as the gifts of a loving Heavenly Father for our growth in holiness;
  • to grow daily in intimacy with God by personal and family prayers, by meditative reading of the Word of God, by participating in the Holy Mass, and by frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

  • to be co-creators with God in building up the “Kingdom of God” on earth, a  Kingdom of compassion, justice, and love, and to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  In other words, God has called us to help others to see, through the love that we show and the help that we give, that God loves them, that He also invites them to be His sons and daughters and  that He wants to be their Helper and Strength through all the troubles that life in this world can bring.

This is the day to remember the graces we have received in Baptism

This is also a day for us to renew our Baptismal promises, consecrating ourselves anew to the Holy Trinity and “rejecting Satan and all his empty promises,” which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass-media of communication.


Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

On the day of our Baptism, as Pope St. John Paul II explains, “We were anointed with the Oil of Catechumens, the sign of Christ’s gentle strength, to fight against evil.  Blessed water was poured over us, an effective sign of interior purification through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We were then anointed with Chrism to show that we were thus consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed One.  The candle lighted from the Paschal Candle was a symbol of the light of Faith which our parents and godparents must have continually safeguarded and nourished with the life-giving grace of the Spirit.”  This is also a day for us to renew our Baptismal promises, consecrating ourselves anew to the Holy Trinity and “rejecting Satan and all his empty promises,” which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass-media of communication.  Let us ask Our Lord today to make us faithful to our Baptismal promises.  Let us thank Him for the privilege of being joined to His mission of preaching the “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service, and forgiveness.

End of homily

Jokes of the Week

At the end of Mass, some priests like to offer a joke to their parishioners. Please be sensitive though to particular circumstances or concerns. Some Jokes may not be suitable for particular times, placeS, OR CONGREGATIONS. 


1) Baptism of a cat: Johnny’s Mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing Church” with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!” Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”

2) Three times: Too many people come to Church three times primarily. They’re baptized, they get married, and they have their funeral service at the Church. The first time they throw water on you, the second time rice, the third time dirt!

3) Baptized in luxury: When our Church was renovated, adding a Baptismal pool, we were pleased. So was our daughter. While riding in the car with my daughter and her friend, we went past a pond. My daughter’s friend proudly declared, “I was baptized in that pond.” My daughter responded with no less pride: “Oh, I was baptized in a Jacuzzi at our church.” (Pastor Davis)


Additional jokes compiled by Fr. Tony

4) “Born again.” When Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, he described himself as a “born-again” Christian. For many Americans this was an unfamiliar term. By the time of the next election primaries, nearly all the candidates were claiming to be “born-again.” Political satirist Mark Russell suggested, “This could give Christianity a bad name.”

5) A keg of beer and a case of whiskey: Before performing a Baptism, the priest approached the young father and said solemnly, “Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?” “I think so,” the man replied. “My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.” “I don’t mean that,” the priest responded. “I mean, are you prepared spiritually?” “Oh, sure,” came the reply. “I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.”

6) “God help the fish!” Sam Houston was the first president of the Republic of Texas. It’s said he was a rather nasty fellow with a checkered past. Later in life Houston made a commitment to Christ and was baptized in a river. The preacher said to him, “Sam, your sins are washed away.” Houston replied, “God help the fish!”

7) “Have I been “pasteurized?” In a Dennis the Menace cartoon, after attending a baptism Dennis asks the question, “Have I been “pasteurized?”  — We’ve all been pasteurized. We have put on Christ. In Him we have been baptized. Alleluia, Alleluia.

8) Baptism, Catholic, Baptist and Jewish style: A Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher and a Rabbi were sitting around drinking coffee. Someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard, that a real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided that each would find a bear and attempt to convert it to their religion. Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experiences. Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling and had various bandages on his body and limbs, went first. “Well,” he said,  “I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear came after me and began to slap me around. So, I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb.” Reverend Billy Bob the Baptist spoke next. He was in a wheelchair and had an IV drip. “I went out and found me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from the Bible! But that bear came after me. We wrestled down one hill, until we came to a creek. So I quickly dunked him and baptized his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb.” The Priest and the Reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IV’s and monitors running in and out of him. The Rabbi looked up and said: “Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start…”

Fr. Tony started his homily ministry (Scriptural Homilies) in 2003 while he was the chaplain at Sacred Heart residence, applying his scientific methodology to the homily ministry. By word of mouth, it spread to hundreds of priests and Deacons, finally reaching Vatican Radio website ( Fr. Tony’s homilies reach nearly 3000 priests and Deacons by direct email every week.

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