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Loving Father,
help us to appreciate better
the great gift of our own baptism.
May our renewed awareness of the presence
of the Holy Spirit in our lives encourage us
to act more compassionately and lovingly.
This we ask in your name.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 49:3, 5-6)
 
“The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” Then later, the Lord continues, “It is too little … for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth.”
 
First, God is establishing Israel’s relationship to God, that of “servant,” But then God says that he will make Israel a “light to the nations.” Jesus also saw himself as a servant of his Father, eventually, a “suffering servant.” The word “servant” has a negative connotation in our society which proclaims equality for all, but what Jesus means by “servant” is quite different. It is a calling to serve God and one another. It is a calling of strength and power, not weakness.
 
In what ways do you see yourself, in a positive light, as a servant of others? How do you feel about your service? Do you rejoice in it, feel put upon, or is it just something you take for granted? How do others serve you? Are you thankful for their service? How do you express your thanks?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10)
 
“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Have you ever said anything like that to God? Do you try to determine what the will of God is for you in a difficult situation, or in a very happy time?
 
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 1:1-3)
 
Paul starts out his letter with a greeting: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus, their Lord and ours.” Paul is writing to the people of one city, Corinth, but he wants the Corinthians to know that they are related spiritually with all who have been “called to be holy.” That means all the new churches throughout the part of the world that Paul and the other apostles have visited. Even then, Paul and the other apostles saw the Church as one, not as a series of individual churches but a community of churches. That is what we have today, except that our Church now is worldwide, universal.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 1:29-34)
 
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he may be made known to Israel. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
 
At every Mass, we have a prayer that refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” Here, the author tells us of the origin of this title that connects Jesus with the lamb offered at the Passover—the animal whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts to let the angel of death know that the inhabitants were part of God’s chosen people and were not to be harmed. Jesus, as the Lamb, is also seen as the “Suffering Servant” who gives his life for the people.
 
John, the Gospel writer, is telling us that Jesus has always had the Spirit of God living within him. When we are baptized, we too share in that Spirit. That is truly amazing, that God’s Holy Spirit lives within each one of us. I did not know that as a child, but I believe it now as an adult. I hope you also not only believe it but remember that the presence of the Spirit in you is dynamic, guiding you and being your life partner. Imagine that! God’s very Spirit lives in you. I hope you share that Good News with your children and all whom you know and that you talk to your Spirit partner often.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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I saw this headline on the website of a Catholic publication: “Where is the zeal in the U.S. Church?”
 
I immediately thought to myself, “I know at least one answer to that question. The zeal is up on West 7th Street in Plainfield—specifically at the Rose of Sharon Community Church.”
 
I was there once for the funeral of a minister whose daughter is a professional colleague of mine.
 
The church was full. The funeral lasted about two and a half hours and, because I was sitting in the next to last row, I could see that no one left early.
 
In the sanctuary, there was a choir that appeared to comprise about eighteen women, all dressed in white, and they were raising the roof with songs that spoke of the promise of salvation. Most of the congregation sang along, thundered along.
 
Several times during that service someone at the lectern reminded us that “God is in this house,” and it was clear that most of the worshippers believed that to be true.
 
Of course, since everything in the universe exists only because it shares in God’s existence, God is present everywhere, but we also have more particular beliefs about the presence of God.
 
We Catholics say we believe that God is present with us when we gather to worship. That is what Jesus promised, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
 
And besides believing that God is present in the assembly, we say we believe that he is present in his word, which is proclaimed at every Mass.
 
And, of course, we say that he is present—not figuratively but truly present—in the Eucharist that is consecrated on the altar and reserved in the tabernacle.
 
God is present in this house.
 
For generations, the principle way of expressing belief in that idea was by being solemn, being discreet in your movements, keeping your voice down.
 
When I was a teenaged usher at my home parish, I was being indiscreet before a Sunday Mass and felt a heavy hand on my shoulder.
 
“Remember,” the senior usher said, “you’re in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”
 
I froze in place. I believed in that presence; it was palpable to me.
 
That, I suppose, was the “fear of the Lord” that we read about in the Scriptures—not “fear” as in “afraid” but “fear” as in “awestruck.”
 
But I found that the presence of God was also palpable to me at Rose of Sharon, and the zeal of the people gathered there felt like an appropriate way to affirm it—maybe even a necessary way to affirm it.
 
Many factors have contributed to the decline in Sunday Mass attendance in the United States over the past five decades. The column that was under the headline I mentioned earlier compared that condition to the exuberance of the Church in Africa.
 
In some cases, people have left the American Church or become indifferent to it because they have been seriously harmed or they have been scandalized.
 
I believe, though, that many others who come only occasionally or not at all have not absorbed the reality or the implications of God’s presence.
 
I’m not an advocate for anything-goes liturgies, but I am an advocate for the kind of excitement that enlivens the Church in Africa, and that I witnessed among people who believed what they professed, excitement that compels them to stay there for hours instead of slinking out before the service ends.
 
How can we murmur our prayers, clam up during the hymns, come and go as though we don’t want to attract attention, take a bye because going is just too much trouble, if we truly believe this astounding thing:
 
God is in this house.
 
Charles Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International and a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen. This post was first published in the Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Late-Christmas-season greetings from RENEW’s newest staff member! I am a Dominican sister from Caldwell, NJ, who professed first vows in August 2019. As we celebrate Sunday’s great feast, I share an adapted reflection on the Baptism of the Lord that I wrote in 2018 while at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate in St. Louis, MO.
 
It was the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and I was at a vigil Mass in my home parish. The homilist spoke of Isaiah 42’s “bruised reed” and “smoldering wick”: God’s love for each of us is so extravagant that God refuses to break the reed or quench the wick that still might have some life, some potential to live and love as we are called. I thought of the great commissioning that we share with Jesus through our own baptism. The Spirit who opens the heavens to rush upon Jesus yearns also to rush upon us, to anoint us to do God’s work. Dare we believe this? If we do, we must change—a daunting prospect!
 
The homily that night offered challenge, yet it also gave hope, calling us deeper into life as God’s beloved sons and daughters. It called us to know that God’s words about Jesus, “This is my beloved” (Mt 3:17), are words that God speaks of us, too.
 
Even with these joyful tidings, something greater happened for me that night. Indeed, it was something beyond the joy of the music, beyond the beauty of the church adorned with evergreens and lights.
 
It was the meditation after Communion that spoke to my soul. What words did that meditation speak? None! It was a prolonged silence, punctuated by a child who babbled and someone who coughed. The silence continued several minutes. How fitting, I thought. We, the baptized, have been commissioned, but the next step is to be still. How else to answer the wondrous call to share the very work of God’s own Son? The call to know our belovedness and to preach it in word and deed is, surely, a call to action. But first, we must ponder the gift of this call. We must be still.
 
So sit for a minute, or more! As January’s routine resumes, the Baptism of the Lord is easy to overlook. Make some time for silence. Bless yourself with some holy water, if you can. Remember your own baptism. Remember that you are God’s beloved. Bask in that certainty. And then, give God’s love to someone else. Happy feast.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
Sr. Gina Scaringella, OP, is a Communications Associate at RENEW International. She is a newly professed Sister of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, who worked in medical communications for many years.

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O Father,
may we come to life
in the dangerous waters of baptism.
May we find breath
in the brooding Spirit enveloping us.
May we hear your heavenly voice
call us by name
and bestow on us you favor and dignity.
May we become a new creation
filled with vulnerable power.
May we go forth renewed
as your sons and daughters.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.

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