Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
Over the years, many people have asked me a very simple question when we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: “Why was Jesus baptized? If Jesus is sinless and the Son of God made flesh, why does He need to be baptized?”
The reason why Jesus chooses to be baptized is connected with who Jesus is. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus has become one of us in order to show us the way to salvation and how we are to live in order to be saved. He is baptized, in order to show us that through baptism we are called to share in the life of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit before He begins His public ministry to show us that when we are anointed by the Spirit in the Sacraments of Initiation, we too share in His mission. Just as in baptism the Father declares Jesus to be His beloved Son, so, too, through our baptisms the Father claims us to be His beloved sons and daughters.
As Jesus took up His ministry after His baptism and after being anointed by the Spirit, so, too, are each of us given a mission within the Church through our baptism and our anointing at confirmation.
There is a very powerful theology of the Church that describes the relationship between the events of Christ’s life and the call each of us receives in baptism and confirmation. This is called “The Theology of the Mystical Body of Christ” and it goes all the way back to the Apostle Paul. The beauty of this theology is that it articulates how we are called to continue Christ’s work in the world today.
One of the best examples of this reality is seen in the two-part work of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, both are written by the Evangelist St. Luke. In the first part, the Gospel of Luke tells how the Father sent Jesus into the world to reveal God’s salvation and forgiveness of all people. Then, in the Acts of the Apostles, after Jesus ascends into Heaven on Pentecost Sunday, the members of the Church were anointed to continue Christ’s work in the world. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Church continues Christ’s saving work and spreads His mission throughout time and space, bringing His saving message to all people.
This reality raises the themes of discipleship and stewardship, which I would like to reflect on here.
The Body of the Church
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded that just as Christ had a mission from the Father, so do each of us through baptism and confirmation. Through these sacraments we are members of the Church — the Body of Christ.
A few years ago, I spoke to my parishioners about a pastoral letter that Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, had written to discuss the responsibility that each Christian has for the Church because of the gifts that he or she had received from God through baptism and confirmation. The word that the Cardinal used in this letter to describe this responsibility is “stewardship.”
God has given us the gifts of time that makes up the duration of our lives, our talents and abilities, and the created things and treasures that life allows us to enjoy. For this reason, the gifts that we speak about rendering back to God consist of time, talent and treasure.
Throughout the pandemic the people of my parish have showed themselves to be extremely generous in volunteering for the Ministry of Hospitality and our cleaning teams. Between the two lockdowns, each Mass was covered by excellent volunteers who greeted people outside of the church and acquainted them with the safety protocols and seating arrangements that had been made to keep people safe. Between Masses, so many volunteers were excellent at keeping our parish disinfected and safe. Thank you very much for all who assisted with this ministry. Those who volunteered for this ministry will be greatly needed again when our churches re-open in the near future.
With the future in mind, I would like to return to the themes of stewardship and discipleship.
The pandemic has made it so obvious how much the parish depends upon the ministry of parishioners to be a thriving and vital community. During these days when we are not able to be together and operate as a normal parish community, I would like you to please consider how you might be fully engaged and involved when we return to normal operations. During the pandemic, some of our regular volunteers moved away or decided they were unable to continue in certain ministries because of age or health conditions. Once this lockdown is over, our community will need many volunteers to once again get us active and thriving.
None of This Is Possible Without You
When Cardinal Collins first started speaking about stewardship in this diocese, he stated that he wanted to focus on the aspects of time and talent. In the wake of this recent pandemic, I feel that it is also necessary to focus upon the very unpopular aspect of treasure. Since the pandemic has limited our regular Sunday Masses, collections and the parish’s normal way of collecting funds has been greatly impacted. As there are no regular Sunday Masses, we have not been able to collect money at the parish as we normally did. Those funds allowed us to pay the bills and employ our parish staff.
During the pandemic, the parish has asked parishioners to consider switching to pre-authorized giving. This allows you to contribute each week to the upkeep of your parish community, even if you are unable to come to Mass. If you are able to support your parish at this time, please consider doing so and know that it is greatly needed and appreciated.
Just as so many parishioners volunteered to assist with hospitality and sanitizing the church between Masses after the first shutdown, so too many have donated very generously to assist the parish through this difficult time. While we had to reduce some staff and office hours, the parish continues its basic operations through this lockdown. I wish to thank everyone who has donated so generously in order to keep the parish going through this difficult time.
I clearly understand that this is a difficult financial time for many families (on top of all the other difficulties in our lives presently). If your situation does not make it possible to contribute to the parish at this time, please do not feel any pressure to do so. The first obligation is always to home and family. And please do not hesitate to call if you require assistance from the parish.
Called to Discipleship
Jesus is baptized and anointed by the Spirit for only one reason: to show us how we are to live and who we are to be as His anointed people.
Just as the Father declares Christ to be His beloved Son, so, too, through baptism and confirmation, we are also raised to become the beloved daughters and sons of the Eternal Father. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we all have a mission because of our baptisms and because we have been anointed by the Spirit and acknowledged by the Father as His beloved children.
The word that best describes the responsibility that is given to each of us as gifted members of the Church is the word that Jesus Himself uses when He sends His disciples out to baptize — we are called to become His “disciples.”
Let us pray, that in the coming months and years, we may each embrace the spirit of discipleship and stewardship that will allow us to bring vitality to our community as we share the gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has given to us to use during our lives.
Again, my heartfelt thanks to all who have supported their parish throughout this difficult time. Let us look forward with hope to the day that we are able to worship together again. Please, begin to think about how you can be involved as we return to normal operations. In order to keep us operating until then, any support that you are able to give to your local parish throughout this pandemic is much appreciated and certainly necessary.
May God bless you and your families and keep you safe throughout 2021.
This reflection based on the readings for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord- YEAR B: Isaiah 55: 1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; and Mark 1:7-11.
For Cardinal Collins’ letter on stewardship, please click here.