Friday, January 04, 2008
“When Jesus had been baptized, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17)
“SOUL-SURFING” – January 13, 2008
The Baptism of the Lord
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“Uh-oh,” I said aloud to myself as she approached, “I know that look.” And sure enough, Matty’s creased eyebrows and tight lips were prelude to the request she made. “Will you please check on Jake for me? He was moved to the 8th floor last night to make room for a sicker patient who was just admitted.” Then the furrowed brow tightening and her voice on the edge of a quiver, I noticed tears forming in her eyes. “You know how it is here. We get really attached to our patients and don’t want them out of our sight while they’re here in the hospital. But now Jake’s up on the 8th floor. He belongs down here. He’s ours!”
The five-bed heart transplant unit at the hospital where I serve is, in many respects, a world unto its own. Terribly sick patients spend considerable time on the unit waiting for a heart to become available, and in that waiting, strong bonds develop between patients, their families and staff members. Matty’s anxious concern for Jake developed over the three months he languished in one of her beds while waiting for a heart to become available. Too sick to be at home, Jake grew weaker by the day, Matty’s warm solicitude increasing and her own prayers for Jake doubling, then tripling, until the triumphant day finally arrived. Late on a summer Sunday evening, Jake and his family were given notice that a heart had become available.
Over the many weeks Jake and I had visited, we’d talked about the necessary tragedy that would be the answer to his prayers. Someone had to die in order for Jake to live: it was as simple as that. Jake was waiting for the heart that would give him back his young life at the very same time that what was gift to him would be total heartbreak to a family somewhere. Over those three months of waiting, Jake confessed that he actually prayed more for the young person who would be his donor than he did for his own return to health. Indeed, Jake wanted to live, but the price was so extraordinarily high for someone else.
Jake’s transplant went well, his recovery quick and without incident. And about ten days after the surgery, he was ready to be discharged for home. While he was surely very excited about returning to his family, there was also worry. Jake had grown to rely on the strong physical and emotional support he’d received from the dedicated staff of the heart transplant unit. Leaving the security of the hospital was a scary endeavor, but amid tears and hugs Jake and his family departed for home.
As is sometimes the case, though, Jake returned several months later suffering side effects from the anti-rejection drugs he’d have to take for the rest of his life in order for his new heart to function. Re-admitted to the heart transplant unit, Jake suffered a high fever and extreme confusion. Quickly diagnosing an unintended side effect of his medications, steps were taken to bring their charge back to health. Over the course of a week, Jake’s fever subsided and his confusion lessened, but he was not yet out of the woods when, late at night, a desperately ill woman in need of a transplant was admitted to the hospital. Since Jake was the most stable of the five patients on the unit, he was bumped upstairs to the 8th floor general cardiac surgery unit. And this is when Matty’s worry creased her brows, pursed her lips and initiated her desperate request to me. “Jake’s up on the 8th floor! He belongs down here; he’s ours! Please check on him for us.”
In the gospel passage we hear today on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, St. Matthew records, “When Jesus had been baptized, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17) While scripture scholars offer varying opinions on why Jesus needed to be baptized at all, except perhaps to offer us an example of what we ourselves ought to do, the occasion of Jesus’ baptism provides the dramatic setting for the proclamation of his Heavenly Father: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And indeed, every Christian baptism is marked by the same divine declaration: “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
What does it mean to be a child of God? What does it mean to be God’s beloved? I imagine it’s very like Matty’s relationship to Jake when she pleaded with me, tears filling her eyes, “Jake’s up on the 8th floor! He belongs down here; he’s ours! Please check on him for us.” Could God be as anxious for our well-being as was Matty for Jake’s? Could God have a furrowed brow, pursed lips and eyes brimming with tears as did Matty? Could God ever feel as helpless as did Matty when her charge was out of reach? While surely there are no answers to these questions, they do invite us to consider another more concrete consideration. If by baptism we have all become God’s beloved children, then we are, by that very fact, brothers and sisters to each other. And if that is so, then we have familial obligations to promote the well-being of the other. I think Matty already knew this well; Jake may have been her patient for the time he was hospitalized, but more was he her brother to whom she owed a lifetime of care and concern.
As we gather this day to celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we hear words of divine adoption: “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Now it becomes our mandate to extend the manifestations of that love to the farthest, darkest, coldest corners of our world.
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