With Whom I Am Well Pleased

(Homily for Baptism of Lord, Year A)

When Jesus was baptized, he heard a voice which said, “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” The voice signified the Father’s complete and unconditional approval of his Son.

In the context of Jesus’ baptism, I would like to speak today about a delicate – and complex – subject: the human need for approval. After we have satisfied our physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) we want something more. One of the things we naturally desire is the approval or respect of others. Children are eager for the approval of their parents and teachers. The elderly want a measure of respect for their past contributions – and for what they presently have to offer. Even the guy who says, “I don’t care what other people think about me,” usually has some person – or group of people – he wants to please.

Sometimes we conclude that the desire for approval or praise is a sign of vanity. That is not necessarily so. C. S. Lewis once commented on the parable which concludes, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He made this observation: “No one can enter heaven except as a child and nothing is so obvious in a child – not a conceited child, but in a good child – as his great and undisguised pleasure at being praised.”*

Once my sister-in-law told me about how her son had made a breakthrough. He about 4 years old at the time and he said, “Uncle Father Phil will be so proud of me!” Of course, I was and I was delighted that I meant so much to my nephew. It was a complete win-win situation.

The desire for approval is very good and natural – but it also has a danger. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that “if only people would appreciate me,” then I would be happy. However, if the admiration of others automatically brought happiness, then the happiest people in the world would be Hollywood actors. Hardly anyone on the planet gets more admiration than they do, yet many are very unhappy. Sometimes surprisingly so.

Take Barbara Eden, for example. Those who are a little older remember her as the star of the Television show, “I Dream of Jeannie.” That program was at the top of the Nielson ratings and magazines constantly sought Barbara Eden for interviews. She had the admiration of millions of people. Looking from the outside, you would have thought she was one of the happiest people alive. Yet she was not. She went through multiple marriages – and a sense of insignificance constantly plagued her. Ordinary people like you and me, always wonder how someone so popular, so beautiful, so rich, could at the same time be so miserable. Nevertheless, she is hardly alone.

The problem with other people’s admiration is that it is so fickle. Those who have won great popularity – movie stars, politicians, sports heroes – often feel that insecurity. They know that today everyone can love you and tomorrow they could care less. Still, this does not mean that the desire for praise or approval is wrong in itself.

Let me make a comparison. The tsunami pulled a woman out to sea. She managed to climb onto some floating debris and kept herself alive by chewing the branches for moisture. A week passed before they rescued her and, as you might imagine, she was extremely thirsty. Even though she was surrounded by water, if she had drunk it, it would have only made her thirstier. Still, that does not mean that fresh, drinkable water does not exist.

You and I are thirsty for an approval this world cannot give. If we drink a little of what this world offers, it only makes us more thirsty. But true water does exist. We have a clue in this Sunday’s Gospel. When Jesus was baptized, he heard a voice which said, “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” By joining ourselves to Jesus, we gain the approval which counts. The approval of others is good, but it only points to an acceptance which will last. We have that approval right now by virtue of our baptism.

On today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I would like to make a suggestion to parents. One of the most meaningful things we can do is tell our children about the day of their baptism: how they were dressed, who were the godparents, how the child reacted when the water was poured over him, what the candle looked like, who was the priest or deacon, what the church was like - and the things you did before and after the ceremony. Any detail you can remember will have significance for your child - even if he is a teenager or an adult. And above all, let him know that on the day of his baptism was spoken those most beautiful words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

************

*Here is the entire quote from C.S. Lewis:

When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson, and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures -- fame with God, approval or (I might say) "appreciation" by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child -- not in a conceited child, but in a good child -- as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures -- nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, the lawful pleasure of praise from those whom it was my duty to please turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment -- a very, very short moment -- before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure.

Earlier Version

Spanish Version

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

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