Baptism of Anguish

(Homily for Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Bottom line: Like Jesus you and I will have to face a baptism - a final test that may involve great anguish. But, if we ask his help in facing daily trials, we will have the strength which comes from him and the example of saints .

Today Jesus says, "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!" Jesus is referring to what would happen in Jerusalem. His own people would demand a punishment reserved for base criminals. Roman soldiers would subject him to public humiliation and mockery. Then they would inflict on Jesus the worst form of torture the Romans could devise. Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem. "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!"

You and I will not have face something so terrible. At least we should pray that we never do. The Our Father has a petition which refers to the trial you and I may face. At the end of the Lord's Prayer we say, "Lead us not into temptation." This does not mean that God would ever tempt us to sin. The word temptation refers rather to a testing. Another way of translating it is: "Protect us when we face the great test or trial." The Catechism puts it this way: "This petition takes on all its dramatic meaning in relation to the last temptation of our earthly battle; it asks for final perseverance." (#2849) You and I will face some ultimate trial. Like Jesus, we have a baptism with which we must be baptized. It is inevitable.

Now, I do not relish the idea of that kind of trial. At the same time there is no point in imagining what one's final trial might be. The best thing we can do is ask Jesus' help in facing our daily temptations and trials. And although none of knows what our own test will be, we can learn from Jesus and from fellow Christians who have faced great trials.

I would like to mention a famous Christian who was sorely tried: Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. All of us know he faced a terrible trial when his son, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968. But that was not the end of his testing. A year later, a second son, Albert Daniel, would die by drowning. The worst trial struck in 1974. A college drop-out named Marcus Wayne Chenault entered their church and shot his wife. When asked why he did it, Chenault replied: "Because she was a Christian and all Christians are my enemies." At the funeral Dr. King gave a sermon in which he addressed his wife. He said that he knew he would be joining her again. "Today I am strong," he said. Then he added, "I cannot hate any man."

Dr. King had a baptism with which he had to be baptized. His strength did not come in a single moment. It came from a life where he faced other trials. As pastor of a large church, he knew that many members of his congregation also experienced terrible testing. And sometimes the test is much deeper than what others see on the surface. I know that from my years as a parish priest. I am often amazed at how people bear up under horrible tragedies. But then when I talk to them, I learn that other things had happened that caused them even greater suffering.

The Letter to the Hebrews gives us help in facing life's trials. It speaks about how Jesus endured the cross with all its shame because of the joy that lay before him: His Father's face. People can get through a great suffering if they think about someone waiting for them. The poet Dante Alighieri was willing to walk through a wall of fire because he knew that his beloved Beatrice was just on the other side.

I have my own picture of what lies on the other side. It may sound foolish, but I imagine my mom and dad, young again - strong and beautiful. Around them stand many others who I do not recognize, but they are somehow connected to my parents.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear about a "cloud of witnesses," the saints who have gone before us. When we think about those saints, it should motivate us to turn away from sin. The author of Hebrews tells us to rid ourselves of every burden of sin that still clings to us. We cannot get to heaven if sin weighs us down. We have to let go of the anger, the lust, the laziness that separates us from God - and others. That is the purpose of the trial - to purify us from false attachments. You and I have a baptism with which we must be baptized. As was the case with Dr. King, it may involve unspeakable anguish, but like him, we can also have the strength which comes from Jesus - and from the saints who have preceded us.

To sum up: Like Jesus you and I will have to face a baptism - a test that may involve great anguish. But, if we ask his help in facing daily trials, will - like Dr. King - have the strength which comes from him and the example of saints who have gone before us. As the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Let us...persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith."

Note: I just received the news that two Peruvian relgious sisters died in the August 15 Earthquake. They are Vincentian Sisters Antonieta Perla and Elizabeth Ode. Sor Elizabeth worked at the Orphanage in Puno and was a great friend of the Mary Bloom Center. Please pray for them and for the Daughters of Charity (Vincentian Sisters) - and the thousands of children they serve. I have set up a website with their pictures and information about them.


Spanish Version

From Archives (20th Sunday, Year C):

2013: Run the Race
2007: Baptism of Anguish
2001: I Have Not Come To Establish Peace
1998: I Have Come for Division

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Bulletin (Peru Earthquake - How to Send Help, Hispanic Festival Pictures, Learning to Participate in Extraordinary Rite)


Inside report on the Courage Conference in Chicago

The Hermeneutic of Continuity

Why Atheism Is Selling . . . Books


Bishop Salvatore Matano - one of my classmates from Rome - celebrates extraordinary rite (TV news story with video clip)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish

Parish Picture Album

World Youth Day 2013

(about 40 pictures in a slide show)

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

(new, professional website)

KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)

A Homilist's Prayer