Baptism of the Lord - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2010

Australians aren’t racist, according to the assurances our political leaders have been giving us over this past week. But their assurance is meaningless. What do we mean by racist? What behaviours would we consider racist? Do we mean our laws aren’t racist, or our leaders aren’t racist, or our police aren’t racist, or our sports heroes aren’t racist? And when we say Australians aren’t racist, do we mean all Australians, or most Australians, or some Australians? Can people, sometimes, be racist, even a little?

In claiming that Australians aren’t racist, are we effectively denying the reality of Original Sin? I suppose that most Australians have no idea of Original Sin – but we Catholics have.

I think I can honestly say I don’t want to be racist. I try not to be racist. But I’m not so out of touch with myself to think that sometimes I am.  I want to be innocent of patriarchy and of clericalism, too. I try not to behave that way. But I’m sure there are plenty of women who would say that I am.

Part of the power of sin, of Original Sin, especially, is to blind us to the obvious. Original Sin is alive and well in all cultures and in all sub-cultures, even religious ones. It’s like the air we breathe. It’s always there, so we don’t notice it.

Cultures and sub-cultures protect their identity by being clear who is different, who does not belong, who is not “one of us”. The more insecure we feel, the more important it becomes. It is so much in our nurture that it has probably become fixed in our DNA. Instinctively, we defend our boundaries, we protect our identity. We’re proud of who we are, and we’re glad we are not “those others”. Our way of doing things is always so much better.

Who needs redemption? Who needs Christ?

No one instinctively loves those outside the boundaries. It’s hard enough to love those within the boundaries…  - Queenslanders can sometimes be a bit way out, or Collingwood barrackers, or the Labour party, or the Liberal party, or the bureaucrats down there in the city.

To love, we have to choose – deliberately. We have to work at it, and, though we can constantly improve, only a few seem to manage to love consistently, practically, non-selectively, easily, all the time.

Our instinctively sinful natures, reared inevitably in imperfect cultures and sub-cultures and social structures, need redemption. That’s OK – because it’s at hand. But we have to recognise and to admit that we need it – or we’ll do little about it.  And to recognise our need for redemption, we need to know ourselves – to know ourselves well – and that doesn’t happen naturally. We have to work at it.

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit while he was at prayer after his baptism.

Today’s First Reading from Isaiah gives us some idea what that might have meant. 

According to Isaiah, God had said about the one whom he had endowed with his Spirit: Faithfully he brings true justice; he will neither waver, nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth .. I have appointed you to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.

Today, we remember our own Baptism – that wonderful moment when we were first christened. But being christened back then is useless if we leave it at that. 

It gave us enormous potential. But that potential can remain pitifully undeveloped – it can atrophy – if it isn’t deliberately cultivated. To become genuinely christened – to become Christ-like – is a life-time adventure, and it needs our deliberate co-operation. We can love.

We can keep growing in love and getting better at it. … And to the extent that we do, life becomes worth living, fulfilling, even if sometimes lonely.