Grace and nature

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The event in the life of Christ narrated in the Gospel passage proclaimed this Sunday has entered the liturgy of the sacrament of Baptism. There is a rite that evokes the moment when the Lord opens the ears and the mouth of the deaf man with the speech impediment, while groaning and saying “Ephphetha”, “Be open.”

In the Baptism of children, there are several rites that follow the celebration of the sacrament proper, namely the anointing with Chrism, the clothing with a white garment, the lighting of a candle from the Paschal candle and the Ephphetha or Prayer over Ears and Mouth.

In the Ephpheta, the celebrant touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb, saying: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” And the people respond: “Amen.”

This rite is a reminder that the grace the child has received through the sacrament of Baptism is indeed an incomparable gift, it is also the beginning of the life of faith, it is a gift that is meant to grow and bear abundant fruits of holiness for the sake of the person receiving Baptism and, of course, for the praise and glory of God the Father.

Indeed, Baptism or any other sacrament for that matter, is primarily an action of God. It is his initiative. He is actively conferring on us his love and life. However, this precious gift, like any other is meant to be cherished, nurtured and put to a good use by the one who receives it.

The servant of God Enrique Shaw used to liken the gifts we receive from God to the gift of a pen that somebody may give us. We would be really honoring the person who gave us that gift, he used to say, if we wrote profusely with the pen. Of course, he would add, the first thing we should write with it is a thank you note to the one who gifted the pen to us.

The same could be said of sacramental graces, we honor the Lord and show our gratitude by allowing it to transform us and cooperate in the sanctification of the world, thus, the importance of opening our ears and our mouth to the word of God, so that we can listen, be transformed and witness with our entire lives the love we have encountered.

Clearly, the sacraments are not magic. Grace cooperates with human nature. Being baptized is not enough to make us holy, just as being ordained a priest is not enough to make each priest a saint, as we have witnessed with sadness, sorrow and even embarrassment these days.

Baptism and the other sacraments are the ordinary vehicles through which the grace of God flows into the world. Their power comes from Jesus alive, living in the Church. Their efficacy does not depend on the holiness of the minister. Naturally, if the minister is holy the graces are compounded as it were, because the sacramental grace is flowing to us through a super-conductor. One can only imagine what it must have been like to attend a Mass celebrated by any of the countless holy priests in the history of the Church such as St. Augustine, St. Padre Pio, St. John Bosco, St. John Baptist de La Salle, the North American Martyrs or St. Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean Jesuit who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, whose memorial we celebrated a few days ago.

St. Alberto Hurtado used to drive around the streets of Santiago de Chile with his green Ford truck, picking up poor homeless children and bringing them to the “Hogar de Cristo” (Christ’s Home), a shelter he had founded which exists to this day but is nowadays destined primarily to the care of persons recovering from addictions. He died of pancreatic cancer and was buried on the grounds of the Hogar de Cristo. I had the privilege of visiting the place a couple of years ago and pray at his tomb. In the shrine of Fr. Hurtado there are sayings of his engraved on the wall. Two of them caught my attention, so much so that I bought a small-scale model of the Ford pick-up truck and keep it in the Rectory kitchen as a daily reminder of those words of wisdom. One saying was directed to his brother priests: “We have to dare to step forward so as to be not just good priests, but holy priests.” The other is addressed to us all: “The Church of our times will be what we are.”

Indeed, the Church is holy and will always be because Christ dwells in her, but her holiness will shine brightly in our times and radiate to the ends of the world to the extent that all of us who have been baptized reflect it in our lives, to the extent that we embrace the gift we receive and cooperate with it.

Baptism is an incomparable gift that the Lord gives us. It is the threshold to the life of grace, a key milestone in a long journey towards holiness. The mercy of God opens our hearts and our ears so that we may conform our lives to Him to whom we have been configured in Baptism, who alone is good, because He is goodness itself, God, who became flesh, dwelt among us and chose to remain with us in the Catholic Church, most especially in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid