Fr. Ben’s homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent Year C
Theme: BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE!
By: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)
Homily for Sunday December 5 2021
*Bar 5 : 1 – 9, Phil 1 : 4 – 11, Lk 3 : 1 – 6.
The open cult called Christianity begins with an initiation into the sacrament of Baptism. Every other progress we make in spiritual life is factored on the success of this 1st experience. A good beginning usually portends a good ending, all things being equal. But the tragedy of modern day Christianity is the tragedy of a ‘bad baptism’; a poorly prepared baptism, a baptism laid on a weak faith foundation, a baptism not followed up with spiritual parenting and a baptism that is finally contradicted with negative destructive spiritual entanglements. No wonder why the early fathers like St Cyril of Alexandria, St Augustine of Hippo, etc did not joke with prebaptismal and post baptismal catechesis (popularly known as mystagogia).
Today, perhaps due to the introduction of Infant Baptism, a lot of lapses have come over the ritual of Baptism. In fact, if care is not taken, sooner or later, ‘busy couples’ may begin to send their children through their maid to the priest for Infant Baptism – one of the things that fat envelopes could do. After all, this is already happening with regard to some other sacraments like 1st communion, Confirmation and even Wedding preparations where influence of parents could fast forward the whole process starting from registration, publishing of banns, marriage course, preliminary tests, etc.
We are told in today’s gospel that John went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a comprehensive baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins as sine qua non for the preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
B. BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE
What does this ‘Baptism of repentance’ mean for us today? Is it still relevant or is it overtaken?
One of the things the devil did to traditional Christianity (example Catholicism) is to ‘over ritualize its religious practices and ipso facto de spiritualize it’ but one of the things he also did to modern day Christianity (example Pentecostalism) is to ‘over liberalize its practices and ipso facto also de spiritualize it’. I don’t know how to put it better but right from the Old Testament times, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and other prophets complained of the problem of running religious rituals without righteousness, Is 1 : 13 – 19, Jer 7 : 3 – 10, Amos 5 : 21 – 24.
John the Baptist continued on this motif shortly before shifting the baton to Christ. As proclaimed in today’s gospel: ‘A voice cries out in the wilderness : Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’. Peter explains that ‘Baptism saves us not by the washing of bodily dirt but by the pledge of a good conscience’, 1 Pet 3 : 21. And this is why, even during Infant Baptism, because of the immaturity of the child, the parents would need to be there to make this pledge of repentance on the child’s behalf and follow it up with appropriate guidance.
C. PREPARATION FOR CHRIST : A CASE STUDY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
The mission of John the Baptist is the paradigm mission of priests, pastors and church leaders in general. In John the Baptist we see a combination of the essential duties of the New testament priest; the administration of the sacraments ( like baptism) blending together with radical prophetism and martyrdom. His life was exemplary; arresting people’s attention compulsorily and making them think about Christ. He did this through his wilderness experience – his dressing; camel’s hair ( symbol of detachment) and a leather belt around his waist (symbol of the new celibate priesthood) – his food; locusts and wild honey (symbol of complete mortification).
He called the people for a change of heart (metanoia) and to bear fruits that befit repentance (primitive baptism). He condemned the self righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, the injustice of the lawyers and judges, the excessive greed, bribery and corruption of the political office holders challenging the whole society to level up the sharp peaks of greed and the mountain – sized injustices in the world, filling up the low cold areas of depression and despair.
The people had no option than to respond to the voice calling from the desert. Yes! They often do. They know when a holy man of God speaks. They know the difference between the prophet and the clerical business men. And they had no alternative than to change their ways in preparation for Christ. Today’s 1st reading says: ‘Take off your ugly dress of sorrow and distress and put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever. For the name God gives you forever will be: ‘Peace through integrity and honour through devotion’.
We need prophets like John the Baptist in Nigeria today; prophets with the fire of reform backed up with knowledge and impeccable life of holiness and virtues. We need to dismantle the structures of bribery and corruption in our political system. We need to reduce immensely the ‘project mentality’ in Church leadership trying to put more attention to the building of physical structures rather than the Word of God needed for sincere repentance.
Our politicians need to be brought closer to the Church, not primarily to make financial donations but for true conversion as John the Baptist did. We need to take more seriously the Holy Childhood Association (HCA) in the Church and help reorganize their programme of activities to impact more on the spiritual development of Catholic children.
Everybody should help in the mission of preparing the way of the Lord both the priests and laity. Everybody should find out his / her own role in the ecclesiastical division of labour and specialization. The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are sacraments of initiation that should be taken very seriously in the Church as avenues of preparing the way for the Lord. Our infants need support not just on the day of Baptism and Churching but all through their early years of maturation and adolescence.
Our baptism must emphasize preaching/ working out repentance and then graduate in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with charisms developed for the service of the Church, growth in Christian maturity and insurance of salvation. Happy Sunday dear friends!
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