29 April, Monday – Baptisms of Fire

29 Apr – Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin, Doctor

1347 – 1380 – She was born in Siena and, seeking perfection, entered the Third Order of the Dominicans when she was still in her teens. In 1370 she was commanded by a vision to leave her secluded life and enter the public life of the world. She wrote letters to many major public figures and carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, urging him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States. She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities. She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. She died on 29 April 1380. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

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Acts 4:23-31

As soon as Peter and John were released they went to the community and told them everything the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they lifted up their voice to God all together. ‘Master,’ they prayed ‘it is you who made heaven and earth and sea, and everything in them; you it is who said through the Holy Spirit and speaking through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why this arrogance among the nations,
these futile plots among the peoples?
Kings on earth setting out to war,
princes making an alliance,
against the Lord and against his Anointed.

‘This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate made an alliance with the pagan nations and the peoples of Israel, against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, but only to bring about the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen. And now, Lord, take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly.

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John 3:1-8

There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born from above,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

Nicodemus said, ‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born through water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God:
what is born of the flesh is flesh;
what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

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Unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

Easter Sunday has just passed us. How did Lent go for you? Through several conversations with my friends, I found out that Lent was a particularly difficult period of time for most of them. For some, the 40 days of Lent can often be described as a parched desert season. We had all undergone a kind of stripping bare from certain luxuries (whether by choice or circumstances). We put on a penitent cloak of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. It was tough. We went through a certain kind of poverty or deprivation and longed for the redemption and joy of Easter.

What happens then, after the high and jubilant victory of Easter? It is a day where many of our churches (hopefully) have multiple Baptisms of new brethren who have completed their RCIA journey. This baptism of water is a symbol of their new life with Christ. A cleansing, purifying, rebirth into the Christian faith which will guide them for the rest of their days. We welcome them with joyful embrace of new family.

Yet, one thing we tend to fail to ‘forewarn’ our new brethren is to be certain that there must and will be several more baptisms that will happen over their lifetime as Christians. This is partly why some eventually fall away even after baptism, as soon as harsh waters of life wash over them. This ‘baptisms of fire’ is the descending measure of God’s great love to purify our hearts and minds and souls through the Holy Spirit. It is what we read of in today’s First reading – the Acts of the Apostles.

The disciples finally recognise that the Lord they followed in life is the true Messiah. At the same time, because of his death, they were persecuted more than ever! Indeed, the joy of recognising and claiming this redemptive miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection (the world’s first Easter), was followed swiftly by danger, persecution, and a lot of suffering. This was their baptism of fire. And there were many more in their lifetimes…

Each time I go through a particularly painful, sorrowful period of my life, I recall this powerful imagery of Abraham preparing an altar obediently to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. I consider this wrenching journey that Abraham made across the countryside to the place of sacrifice as his baptism of fire – the intense trial after the deep, great joy (of Isaac’s birth). We all need this baptism in order to purify our heart’s desire to love God and follow Christ.

Are we following Christ for personal profit; because we feel loved in a certain community; or, a misguided perception that faith is a kind of self-help tool; or, that we feel estranged from children who may have suddenly embraced a new religion…? The reasons could be a dime a dozen. These reasons could be a part of one’s considerations… but here’s the hook – God wants ALL of you and me. And so, the fires will come, not because God is making sport of us. But because He is burning up all the dross that has clogged our hearts and minds over the years, that prevents us from fully, totally, and freely following him… back to His Kingdom.

Yes, our “YES” to God the Father at baptism has to be total, free, and without reservation – just as wedding vows are made.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Help me O Lord, to offer up to you freely, fully, and without reservation, every part of my life. Because You first loved me.

Thanksgiving: I am ever grateful for the many models of faith, great examples of total surrender that we find in the early Church, Our Lady, the apostles, and the many saints of the Church.

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