Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
One of the things I like about eating at a Chinese restaurant is that you are always given a fortune cookie. One such fortune read: “You were born in interesting times.” That has certainly been true for me as a priest.
I entered the seminary prior to the Second Vatican Council and in my second year of training, 1962, Pope John XXIII, much beloved by so many, called for an Ecumenical Council. Two years after Vatican II closed I was ordained a priest in 1967. To say the very least, those were interesting times. So have the times that followed during the forty-nine years I’ve been a priest, particularly the late 1960’s along with the years in the decade of the 1970’s.
We find ourselves these days in times when the numbers of priests are declining. We are also witnessing a dramatic increase in the numbers of non-ordained Catholic lay persons who are devoting themselves to various types of ministry in and for our Church, more and more of them giving us their full-time service.
Some observers claim this dramatic increase is due to the fact that the numbers of priests are declining. I, for one, don’t think so. Not for one minute do I believe that we are turning to the time and talent of lay people merely as a stopgap measure, that we are forced to do so simply because there aren’t enough ordained clergy to carry on the work of the Church. I believe that even if our seminaries were overflowing with candidates for the priesthood we would still find greater and greater numbers of lay folks devoting themselves to ministry and dedicating their lives to Christ in the service of others as a result of Vatican II.
What has happened in these “interesting years,” of which we have all been a part, is that we are becoming more and more aware of what the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are all about. More and more people are responding to God’s graces given to us in these two sacraments. Not only that, but we have a dramatic, a very dramatic, increase in the numbers of ordained deacons, a development that has enormously enriched our Church because of their witness, their service, and in the testimony of their lives.
All of this, it seems to me, is not “stop gap.” There is nothing temporary about it. What is happening is permanent and of lasting significance for our Church. We are all the beneficiaries of this development, especially those of us who are ordained priests.
All ministry in our Church, ministry by the ordained and the non-ordained alike, flows from our baptism into Christ. God’s Christ for us — Jesus — is priest, prophet and king. All ministry is rooted and grounded in His priesthood, something we all share in our baptism into Him. All of us are called to share in His prophetic office. We are all called by God to share His Word and to proclaim it in all we do and among all with whom we live. Finally, we all share in the effort to bring God’s kingdom into realization, to make it real, here on earth as it is in heaven.
Revealing God’s kingdom is a vocation, one that calls us to give witness to God’s presence, power and love in our marriages, among the members of our family, among our friends, in our schools and in places where we work. Caring for our parish family by our ministry and by serving on our councils and committees is a response to God’s call both to witness and to serve.
Some of us are devoted to teaching. Teaching goes on all of the time, not just in our schools, our families or in our religious education classes. We teach in all that we do. We preach in all we do. St. Francis of Assisi once told his early followers: “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” His words apply to us in our days, too.
Some of us share their time and talent with us as liturgical ministers, lectors, ministers of hospitality, musicians, and Ministers of the Eucharist, bringing Holy Communion not only to us here in church but also to those who in our parish family are homebound or hospitalized. All of us, simply by being here for Mass, are sharing in the one Priesthood of Christ. All of us together offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to God our Father.
Then there’s feeding the hungry, working for justice, safeguarding the lives of the most helpless amongst us, caring for the littlest and the least, finding shelter for the homeless, for refugees, and a myriad of other ways in which we serve the needs of those who look to us for help. All of these things, these many, many things, cannot possibly be done by ordained priests alone. All of these many ministries will be served only by all of the members of the Body of Christ. All of these ministries flow from our commonly shared lives in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
And many more ministries will develop as time goes on. This means that our Church will need many of you to serve as full-time lay ecclesial ministers. If you step forward and dedicate your lives in the ministry of the Church you will be competently and professionally trained. Directors of Religious Education, Youth Ministers, RCIA directors… all who respond to God’s call to join in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles in witnessing, ministering and shepherding, will be given all they need to effectively respond to God’s vocational call.
Baptism and Confirmation are not simply pretty ceremonies we do, any more than Matrimony and Holy Orders are just pretty ceremonies we do. They are “serious business” and we must all take them seriously. Why? Because they are events in which we respond to God’s calling to us. In them we bring the redeeming Presence of Christ to the world around us.
Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and His baptism marked the rest of His life. So it is likewise with you and with me. We’re all in this together… and we’re not alone. We’re all in this together with Jesus, God’s Christ, God’s Anointed One. May you and I together respond to God’s invitation with full love in our hearts and with the determination to always and everywhere do His will and accomplish His purposes.
We have been born in interesting times because God is interested in us. May we live out our lives in His interests, accomplishing His tasks both within our Church and out there in our world as we find it. Baptism is for life – all the days of our lives.
The readings for today’s Mass turn us away from Christ’s infancy to his initiation into mission. This causes us to reflect on our own baptisms and what we are doing to better live out our own baptismal call. We have a wonderful opportunity to do that in the forthcoming Alpha program which begins a week from tomorrow on Monday, January 18th. I urge you to make every effort to be a part of Alpha. I promise you – you won’t regret it. That message is my fortune cookie for you today.