“Light of Life ….. Truth of Life” ©
Thoughts on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, January 13, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was studying the Sacred Sciences and preparing for ministry back in the day at Catholic Theological Union, one of the faculty members was Callistus Langerholz. He was a Franciscan who taught New Testament; I took his course on the writings of John. Callistus was one of the older faculty members but he was also one of the more radical ones. This was going some in the place that Cardinal Cody not so affectionately called “that hippie seminary.”
Callistus introduced us to the theory that the Gospel of John was the first gospel to be written and not the final one, as is the accepted understanding. Callistus didn’t believe in Limbo not just because nowhere in Scripture can such a place be found. He believed that some notion of a place of abandonment for unbaptized babies couldn’t hold a candle to the power of life and the love of God who always, always wants to be unified with creation. His idea was simple, really. Life is attracted to Life, regardless of who knows what or who makes faith commitments for whom in a baptismal ceremony. Callistus convinced me. It’s the conviction I bring to the feast. It should be noted that Callistus was a reputable scholar having received his doctorate from the Antonianum in Rome.
In his book, “I Am the Truth,” the philosopher, Michel Henry, makes the distinction between what he calls the truth of this world and the truth of Life. It’s not a distinction of saying one is right and the other is wrong. It’s, rather, a distinction that points out that one – the truth of Life – is more fundamental than the other – the truth of the world. For example, on the question of the truth of this world it is clear that Jesus did not know the theories of Einstein. But that ignorance doesn’t hold a candle to Jesus who is our connection to Life, who is the truth of Life.
This Jesus is the Light of Life. And today’s feast is a celebration of that connection of the Word to the Creator, the Christ to the One who fulfills the Promise.
Today’s feast is not about thinking right logic or following correct form. It’s not about the knowledge of right and wrong or the consciousness that gives assent to belief. Today’s feast is of the appearing of God-with-us, of the showing of God’s love among us, of the revelation that gives us the truth of Life.
The voice says, “This is my beloved on whom my favor rests.” No institution, no church bureaucracy, no persons who claim to know and to make themselves the enforcers comes close to each person’s own connection with the One who is our source of Life.
This connection is a perceiving of God’s love not a knowing that comes from somebody’s teaching. Now, I’m not discounting teaching and knowledge. These are necessary in connecting the truth of the world with the truth of Life. What I am acknowledging is the attraction to Life that is fundamental to and underpins whatever we are taught about it. Just as Callistus’ unbaptized babies bond with God who is their Light of Life, so do we share with those who experienced, witnessed the appearing of God’s Son in their midst on the banks of the Jordan River.
Michel Henry’s point on the truth of Life only points to the fundamental awareness that Jesus comes and goes apart from whatever this world has to say about him. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus is confronted by priests of the temple over the question of his authority. They ask, “On what authority are you doing these things?” (Mark 11:28) He’s not ready to speak his full truth of Life as he plays their game by being coy. His answer is a question, “Was John’s baptism of divine origin or merely human?” We know the priests knew the trap Jesus put them in so they did not answer him. And neither does Jesus answer them because his mission was only beginning.
This question, though, of Jesus’ authority which was also caught up in the question of where he came from dogged him over the span of his ministry. Finally, in John’s Gospel we find Pilate caught in the same pickle. He asks Jesus, “Where do you come from?” (John 19:9), and Jesus does not answer. And that’s when all is finally revealed – this question of authority. Pilate informs Jesus that he has the authority. And Jesus speaks the line that is incomprehensible to the truth of the world. He says, “You would have no power over me whatever unless it was given from above.” With this one line he speaks the truth that connects him to the voice from the clouds on the day of his baptism.
This is the truth of Life. And the truth of the world cannot abide the competition. Some people call it sacrifice, other call it the gift that was rejected. In any case we believe that this is the truth of Life. We believe in the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
This is why I am grateful to Callistus Langerholz who opened my eyes to the truth that Life attracts Life. And this truth of Life means for us that we celebrate the experience of sensing and feeling the love of God among us..
We celebrate the showing of your universal Light, O Christ, as a child and as an adult. Let the energy of this illumination inspire us and encourage us to be your Light within ourselves and for all the world. By these gifts may we have clear vision and fearless conviction to keep on your path now and forever. Amen.