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The Baptism of the Lord Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 13 January 2013

Curiously, the prayer at the opening of today’s celebration speaks about our renewal through Christ not so much about the Baptism of the Lord. The first option for the Collect says: “grant that your children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit may always be pleasing to you.” The second option says: “grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed through him whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves.”

In these prayers, then, we learn both something about Christ and something about ourselves. This amplifies what God said in Isaiah, when speaking about the One who comes: “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench until he establishes justice on the earth.”

That refers to the wonderful generosity of God. Our natural inclination is to step back from Jesus’ Baptism and let it leave us untouched. But according to Isaiah this was the beginning of the justification of the world. The world that we live in! And Jesus Christ is the one who (following Isaiah again) is the “light for the nations.”

Now, we could just stop right here – because so few of us actually believe this. Are there any nations following this teaching? The government of the Philippines, a once profoundly Catholic nation, recently signed into law the permission for contraception. They did it secretly because they knew that what they were doing was wrong. But it is done.

What has long been forgotten in the United States and was discarded in the Philippines as in so many countries is that Christ came to show us what humanity can really be: not lying and deceptive, which we do outstandingly well without his help, but open to and capable of the greatest good with his help. This is the justice of the Lord spoken of by God in Isaiah.

The two possible Collects for the feast speak in different ways about our transformation. Not the kind envisaged by the Philippine government because they wanted to allow people more latitude to sin. (As a sideline, they were doing this on the assumption that the government knows best and is fully entitled to do social engineering. Odd idea of government!)

          The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio (with apprentice Leonardo da Vinci), 1575

On this feast we hear of our being transformed to choose the good and avoid evil, not merely being transformed to find more evils to do. Choosing the good makes for better human beings. But this message has become as muffled in the Philippines as it is here because the bishops generally do not know how to speak to their people – and do not reach most of them.

The transformation that the prayers speak of is spiritual and temporal. It does not start from me deciding to change (the American self-help movement). Rather, it starts from Christ showing us One who is loved by God. He is the Beloved One of God and so he lives out for us the human life that is the life of someone beloved of God.

The poignant thing about Christ is that in his life he constantly had to deal with evil. In becoming a Christian, there is no saccharine living happily ever after until the Kingdom comes. The resignation to daily dealing with evil is totally counter to the progressivism around us. Progressivism says “apply the will,” following current cultural trends, and you will progress into a utopian future. This is a voluntarism that would have made Hitler proud.

But we are coming to the end of the voluntaristic age. It started with the worst excesses of the Enlightenment and has simply gone downhill from there, turning more and more bloody ever since. When you have even many Catholic clergy and religious, for all practical purposes, condoning 3500 abortions a day, normal people realize that there is something radically wrong with society and the Church.

We are at the end of an age. What will replace it of course is not at all clear. Love should be the answer but what does “end” even mean? The historian Jacques Barzun says:

it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The loss it faces is that of possibility. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted; the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.
He has captured the problem – at the end of an age there is the loss of possibility.

In a Christian understanding, it is the widespread denial of the possibility of life in Christ in all of its unimaginable richness. A life of consumption, for example, is so shabby measured against life in Christ. This is where God’s “this is my beloved Son, listen to him,” comes in. God is offering the real possibilities of life.

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.
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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Miriam, January 13, 2013
Subjecting one's self or one's children to baptism is an act of humility.

And there is none more humble than Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, who emptied Himself as GOD for love of us.

So it is with deep humility that we (like Jesus) submit ourselves to baptism or (like God) submit our children to baptism for love of Him.
written by Mrs. Rene O'Riordan, January 13, 2013
It is already possible to guess at what the next age will bring - islam. There is huge persecution of Christians in muslim lands and it is being ignored by the "Christian West" - islam is gaining ground in Europe and in the USA. Our lack of knowledge of our own Faith makes it almost impossible for us to spot the difference. - how we will fare in this particular scenario I don't know but there will be a huge challenge to remain faithful - Rene
written by Mary Carver, January 13, 2013
PLEASE rephrase your conclusion to, "at the end of an age MUST there be a loss of possibility?"
written by Tom Reynolds, January 13, 2013
You wrote: "But we are coming to the end of the voluntaristic age. It started with the worst excesses of the Enlightenment and has simply gone downhill from there, turning more and more bloody ever since. When you have even many Catholic clergy and religious, for all practical purposes, condoning 3500 abortions a day, normal people realize that there is something radically wrong with society and the Church."

Yes, Father, an age of widespread moral darkness that is a seedbed for all of the seven deadly sins. Yet, as Bishop Sheen said, "The darker the night, the brighter the stars." Let us draw close to Our Lord, Our Lady and the entire Heavenly Court at Golgotha (present at EVERY MASS)-- seek the intercession of Mary, the angels and the saints, thank Our Lord, the Father and the Holy Spirit, repent, thank and adore. God will not abandon us any more than He did on the Cross; He will come to our assistance if we trust in Him and keep His commandments.
written by Tjtm_25, January 13, 2013
'When law came, it was to multiply the opportunities of falling, but HOWEVER GREAT THE SINS COMMITTED,GRACE WAS EVEN GREATER; and so, just as sin reigned wherever there was death, so grace will reign to bring eternal life thanks to the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.' (Romans 5:20-21)
We MUST 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thessalonians 5) and fulfil, to the very best of our abilities, our duties according to our state in life. God bless us and save us.
written by Jack,CT, January 13, 2013
I found this refreshing and as
always I learned a ton,thanks
written by Margaret O , January 13, 2013
Catholics today do no longer know their Faith. We need our priests to speak out from the pulpits, we need gifted orators to conduct 'missions' so that we know the Truth. How can we stand for the Truth and defend it when we no longer know it?
written by Miriam, January 14, 2013
Dr. Bramwell writes:

"The government of the Philippines, a once profoundly Catholic nation, recently signed into law the permission for contraception."

I am a Dual National --- American and Filipino. Forgive me for making this correction: The Philippine government DOES NOT represent the Catholic Filipino citizenry.

NO government (democratic or otherwise) represents its citizenry. Governments only represent themselves --- THIS is the reason WHY all democratic governments become inevitably secular. This is true of the US and it is true of the Philippines.

The words "duly elected by the majority" usually only means that portion of the population that is ALLOWED to vote. What percentage of the Filipino population do you think is allowed to vote? What percentage of that Filipino population who were allowed to vote actually FREELY voted? What percentage of that population who actually voted were TRULY INFORMED of the electoral candidate's moral position with regard to oral contraception when these candidates were SELECTED by minority parties and fielded for elections?

It is neither a reflection on the Filipino people nor a reflection on the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines that the Philippine government "signed into law the permission for contraception."

One must keep in mind; the Philippine government is a profoundly corrupt institution (as most secular governments are --- including the US Federal Government).

The free distribution of oral contraceptives has always been a condition of US Foreign Aid. The Philippine government ignored this requirement in the past because it received the US Foreign Aid monies regardless. The Philippine government and US Big Pharma merely pocketed the US Foreign Aid monies and just pretended oral contraceptives were freely distributed to control population growth.(It's all a matter of paperwork anyway.) AND the RH Bill languished in the Philippine congress for 15 YEARS. The 2012 US "Fiscal Cliff" changed everything. The threat of the loss of US Foreign Aid triggered the passage of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill into LAW. Of course, the Philippine government and US Big Pharma will continue to pocket the US Foreign Aid monies. BUT (I am hoping) all will return to "business as usual" and no oral contraceptives will be distributed to the Filipino poor in TRUTH. God works in mysterious ways.

The evil of the Philippine RH Law lies in the message it is sending the Filipino young and its confirmation of the LIE broadcast in the world today --- that sexual gratification is all there is to LOVE and LOVE should be understood as separate from the TRUTH (i.e. GOD). But this topic is best left for another day.
written by Doug, January 14, 2013
Bramwell writes, "We are at the end of an age. What will replace it of course is not at all clear. Love should be the answer but what does “end” even mean?"
Jesus talked about the "consummation of the world" [Douay]; which other Bibles call 'the end of the age. "And when he was sitting on mount Olivet, the disciples came to him privately, saying: Tell us when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of your coming and of the consummation of the world? And Jesus answering ..." Mt 24 ibid. From there on down it's bad news, especially v. 22, "And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened." However ...
"And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting."
So some get life everlasting out of this; not bad. Isn't that more hopeful than some of the comments here?
written by TeaPot562, January 15, 2013
Another article on New Advent today (Jan 14, 2013) discusses the drop in the birthrate in most developed nations to "below replacement" figures. The only reason that the USA's population is still growing is that immigrants have larger families than those born here.
Further, Asia, Africa and Latin America also have steeply declining birthrates.
Will God accept the people who have largely disobeyed His command in Genesis: (Gen 1:28) in pursuit of wealth and leisure time, and causing the effective suicide of their populations?

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