Limits of Solidarity

(Homily for Baptism of Lord, B)

One of the great puzzles of the New Testament is why Jesus allowed himself to be baptized. He is God and therefore completely without sin, yet he submitted to John's baptism which was for the "remission of sin." The nearest modern comparison is our sacrament of reconciliation. As we read in Mark 1:5, before John baptized each person, they confessed their sins*. It doesn't say whether the penitent did that out loud or softly to John. I assume most would prefer saying their faults quietly. Like Ambassador Alan Keyes this week when they asked the Republican presidential candidates what was their biggest mistake, he said, "There are things I will tell my priest in the confessional that I will not tell you or any other American. OK?" All of us can identify with that sentiment.

Anyway, John's baptism was something like people lining up for confession. The question is, Why would Jesus put himself in that line? Some were going to confess adultery, others stealing, others dishonoring their parents. But what would Jesus have to confess? Why did he allow himself to be baptized by John?

I cannot solve that enigma, but I would like to give you a word this Sunday which might help. This word has become very important these past two decades. It is solidarity. It means to take up another person's cause, to become one with them.

St. Paul tells us that even tho Jesus was without sin, he "became sin" for our sake. John the Baptist recognized that when he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." The lamb is innocent, but in the Old Testament the people put their sins on the back of that meek animal.

When I was a child, we sometimes played a game called "mud fight." We would throw mud and sand at each other until our bodies were covered and the sun dried it in our hair, ears and so on. It felt so great to then dive into the water. Jesus did something like that, but not for fun. He was baptized for us so that we could be baptized into him. He performed a beautiful act of solidarity.

That word has particular importance for us as we enter the third milenium. We have witnessed the triumph of the free market, capitalist economy. In some ways this has been a great blessing because it freed Eastern Europeans from their centralized, totalitarian governments. But it is a mixed blessing because capitalism tends to throw each person on their own resources - and so we become isolated from each other. More people now live alone than any time in history. And at some point we say to our children, "You are on your own now, kid. You will have to fend for yourself."

Personal responsibility is important, but it goes too far if we give our young people the idea that the goal of their life is "self-sufficiency." When you think about, self-sufficiency is pretty miserable. It means to be isolated, alone. In some way the definition of hell is self-sufficiency.

When God created us, he did not make us for independence - but rather for solidarity, for family. I would like to give an example from our own parish. My predecessor, Fr. Ross Fewing, started the custom of the two-bit collection. It enables us each Sunday to concretely express our concern for the needy in our city, our world and within our parish. Even tho we have serious financial problems of our own, I have been pleased that so many of you have expressed continued commitment for the two-bit collection.

At the same time, we are asking others to help us. Our parish is situated in one of the poorest areas of King County - and that is exactly where we should be. But it is only right that others should help us as is happening with our seismic retrofit project. I've even asked to some of my priest friends in suburban parishes, "Why don't you adopt Holy Family as a sister parish?"

Thanks be to God, many people outside the parish have been willing to help us. However in the long run what counts most is solidarity within the parish. Some can give more, everyone can give something. Last weekend at our Hispanic Masses we took up the two-bit collection for our Holy Family 2000 Project - $1557 were donated. We will have to raise substantial amounts if we are to do the seismic retrofit this summer.

I want to talk to you about another form of solidarity - even more profound than financial giving. This is spiritual - our prayers one for the other. By our baptism into Jesus we are members of His Body and can mutually support each other. This week we started five days of Eucharistic Adoration. Some three hundred people came to make a Holy Hour before Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. What a great act of love to pray for others.

Because we belong to Jesus the horizons of our prayer are not limited to this earth. We are part of the Communion of Saints which includes those already in heaven, the souls in purgatory and those on earth who are in the state of grace. Do we remember our loved ones who might be in purgatory? I have talked to you about the Holy Year Indulgence - and my hope is that every parishioner who has made their first confession and first communion will receive it. After receiving it personally you can obtain the indulgence on behalf of a loved one who has died. My own personal goal is to gain the Indulgence for my dad, my grandparents and for my friend Fr. Mike Holland. If any of them are already in heaven the prayers will go to another soul. I picture my friend, Fr. Holland, so happy to receive those prayers and pass them on.

To gain the Indulgence for a loved one who has died it is not necessary to make another confession if you are in the state of grace. Just do this: on a separate day, pray for the intentions of the Holy Father - it is something we do in each Mass. Then make the pilgrimage of prayer to St. James Cathedral. The indicated prayers are the Our Father, the profession of faith and a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I've written all this out in the bulletin. The Cathedral is open most of the day - but a very good time to go is Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. when they have Vespers. You can go as an individual, family or with a group. It won't be until December 31 that we have our parish pilgrimage, but of course you are encouraged to go before then.

Our baptism calls us to share our gifts with each other and to pray for those we can see and those no longer physically present. Because of Jesus' baptism -and our baptism in him - our solidarity has no limits.

**********

*Sometimes you hear that confession, as we know it, originated with Irish Monks six or seven centuries after Christ. If so, they did not invent it out of thin air, but as a continuation of patristic and New Testament practices. St. James not only makes a reference to confessing sins to other human beings but strongly encourages it (James 5:16). Jesus explicitly gave his apostles authority to forgive and retain sins (John 20:23). Mark 1:5 states, "they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." Apparently John did not practice "general absolution."

From Archives:

Baptism of Lord 2013: Generous Love
2011: Seven Teachings about Baptism
2010: Saved Through the Bath of Rebirth
2009: The Power of Baptism
2008: Road to Sanity
2005: Most Shocking
2004: With Whom I Am Well Pleased
2003: The Membership
2002: The Grace of Baptism
2000: Limits of Solidarity

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Wedding in Arandas

(Plus pictures of Blessed Luis Magana's Granddaughters)

The Holy Door and the Jubilee Indulgence (How to receive it at Holy Family)

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Seattle Pilgrimage to Rome, June 7-13, 2010 Year of the Priest

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