FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Consolation for All People - Heaven full of Joy
First Reading (Is 40: 1-5, 9-11)): Book of Consolation
Second Reading (Tit 2: 11-14, 3: 4-7): God's love and salvation is revealed already
Gospel (Lk 3: 15-16, 21-22): Baptism of Jesus
-“What kind of man is Xun? What kind of man am I? He who exerts himself will become such as Xun was.”(1)
-“Generals and prime ministers are not born but made. A man should be self-reliant. (2).”
-“In its motion heaven gives the idea of strength. In accordance with this the superior man exerts himself to ceaseless activity”.(3)
-“All day long we search for spring and do not see spring. Straw sandals are broken as they reach for the tips of the clouds. By chance on return we pass the peach blossoms and spring is all over there on the branches.” (4)
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Is 40: 1-2)
This passage is taken from the opening verses of the 'The Book of Consolation' in the Book of Isaiah. Handel used it for the first solo aria in his oratorio 'The Messiah.'
It is a delightful passage, full of consolation, especially for the Jews who thought they were God's 'Chosen People. 'They had been banished, seen their country destroyed and so thought they had been forsaken by God.
Christians like to talk about sin and think people should be ashamed and contrite, acknowledge their sin, be converted and repent. Moreover, they think that before we can be saved we must admit we are sinners who must be born again in Christ. That is why in the church, especially among Christians of other persuasions, we hear so often about sin, sin, sin.
In the Catholic church, we do not emphasize sin as much as some other Christians, but the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or 'Confession') and the 'Confiteor' at the start of every Mass stress the existence of sin. Almost without realizing it, 'sin' has become a main 'tune,' a fundamental theme in Christianity.
The Christian concept of sin is seldom found in Chinese culture. Confucians believe that human beings have unlimited potential and everyone can 'exert one's inner strength,' cultivate and improve oneself in order to obtain the highest achievements in life. Each one can be like Yao and Xun, become a sage and reach the highest peak in life. That was why Mencius said, “What kind of man was Xun? What kind of man am I? He who exerts himself will become such as Xun was.” (1) (Works of Mencius, Bk III, Dang Wan Gung, Chap 1-4)
To educate the next generation Chinese people refer to three books dedicated to the teaching of the very young. One of them is 'Poems for the Young to Learn'. It begins with these lines, “Generals and prime ministers are not born but made. A man should be self-reliant.”(2) The Book of Changes also teaches people to model themselves on the heavens and strengthen themselves. “In its motion heaven gives the idea of strength. In accordance with this, the superior man exerts himself to ceaseless activity.” (3)
Chinese intellectuals find Buddhist concepts easier to accept because Buddhism has a similar concept of 'to exert one's inner strength.' Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, believes that all people have a 'buddhist nature' and if they can understand their own hearts, they can find their true nature and reach the state of Buddha. That is what is called a religion of self-fulfillment.
This short explanation is not sufficient to explain the differences and disparities between these religions, but there is one point we can make. That is that Catholicism talks about the end or ultimate concern, while Chinese culture speaks about the present world and concrete life.
I once saw a Catholic poster with the slogan, 'If God does not reach out a hand to us human beings, we cannot reach God.' That is a perfectly correct theological view and a truth always affirmed by Catholic theology: all grace comes from God, and without God we cannot even so much as 'proclaim that Jesus is God.'
But has not God who so loves all of humankind already stretched out a hand to us? If God's love is as broad as the entire universe and His salvation has been extended to all, is it not true that God has never withdrawn his hand or his love? So it is more correct to say, 'God has already reached out to all the hand of mercy and assistance, we need but to stretch out our hands to reach God.'
Without a doubt salvation has come to us from God. But God has come already and humankind already has been washed in the water of God's love. What then should we emphasize, sin or salvation? Should we be full of consolation at God's mercy or constantly immersed in our own guilt?
In the Gospel for today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Luke says, “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven. You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Lk 3: 21-22). ,
This is a portrait full of happiness, warmth and joy! Even Heaven itself opened. All the combined joyous celebrations of the Lunar New Year cannot express the wonderful exhilaration of that exclamation, 'The Heavens opened!'
From now on the world is filled with light and hope. The time of the Messiah, a new age, has already come, the kingdom of heaven has come silently into our midst!
I recall a little Chinese poem: “All day long we search for spring and do not see spring. Straw sandals are broken as they reach for the tip of the clouds. By chance on return we pass the peach blossoms, and spring is all over there on the branches.”(4)
This little poem is about spring having come to the earth. But spring is not something we ourselves can produce. We should learn to discover spring and enjoy it in the same way as we learn to respond to God's call and happily enjoy the grace of salvation which God has bestowed on us.