Almighty ever-living God,
who when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you. — Opening Collect for today’s Mass
Today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and with this day we are ushered into the unhappily named liturgical season of Ordinary Time. The English word “ordinary” comes from the Latin ordinalis, a word meaning “an order of succession.” Ordinary, therefore, does not here mean “plain,” but days of counting after the Feast of Epiphany and then again after the Feast of Pentecost. It’s an extended opportunity to contemplate and realize the impact of the Incarnation and Pentecost on the world. In other words, Ordinary time is life in the aftermath of God’s definitive entry into history.
During Ordinary liturgical days, the major focus of the Scripture readings is on the three year public preaching-teaching-healing ministry of Jesus, as He inaugurates the coming of the Kingdom of God into history. If I could give a name to this season that better translates this idea, I’d call it Time in the Aftermath.
Which is why I am not on the liturgical committee that names seasons.
The Sacrament of Baptism is our own personal immersion into that Time in the Aftermath, our insertion into the volatile intersections of time-eternity, finite-infinite, heaven-earth, Creator-creation. In other words, into Jesus Christ. Baptism made me into a new creation, planting me as an immortal seed, freshly fallen from the Tree of the Cross, into the barren wasteland of a fallen world. Or said otherwise, Baptism established me as a fresh outpost of God’s Kingdom behind enemy lines, with a mission to knead into the culture of death the leaven of Life.
How? By a life of obedience to God’s mind and will, above all by imitating Christ who is God’s Mind-made-flesh. No, it’s even more intense than that: by allowing Christ’s mind into my own, allowing Him to take my “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). In Baptism, my thoughts and words are consecrated and so are no longer my own.
Allowing Christ’s mind to penetrate, shape, transform and inhabit my own mind is the end-game of prayer. Especially prayer with Sacred Scripture. Praying God’s Word is granting Christ permission to think in me, with me and through me in real-time, living color.
I wrote in my journal January 1, “My goal in the new year is to better allow Christ to think out His plan for me with me, not simply acting like a hollow cipher that has nothing to add to that plan, but creatively contributing. O Lord, I know your plan includes my contribution, that you want me to surprise you with something you cannot do without me. Something beautiful. May my Morning Offering be filled with the giddy joy of a child who wants to surprise his parent with the simple gifts he has made!”
As I was praying on this idea, another related thought occurred to me. This “unity of mind” not simply a bilateral deal, i.e. me and Jesus. It’s multilateral, i.e. us and Jesus. Jesus wants to harmonize His mind and my mind with my wife’s mind, my children’s minds, my co-workers’ minds, my adversaries’ minds. You see, He doesn’t just want an aggregate of duet harmonies, He wants a universal symphony unified in the love intoned from the cross.
Which means my vocation to “take on the mind of Christ” is to embrace the absolutely brutal struggle of becoming “of one mind and one heart” (Acts 4:32) with all those unruly people around me every day. The implications of this are vast. As a priest said in a homily once, “Most of us, if we’re honest, want Jesus but not the unpleasant people He brings along with Him. So when we receive the Eucharist, we too often receive Christ the Head, but spit out His members…”
Bishop John Smith, who celebrated our nuptial Mass, said to us at a lunch we had at Patti’s apartment one month before our wedding, “Tom, once you marry, you can’t ever fully know Christ without knowing Patti; and you can’t fully know Patti without knowing Christ. Patti, the same goes for you. In this Sacrament, Christ means business.”
And in this Sacrament of Baptism, Christ means the same business.
At the end of my new year’s journal reflection, I read Philippians 2:1-5 with all this in mind. And wow:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…