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Baptisim of the LordWhen is a sign more than a sign?

The reason for the question is the result of my reflecting back to my time in Grade 1, over 50 years ago, and the grueling preparation our class was going through to prepare for our First Holy Communion.

Memories of the nuns in their black habits and big white bibs, I never understood the purpose behind the bib, flashed back into my mind and soon there were visions of the Baltimore Catechism in my head.

If you were a 7 year old Catholic kid, and it was the 1960s you had one overriding objective in your life. This goal was to memorize the answers to the 499 questions in the Baltimore Catechism.

There was no requirement to understand the meaning behind the words, but if you wanted to make your first Holy Communion with your 35 other classmates, you needed to know the instructions in this book.

Typical 1st Communion 1960

Typical 1st Communion Circa 1960


As it turns out I have forgotten all the questions and answers except for one:

Question 304: What is a sacrament?

Answer: A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

Therefore, when is a sign more than a sign? The answer is; when it is a sacrament.

Knowing a definition, however, is different from understanding what something means.

On this, the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord I would like to spend a few minutes examining more closely what the sacrament of Baptism is and what it potentially means to those who have received it.

In today’s Gospel, the evangelist Luke tells us that

“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, 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 beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.”

Most of us here today have followed Christ’s lead, and we have been baptized- in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Some of us were christened as infants, some as adults and a few are still pondering if this is the faith they want to be baptized into.

To become a follower of the Christ, through the gateway called baptism, we are required to profess our faith.  This is done by answering “I do” to the following questions.

Question 1: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Response: I do.

Question 2: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Response: I do.

Question 3: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Response: I do.

Most of you here today have affirmed that this is your faith. This is the faith of the Church. And by the loud I do’s from the congregation it is clear to see that we are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Another question comes to mind after all of this professing and that is: So What?

So what does it mean to believe this and to be a person who has been baptized as a follower of the Christ?

Plug Yourself InFr. Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upwards, tells of a piece of advice he once received from Bishop Desmond Tutu. The Bishop looked at a Rohr and said, “Richard, always remember we are simply the light bulbs. Our job is to remain screwed in.”

This bit of wisdom is a powerful metaphor for baptism.

We are a light bulb filled with the potential to bring illumination into the darkness. However, a light bulb on its own is not all that bright.

Through Baptism, we have the opportunity to become part of a glorious light fixture which is the body of Christ.

There is a power cord which is the Holy Spirit. This Spirit connects us to the plug on the wall. The power, the grace that is supplied through the cord is the unconditional love of our living God whom we call ABBA/Father.

We have to remain screwed into the fixture and have the courage to turn the switch to on. In reality, there are four possible settings for the lamp which is Christ:

Set to Off– Even though we have been baptized we can choose to remain in darkness;

Set to DIM– at least you are on, and you are providing light for yourself;

Set to Normal: Lighting the way for yourself and those you love;

Set to Bright: Providing much-needed  light to those who live in darkness.

How do we get our light set to bright?

Nipun Metpa  has a blog called the Good News Daily. I wandered by there the other day and found an article he had written called- Bill Gates vs. Mother Teresa. An interesting title so I invested some time in reading the story. The blog post was based on a question Forbes magazine asked its readers a while back, which was; who has done more to change the world- Bill Gates or Mother Teresa?

The result of the poll was in Bill Gate’s favor. Nipun uses this question now in his speeches, and he tells us about an encounter he had with an 11-year-old girl at one of his talks.

He could see she had an opinion about the question but was too shy to participate in the discussion. Nipun waited for the right time and encouraged her to share what she thought.

She said, “Sir, Bill Gates used the power of money to change the world, and Mother Teresa used the power of love to change the world. And I think love is more powerful than money.”

How do we get our light set to bright?

By using the grace, which is the gift of love from God to change the world- one person at a time. No impressive theological degrees or massive philanthropic foundations are required.  Just a willingness and the courage to go out into the world and to give away the grace’s God has given you through the sacraments.

It turns out that when I asked you, “when is a sign more than a sign”, it is actually a trick question because the answer is:

You are the sign that is more than a sign because you leave here today +In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


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One Response to “Homily: When is a Sign more than a Sign?”

  1. Olivia says:

    Inspirational, challenging and transformative!!