Tag Archives: baptism

Drowning, baptism, family, and the cross

Rambling notes for a homily for the thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, July 2, 2017.

Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10, 37-42

I love swimming; I used to swim laps in a pool for 10 to 30 minutes. That’s one thing I miss here in Honduras. I also like to swim in the ocean, diving into oncoming waves, body-surfing back to shore.

But one day a few years ago, I was on an excursion in Tela, Honduras, and the boat left us on one side of a tunnel that we could swim through. Halfway through I was belted so hard by the waves that I wondered whether I wound drown.

The Christian life is not like swimming laps in a pool. Sometimes it’s going into the dangerous and turbulent waters – the water of Baptism – where we experienced the danger of life in Christ, drowning in the baptismal waters to die with Christ

In the early church the catechumens were baptized by submerging them three times under water, dying with Christ, to live with him. As St. Paul says

…we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

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Going down into the waters of baptism, they perhaps felt as if they were going to die and, in one sense, they did die to the idols of their time – power, violence, money, empire. But, leaving the waters of baptism they began to live in the risen life, with a new way of seeing the world and a new style of life – with love, without fear, in solidarity with all, especially the poorest, no longer alone. They lived in Christ, not under the power of the empire and the current customs.

Thinking in this way, we can understand better what Jesus says in the Gospel.

In the church we place great value in the family, even celebrating the year of the family. But Jesus appears to say something against this:

Whoever love mother or father more than me is not worthy of me; whoever love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Father José Antonio Pagola wisely notes:

…it’s not enough to defend the value of the family in itself, because the family can form itself in many different ways in real life.
There are families open to service of society and families turned in on their selfish interests. There are families which educate in egoism and families which teach solidarity. There are liberating and oppressive families.
…for Jesus, the family is not something absolute and untouchable. It is not an idol. There is something above and before the family: the Reign of God and His justice.

What is decisive is not family in the flesh, but the great family which we have to construct among all the sons and daughters working together with Jesus in opening paths toward the Reign of the Father.

If we don’t live in families as persons renewed by our baptism, we live in accord with an idol – seeking our security there, grabbing on to money and power in order to have a “good” family life which is not open to other, which is enclosed on itself.

Jesus also tells us that we have to carry the cross, we have to give our lives and not live tied to our plans and our ideals. We have to be open to a God beyond us.

But in the words of a Salvador song in honor of Monseñor Romero

Many of us seek a god of the pocketbook,
A god who fits in with our idols,
A god who is content with what we pay our workers,
A god who approves our abusive crimes…

But we have a God who is a demanding God, but our God demands love and mercy and justice. And demanding this, he was crucified.

But we sometimes want a faith without the cross. Or, as Richard Niebuhr wrote, we seek a religion without aa sting, and we preach ““A God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

But the Cross is central – not as a sign of death, but as a promise that by dying, by giving himself away, God raises us up.

The Cross is not an ornament – it was an instrument of torture meant for those who were considered threats to power. But in Jesus, the Cross is the symbol – and the reality – of a God who conquers the power of domination, money, oppression, death, a God of love.

When we let this Christ live in us, we can be the family of God, full of love, charity, solidarity, and handing ourselves over, ready to risk ourselves for the Reign of God. We can be followers of Christ to the point of giving ourselves over to God and others, to the point of giving our lives every day to serve god and the poor.

There we find live, submerged in deep waters, in abundance.

The photo is of a baptism at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, during an Easter Vigil

Baptized into the Body of Christ open to the world

Seventy years ago today I was baptized, becoming a member of the Body of Christ, the Church.

Someone took pictures which I have scanned as a memory of this important event in my life.


Mom and Dad and me

What I find interesting is that both my grandmothers were there – and my grandmother Donaghy, Nana, was not Catholic (neither was my father at the time of my baptism.)


Mom-mom Barrar and Nana Donaghy – and me

I feel blessed to have been baptized but I also feel blessed for where I was baptized, in Saint Raphael’s parish in the Meadows, in West Philadelphia.

On the day of my father’s burial I found out a lot of this neighborhood where my parents grew up. I was sitting with my aunt Mary (whose husband, uncle George) had been my godfather) and my cousin Mary, looking at some photos.


Godparents, Aunt Sis Rechner and Uncle George Barrar

Aunt Mary told me that Catholics, Protestants, Jews, blacks, and whites all lived in the neighborhood. She also told me how there were basketball games in the parish gym where all these played together.

I often have wondered why my experience of the world has been so open and my parents without prejudice. They grew up living with those who were different from themselves. Their faith in God moved them to embrace the world.

For this I am grateful.

Notes for a baptism homily

This afternoon I’ll be preaching and baptizing in the aldea of El Zapote Santa Rosa. Praying over today’s readings I find them pertinent for baptizing new members of our church.

Hebrews 8: 6-13
Mark 3: 13-19

Here are some notes, in English, for my homily.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls his twelve apostles – by name. We just called these young children by name – to welcome them into the Body of Christ. They do not come as a group, nor as anonymous. They come as persons with a name.

And they will be welcomed into a community, which experiences the new covenant that the Letter of the Hebrews speaks of.

They will be welcomed and baptized into Christ, not only to free them from sin but also to welcome them into a new relationship with God. As the prophet Jeremiah recalls the promise of God:  “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

It is a relationship of deep intimacy. God’s way, God’s law – the law of love – will not be an external commandment constraining them. It will be written in their hearts and when they  live it they will be free.

We need to welcome these young people. But, even more, we need to live that covenant, that law of love, so that they can grow in love.

We need to be people of love, of solidarity, deeply in love with Jesus and open to love as he did – even loving our enemies. We need to have a community here in El Zapote where these children will see the New Covenant at work, where all know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest.

And so, we will now baptize these young people into Christ Jesus, so that they may God’s people and show forth signs of God’s Reign here in El Zapote.


Called by name

This post, in a slightly different form, was posted earlier today on my Hermano Juancito blog of reflections on my ministry and life here in southwestern Honduras.


The names of the Twelve Apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. (Matthew 10: 2-4)

Yesterday I went out to the village of El Limón in the Dulce Nombre parish to facilitate the last of four workshops in different parts of parish for those who will prepare parents and godparents for the baptism of children under 7 years of age. It’s a new process and we have new materials (which I helped write.)

As I’ve done in the earlier workshops I began the workshop, walking through the rite of baptism – with two parents and two godparents and a “baby.” In one case we used a statue of the baby Jesús; yesterday we used a towel – which, at first, provoked lots of giggles from the 31 participants.

The welcoming of the child and the parents and godparents at the door of the church begins with the question: “What is the name chosen for the child?”

Timothy Radcliffe has a very good chapter on this in  Taking the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation. I won’t try to summarize it.

After the welcoming rite was finished we discussed what had happened.

I emphasized that the first question is about the name of the child. The catechists recognized that this is an act of welcoming children into the community, into the Church.

As I noted, we do not baptize just any “so and so” – “un fulano de tal” in Spanish. The church baptizes, and calls by name, Jesús, María, Gloria, Ramón, Edelmira, Moisés, Nelson, Janixa.

This morning, reading the call of the apostles in Matthew 10: 1-7, I noted that Jesus calls the twelve by name. They are not just a mass of people going out to evangelize. They are Peter, John, Judas, James, and so on – with their names and personalities.

They have a dignity which is recognized when we call people by name.

The poor here and in most of the world are without names. Or, if they are known, they are often despised, ignored, marginalized.

Calling them by their real name is a way of recognizing their personal worth as children of God. (That’s why I am quite ashamed of my inability to remember names.) It is a way to counteract a society that treats the poor as “nobodies” – or, as a former president of the Honduran Congress once said, “gente del monte,” appropriately translated as “hillbillies.”

Calling them by name also counteracts the tendency to look at the poor as a nameless mass of people, to forget that “the poor” are persons with different personalities, moral character, etc.

And so I’ll try harder to remember names.