Monday, 8 January 2007

Baptism, Holiness and Listening to Jesus

The essence of good friendship is the ability to listen. If we are to have a true friendship with Christ then it means listening to him. This means listening to his Word, and to the teaching of his Church. That's a both/and. I am always impressed by the way Ven Cardinal Newman spoke of Church teaching in his hymn 'Firmly I believe and truly': "And I hold in veneration, for the love of Him alone, Holy Church as His creation, and her teachings as His own." We cannot have a friendship with Christ which contradicts the truths of Faith, and indeed the Faith helps us to grow in our personal faith. So does prayer. That means not just speaking to Christ or resorting to the formulas of prayer that we know, but also spending time in silence listening.

Over the weekend, at the Friends with Christ retreat, the time of personal Lectio Divina on the Passion narrative from the Gospel was something which gave great fruit. The girls on the retreat, who knew the Passion story, had not really done something as intense as doing a prayerful reading in silence for a prolonged period of time. The results were amazing. The things that the Holy Spirit helped us to see in the text of the Scriptures were true evidence of Jesus speaking to us through his Word.
One thing which really struck me was the figure of Judas Iscariot, who went to the chief priests and asked 'How much is it worth for me to betray Jesus?'. And they weighed out 30 pieces of silver (Mt 26.14-15). This is how Judas repaid Jesus' friendship. My startling reflection was that that is exactly what we do when we sin - whatever the pleasure or self-interest we get out of sin is the price that we rate the death of the Son of God at. Now that's something to think about. But Jesus still calls Judas his friend. In the Passion of St Matthew, he is the only one whom Jesus calls 'Friend' (Mt 26.50), at the very moment when Judas had betrayed him with the sign of friendship - the kiss. We are friends with Christ even when we sin. But then Judas gets a bad conscience and is racked with guilt. So where does he go to? Not to Jesus where he would find mercy. He went back to the chief priests. When he expresses his grief, they basically say "So what? What's it got to do with us?" (Mt 27.4). He gets no mercy there, and falls into total despair. The thing is that Judas still calls Jesus "Rabbi", even at the moment when he is betraying him. We can find that although we are friends with Christ we can be betraying him by our sins. It is often the worst enemies of Jesus that are actually found within the Church. So we need to be careful not just to be friends with Christ in name, but to be so in fact, and trust in his mercy.

Today in England we are celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. I was interested to see the words of the Holy Father yesterday, linking the Baptism of the Lord with his Passion and Death: "Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the cross, and it is also a symbol of all the sacramental activity with which the Redeemer would enact the salvation of humanity." I had not actually realised that this feast day was the most ancient after Easter actually! Then the Holy Father goes on to speak of the link between the Baptism of Jesus and our Baptism. Just as, for Christ, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit was poured forth, and the voice of the Father resounded, so in our Baptism we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit in abundance, and the Father adopts us as his own children. The Holy Father goes on: "The commitment that arises from baptism consists therefore in "listening" to Jesus, that is, to believe in him and follow him docilely doing his will, the will of God. In this way, each one of us can aspire to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council reminded, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May we be helped by Mary, mother of the beloved Son of God, to always be faithful to our baptism."
I always remember the great question of Pope John Paul II to the people of France: "What have you done with your baptism?" We should be careful to guard the fruit of our Baptism, that is, sonship of the Father, friendship with Christ, and life in the Holy Spirit. We should be on our guard that we don't become enemies of Christ while being called his friends, such as happened to Judas. We should seek to rid our lives of the evil which brings us down, through seeking mercy and grace from Jesus. We should live our lives listening to Jesus in prayer.

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