The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin Reflection
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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
January 11, 2002 Issue

Respond to what the Lord is asking

Baptism leads to holiness, community and service, giving and hope

Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What work has God assigned you to do?

2. How deeply do you participate in life and in the life of the Church?

3. How supportive are you of the work of others?

January 13, 2002, Baptism of the Lord

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Santa brought me a book entitled Poetry Speaks, a hefty volume that presents 42 poets who are recognized as accomplished writers. It includes three audio compact discs that record the poets themselves reading their works.

The first poet in the volume is Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), Poet Laureate in England. One of his famous poems is "Ulysses." It contains several lines that speak to me of our feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

Tennyson writes: "I am part of all that I have met. . ." When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan he plunged into our humanity. Jesus was a part of all that he met, experiencing a powerful solidarity with all humankind. Jesus was not aloof, holding himself immune to the ambiguities of life. John the Baptist objected to the request that Jesus be baptized by him. But the Lord held firm and the baptism was accomplished. Humanity has never been the same.

One of the key words in our baptism is "participation." Are we truly a "part" of the Christian community? Do we have a deep sense of the common good and the interconnectedness of all of life? Have we marginalized ourselves because of the threats to human existence? Jesus did not yield to the temptation to "disconnect," to distance himself from the human family. His compassion led him to solidarity and full participation.

Again Tennyson speaking for Ulysses: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end,/ To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use." The argument here is not against contemplation, of finding some time for serious quiet prayer. Rather, it is an argument against not leading a full life, of yielding to the national disease of sloth and laziness. Some plows rust out as do some people; some individuals fail to "shine" because they refuse to be "used" as an instrument of God to build the kingdom.

Isaiah the prophet was one who lived life to the full. No rusting out here; no dullness of mind or speech. Rather, we sense great energy in Isaiah, Peter, and Jesus as they respond to the vocation that God gave him. There was an urgency in realizing that they were called to further God's reign here on earth. High energy here; never a dull moment.

A third and final line from "Ulysses:" "He works his work, I mine."

Each of us has our work to do, a work discovered as we come to an awareness of our gifts and limitations, attempt to respond to what the Lord is asking of us. Isaiah did his work! It was a prophetic task of criticizing and energizing his time. St. Peter did his work! Proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and that we must repent and believe in the good news. Jesus did his work! It was the work of reconciliation and redemption. It was the work of baptism . That is the work leading to maturity and holiness, to community and service, to giving and hope.

Finding one's work in a specific sense is sometimes difficult because of a lack of opportunity to express one's giftedness. But in a universal sense all our work is the same: doing good, loving and forgiving, being just and responsive to God's will. From this angle this is a universal vocation: the call to holiness.

Tennyson writes: "Death closes all; but something ere the end,/ Some work of noble note, may yet be done . . ." We are all on a journey and death awaits us all. Until that day we are invited to live out our baptismal call and to allow the Holy Spirit full sway in our lives.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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