All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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A New Way of Seeing
By Kathy Coffey

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

In early spring, the world is bleak and brown, whipped by a cold wind. As the new season makes its gradual entrance, trees and grass reach deep into their roots for nurture.

Perhaps it is like that with belief. When the world seems wintry, people of faith grip the bedrock and from that common core, surge into new life. We reach down into roots sunk so far in tradition we cannot see their source. But we know they are there .We count on them for life.

If we try to go it alone, we quickly discover our impoverishment. To ignore God’s graciousness is to risk condemnation. To count on it is to take our place among the great ones who went before us.

While we like to amuse ourselves with fantasies of martyrdom, we all face less dramatic Calvaries. When we do so with faith, we transform them to holy ground. The irritating colleague, the whiny child, the boring job, the repetitive housework, the chemotherapy or long commute: All represent the place to which Christ calls us, the arena where belief becomes action.

Do we believe that the little stuff of our life can help shape us for greatness? Or do we relegate holiness to apostles and saints, centuries ago? Just as we can neglect belief, so we can make the mistake of distancing the grace of Baptism to a past event. But we can draw on its power today. Any gardener knows that roots sunk deep in soil need water. So too the baptismal symbols offer a fresh start, full of freedom, vigor and potential.


Sharpened Vision

When we bring that symbolism into each day, we discover that we are washed not only in water, but also in a new way of seeing. On the natural plane, we can all appreciate rain after drought or a hot shower after dirty work. The psalmist describes our profound yearnings for God:

O God, you are my God—
    for you I long!
For you my body yearns;
    for you my soul thirsts,
Like a land parched, lifeless,
    and without water (63:2).

Jesus referred to himself as an exuberant fountain quenching this thirst: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37).

The post-baptismal anointing is an ancient act of strengthening. In the fourth century, St. Ambrose described the attraction of fragrant oils: “We shall run following the perfume of your robes.” If the perfume/lotion industry can capitalize on lovely scents, Christians can recognize more profound overtones: We are marked with the symbol of God’s beauty.

We who fret over problems at 3 a.m. know they become less formidable in the daylight. On his deathbed, the blind writer Goethe pleaded,“More light!” Jesus speaks to our dread of darkness: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). One gift of Baptism is the presentation of a burning candle with the words: “Receive the light of Christ.”

Clothed in Christ

We know the difference clothing can make and how we feel when a new shirt or suit rates a compliment. Garment imagery runs throughout Scripture, where we read: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).Wearing the garment of identification with Jesus can make us more courageous and compassionate.

A name change in Scripture signaled a new person (Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, Cephas to Peter). So our baptismal name gives us a new identity in Christ. We know the security of the Good Shepherd calling us by name. The Book of Revelation adds, “I will write on you the name of my God” (3:12).

The gifts of Baptism renew our best selves so we can get on with the business of re-creating the world. Energized by shared beliefs that root us firmly, graced by symbols that ground our identity, we can focus on dreams and hopes, not fears and anxieties.

How could we neglect such a vibrant source of renewal? Jesus tells us that if we fail to live out of our deep beliefs and ignore Baptism’s grace, we are at risk of condemnation.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is Women of Mercy (Orbis, 2005).

Next: Do not worry about your life…

Questions for Reflection:

• Talk about a Baptism you attended that had special meaning for you.

• When have you experienced the “light of Christ” in your life?

Baptism of Desire
By Judith Dunlap

In the grandma circuit I’m part of, it’s not unusual to hear friends express great concern when a grandchild is not going to be baptized. What will happen to their innocent offspring? One friend is fond of quoting from her old grade school catechism, reminding us that there is a type of Baptism called Baptism of desire. She wonders if the overwhelming desire of a grandmother would count. Not quite.

When a close friend was faced with this situation, I went with her to a favorite priest who gave her both personal spiritual guidance and sound advice. He was compassionate and encouraging. He talked to her about trusting in God’s goodness. He counseled her to give up any nagging—even the subtle kind. “Most important,” the priest said, “continue to pray, and witness your own faith to both your grandchild and his parents.”

My priest friend offered some additional helpful suggestions: Take a grandchild to Mass when you are babysitting (with the parents’ permission, of course). Say meal prayers out loud and include the youngster. When they are older, invite your grandchildren to do some Christian service with you.

Jesus is the way, he reminded us. And children can grow up in “the way” without hearing about Jesus at home. They can grow in love and kindness. They can give themselves in unselfish service. And perhaps, in time, they will discover that they are already walking with Jesus.

If, through no fault of their own, they do not come to associate their “loving way” with the Christian way, we need to remember that God is good, the champion of mercy. God may claim them as his followers, even if they don’t claim it for themselves. And we all know that what God desires is sure to count

For Family Response:

As a family, look at photos or videos of family Baptisms. Share your memories of the day with each of your children.

Media Watch
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
By Frank Frost

Who would ever expect a documentary about a flock of wild parrots to show up in a theater, much less turn out to be exceptionally entertaining? The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco does just that.

The film starts with a long-haired hippie standing on Telegraph Hill, surrounded by parrots eating from his hand, sitting on his head and shoulders and on nearby electrical wires. He calls the birds by name. Suddenly they all take off.

Filmmaker Judy Irving (who produced, directed, shot and edited the film) introduces us to Mark Bittner by using the device of having fascinated passersby stand in for the audience and ask many of the things we wonder about: Do the birds belong to Mark? No, they are wild. Does he feed them and care for them? Yes. Then how can they be wild? And where did they come from? Probably they originated as parrots set free by their owners. They then propagated and prospered “in the wild” of urban San Francisco.

As the story of Mark and the parrots—actually cherry-headed conures for the most part—unfolds, we meet individual birds. Through close-ups the excellent camera work makes this an intimate film despite the wide-open spaces the birds enjoy. And Mark describes to us the unique personalities of individual birds he has come to recognize. It’s amazing what he can learn simply by attentive observation. What if I were that attentive to my surroundings, I ask myself. What am I missing that I’m not aware of?

Mark has named one main bird character Mingus. Unlike most parrots that don’t want to be shut in, Mingus doesn’t want to be shut out of Mark’s house. Mark lets him nest there, but when he misbehaves he bans him. Mingus always returns repentant.

We learn that parrots have monogamous mates and that they show a need for intimacy, a need to care for one another. Picasso and Sophie form one couple, she a diminutive bird, he a big lug. Pushkin and Olive are another case: They’re on again/off again. Pushkin finally divorces Olive because of her destructive behavior. And Connor, an older blue-headed conure, seems lonely, unable to find a mate.

Tension in the story arises from the red-tailed hawk that preys on young and lame birds. We learn to share the parrots’ wary fear of attack.

The story’s arc leads us to understand how Mark, a man with no visible means of support, came to his position. Then we see how this leads to a climactic parting from the birds when he is evicted from the apartment he has been using without charge for three years.

By the time Mark says goodbye to the birds he has become most attached to, we fully understand how he can say he loves them. In fact, we have learned a great deal from our feathered friends about the meaning of being human.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Benedict (480?-550?)

Almost 1,500 years after he lived, St. Benedict continues to touch the Church he so loved. During his lifetime he had great influence on Western monasticism. Today, Benedictine spirituality continues to thrive. Even 21st-century popes honor him by taking his name!

Born into a distinguished Italian family, Benedict studied in Rome—but not for long. He yearned for the life of a hermit, found a cave high in the mountains and lived there for several years. Others, also drawn to the monastic life, saw a leader in Benedict.

He established a group of monastic communities and served as abbot of one. The most famous of the communities was at Monte Cassino, where Benedict wrote the Rule by which he and the other monks were to live.

While some saw excessive self-denial as the only way to perfection, Benedict wrote a Rule that could be lived by ordinary people. It emphasized moderation and balance. Discipline was important, but so were humility, obedience and respect for individual differences. His Rule became the standard for monastic life in the Western Church.

Benedict was the ideal abbot. He had a special talent for “reading” the souls of others and seemed to have a natural understanding of human nature. These were gifts that came in handy as he struggled to understand and appreciate the needs of each of the men under his care.

Though Benedict lived a secluded life, he is credited with helping to spread Christianity throughout Europe. The monasteries he founded, along with his Rule, had influence through their focus on learning and culture as well as piety. Their emphasis on peace and equality spoke to a society embroiled in violence. Benedict’s feast day is July 11.

Dennis Skelton

Some people, perhaps most, are content to cruise through life. But not Dennis Skelton—a lifelong spiritual seeker. Anyone who was born a Methodist and attended a Southern Baptist seminary before becoming a Catholic has earned such a title. But his search didn’t end when he entered the Church in the early 1990s. It took him in new directions.

In 1993, Mr. Skelton became a Benedictine Oblate at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. In doing so he joined the long line of men and women who have chosen to follow the Benedictine tradition while continuing to live in the world. The Rule that St. Benedict wrote so many centuries ago speaks to each age in new ways. The 21,000 Oblates around the globe today offer proof of that.

“It was the right time, the right place and the right reason,”Mr. Skelton told Every Day Catholic of his decision to become an Oblate. “To me, it’s about seriously seeking God. I wanted to offer myself to God in a deeper way. The Benedictine Rule offers a way to live the gospel to the fullest,” said the professional church musician. It also offers him a way to imbibe the Benedictine tradition at Saint Meinrad’s—especially the monks’ prayer and chant.

As an Oblate, Mr. Skelton has pledged to keep God at the center of his being. Bolstered by daily prayer, the writings from the Beneditine Rule, Scripture and the sacraments (duties all Oblates pledge to follow) he seeks to live his “ordinary life with extraordinary love.”

Having a pope who chose the name Benedict tells Mr. Skelton what he already knew: The monastic tradition founded by St. Benedict long ago offers a fruitful path for 21st-century Christians to follow.

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