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For God, it’s personal, always very personal.

The Christmas season of the Catholic Church draws to a close with today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus. Since the beginning of Advent, we have been invited into this great “Theo-drama” of God’s unfolding plan on the half of humanity.

This “Theo-drama” of the Advent/Christmas season is summed up in these words of Jesus in response to John the Baptist’s reluctance to baptize him. “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Even though John the Baptist might not have understood, Jesus knew that he was sent to “fulfill” all that the Old Testament had promised and pointed to Jesus, the Word made flesh, the God/Man, the incarnate Divine One would bring to completion in his person not only humanity’s deepest longings but, more importantly, God’s covenant relationship as well.

For God, it’s personal, always very personal. I suspect that for many people today, this is too much, too close, too intimate. They don’t really know what it means or how to handle it, even though deep down they long for it. And so they avoid it, push it aside, ignore it and even outright reject it — this relationship that God desires to have with them.

As I share a portion of my story with you, don’t listen so much to me, as to your own story and what you may have experienced.

Honestly, I so longed for this kind of relationship with God since I was a young kid.  Though I had glimpses of this kind of a relationship with God, it was as if there were holes in my soul and it kept leaking out, never quite taking hold.

I had longed to hear those words, “my beloved, my son, I am well pleased in you.”

Somewhere in my psyche, I knew that these words had been spoken to me by my mom, but I don’t ever remember them being spoken by my dad. I’m sure he did, but they never stuck.

What did stick though were words of – “why can’t you do that right; what’s wrong with you; you’ll never measure up; stop being a sissy—be a man.” The more I heard those words, the less of a man, a beloved son, I felt.

And it wasn’t just my dad. It was often my classmates, my peers who often unknowingly taunted me with many of the same messages. There was also the culture with its subtle and not so subtle messages of who I should be; how I should look; and what I should be able to do. I felt like I was being “should upon” all the time.

It took me a good number of years before I realized that for God it was very personal. God would have to break through the shell, the hardness of my heart that had been built up to protect myself.

It happened on a retreat in the wilderness of Nova Scotia in June, 1984. I have shared that story with you before. Let me simply say that in the darkness and the emptiness of my soul, the heavenly Father spoke these words, “I have always loved you, Jim. I have never hated you even though you think I have. I have always loved you and always will. You are my beloved son.”

Totally overwhelmed at that moment, I wept and wept. You know the deep sobbing, tears flowing and snot-running kind of weeping.

I wish I could tell you that my life was instantaneously changed and suddenly I became a superstar. No, it took a long time. It took deeper prayer. It took fighting the evil one who kept telling me I was NOT beloved.

Remember, for God, it’s very personal. God kept speaking into my heart over and over again those words from Isaiah: 

“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, Jim. I have grasped you by the hand, Jim. I have formed you, Jim and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

For far too long, I was blind and could not see who I truly was and who God had created me to be. I was a prisoner of the lies inflicted by others and by myself. I had lived in the darkness of self-hate and loathing, a prisoner in confinement of the belief that I was not, nor ever could be “enough” in order to be truly loved.

That was many years ago. My life is so different now. I have experienced over and over again at the very core of my being that I am God’s beloved son; that I am loved for who I am and not for what I do; that I am blessed beyond all imagining.

And it does not depend on me! It is all free gift from God who has called me, grasped me by the hand and continues to hold on to me day by day.

As God’s beloved, God has anointed me in baptism, confirmation and ordination to the priesthood to do what Jesus did, as Peter says in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

My dear sisters and brothers, God’s beloved daughters and son, this is our true identity. This is our mission. This is the truth that God speaks into our hearts every time we walk past the baptismal font and plunge our hands into the holy water and sign ourselves with our truest, deepest identity – that we are beloved daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, with the Son, Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

So spouses, moms and dads, speak words of love, encouragement and belovedness to one another and to your daughters and sons. Speak life into their hearts and souls. Speak their names with honor. Grasp their hands with tenderness to guide them. Form them through your words and actions into the individuals that God has created them to be.

Don’t get discouraged when you fail or forget. None of us can do this perfectly. We are all sinners and carry the effects of sin throughout our lives. We are always in need of repentance.

Therefore, and most especially understand that you cannot do this on your own. You need to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You need to rely on the grace given to the Catholic Church by Jesus, especially in the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation.

I end with these words from the song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury

“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…”

Remember, for God, it’s personal, very personal. You are God’s beloved. 

God will never let you go .