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January 12, 2020
[St. Anthony Church, Kailua (Reception into Catholic Church, Confirmation & First Communion); St. Ann Church, Kaneohe (Rite of Admission to Candidacy for the Diaconate)]
It had to be the most polluted river in the world.
Many years before a Syrian general with leprosy bathed in the Jordan seven times, and that dread disease of leprosy was washed away into the river. During John the Baptist’s time a repentant adulterer was plunged into the waters, and his selfish and lustful sin was washed away in the water. A woman who had manipulated and swindled her employer out of a great deal of money wanted to change her ways, and John washed away that sin that led to so much distrust into the water. One after another, those who were repentant and infected with a great variety of sins and failings, plunged into the water and washed their fetid failings into the river so that it was profoundly polluted with all the diseases, sins and failings that had been washed off into it.
Then came one who had no sin and who was purer than the whitest snow, and innocent as a lamb. He, too, insisted on being immersed in that foul water. John protested, but he insisted and thereby took upon himself all of the pollution, drawing it out of the water so dramatically that the heavens opened to witness act that seemed so foolish but that purified the water as nothing else could. What had become so polluted, foul and fetid would now become a spring of the freshest, sweetest water in the world.
It was in that fresh, sweet water that we were baptized, immersed in the merciful love of God: the Father, whose voice was heard rejoicing in his beloved Son; the Son, who offered his body to change the pollution of sin into the freshness of freedom; and the Holy Spirit, who descended like a dove to fill us with his homing instinct so that we would know the Way to our true home in heaven.
How easy it is to forget how beloved we are, how much God has done for us, how much of the pollution of sin he has taken upon himself so that we who live in its dark dungeon can be brought out of our confinement. How easy it is to be blind to the reality that our Baptism has washed us free from sin. Yet we celebrate this feast so that our blind eyes may be opened to see Jesus, who lowered himself to the depths so that we could be raised up to the heights.
But we can best remember this great gift of liberation from sin and pollution we have received when we share the gift with others; when we immerse ourselves, not in sin, but in the sinful world that does not even know salvation is possible. Jesus teaches us that immersing ourselves in the sufferings, sins, and sorrows of the world will not ultimately drown us, but will raise us up, even as we bring others up with us so that they, too, may know how beloved they are.
When we love people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs or pornography enough to call them out of that dungeon and to accompany them when they are weighed down by the pollution, we follow the example of Jesus, who was not afraid to be immersed in our pollution so that he could purify us. When we challenge people who are convinced that they are their own individual gods, deciding for themselves when life will begin and when it will end and all the other ultimate issues of life, and we patiently proclaim to them that real salvation and liberty are found in worshipping God alone, we pull them out of the pollution of division and discord and into the unity of God’s love. When we stay faithful to our families and friends, even when they hurt us, and when we even decide to love our enemies, we imitate our Savior and Lord, who immersed himself so deeply into our polluted world that he was able to purify it as no other could.
We celebrate this great act of courage and humble love of Jesus so that, filled with his Holy Spirit as children of the same heavenly Father, we can better remember who we are, the beloved sons and daughters of God, who, in communion with Jesus, immerse ourselves in this polluted world to purify it with the love that is pure, fresh, and flowing for the refreshment of all.