I am a persistent resolution maker. Perhaps it’s the optimist in me – I greet each New Year with a resolve to do better, to be better, and most importantly to love better. Although I often fall short of meeting all of the goals I set for myself, I list them nonetheless. But prior to listing my new resolutions, I typically flip back to the beginning of the previous year in my journal and prayerfully assess my past resolutions. It is this annual recollection of conscience I perform that helps me to frame my heart, mind, body, and soul effectively for the year ahead.
So it is with this same sense of optimism that I find myself each liturgical year anticipating the Sunday that we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Perched on the eve of Ordinary Time, this particular solemnity brings to an end our beloved season of Christmas. If you’re listening carefully, you may hear the collective sighs of relief of moms around the country as we carefully stow away our holiday decorations and return to our own sort of “ordinary” — the routine of daily life. We’re ready to get back to business.
But why this mental connection between my New Year’s resolutions and the Baptism of the Lord?
In Luke’s gospel we read about the events of Jesus’s baptism, historically and universally recognized by the Church as the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. In its section on the Mysteries of Jesus’ Public Life, the Catechism says of the baptism:
Jesus’ public life begins with his baptism by John in the Jordan. John preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. A crowd of sinners – tax collectors and soldiers, Pharisees and Sadducees, and prostitutes – come to be baptized by him. “Then Jesus appears.” The Baptist hesitates, but Jesus insists and receives baptism. Then the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved Son.” This is the manifestation (“Epiphany”) of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God. (p. 535)
I’ve often contemplated this scene as I’ve prayed about my own “public ministry” — most of which plays out in my own home. The crowd, filled with expectation and under the impression that John the Baptist may himself be the Messiah, lines up to be baptized.
But assembled also, as we read in John’s gospel, are priests and Levites and Pharisees whose doubt is tangible. John, the relative of Jesus who has given his entire life to the foretelling of the Savior’s coming, surely recognizes his insufficiency. Yet he humbly participates in the wonder of this moment. In his own way, present when God’s love is made manifest publicly for that very first time, John gives his “yes” to his role.
As I ponder what the year ahead will hold for my life and my own ministry, I imagine how John must have felt that day. The man who, clad in camel hair and cognizant of his own humanity, stepped up to the task at hand with faith and trust. He surely wondered why God had called him in this way.
I wish I had a portion of John’s courage and conviction in those moments when the day to day living of my faith feels daunting. Scripture teaches us that even from the womb, the Baptist knew and loved Jesus, leaping inside of his mother Elizabeth at that very first encounter. John’s confidence in his personal mission to “Prepare the way of the Lord” and to “make straight his paths” stemmed from his absolute trust in God. He knew his place, he trusted his role, and he gave God his “yes”, giving his very life for Jesus. He may have lived a solitary life, but John the Baptist was never alone in his mission.
In a similar sense, and in the living out of her own unique mission, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton also reminds me that I do not walk my own vocational calling alone. My chosen spiritual patroness and saintly companion for 2019 once wrote:
“God is so infinitely present to us that He is in every part of our life and being. Nothing can separate us from Him. He is more intimately present to us than we are to ourselves, and whatever we do is done in Him. Yet, the same words might too justly be addressed to us which Saint John the Baptist said to the Jews: “You have one in the midst of you whom you know not” and whose presence you forget to respect and honor.” (CW IIIa, 392)
St. Elizabeth Ann’s contemplation of the presence of God in our lives reminds me to pause as I prepare for whatever my own ministry will hold this year. Have I fully recognized God’s infinite presence in my life? Do I trust that omnipresence enough to offer my simple resolutions for His will, and to accept that often my well-laid plans will not go as I expect? Am I ready, as John the Baptist and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton were, to help others better know and love Jesus, and one another, by the way I give my own “yes”?
Certainly Mother Seton bore her challenges fully dependent on that infinite presence of God. I have to believe, as accomplished and productive as she was in her home, her family life, and her public ministry, that she was indeed a competent planner, perhaps even a list maker like me. But she wisely recognized and trusted God’s plans and gave herself fully, learning to live with the path set before her with faith, hope, and charity.
This year, as I study St. Elizabeth Ann’s life, words, and legacy, I hope to learn to emulate her trusting desire that whatever we do is to be done through love and with love. Fueled by that love for and trust in Jesus, who came to show each of us the way home, I hope to be ready for wherever life’s path leads me.
LISA M. HENDEY is the Founder of CatholicMom.com, an award-winning international speaker, the host of the weekly “Lisa Hendey & Friends” podcast, and the author of several books for adults and children including “I Am God’s Storyteller”. Discover her work at www.LisaHendey.com and connect with her on social media @LisaHendey.