Reflections on the Sacrament of Baptism – part I, “Why did Jesus get baptized?”

As we prepare for the Easter Sacraments, let us reflect on the first Sacrament that all Christians have partaken: BAPTISM

We will engage in a three part discussion about the Sacrament of Baptism:

Part I: Why did Jesus get baptized?

Part II: “Fulfilling All Righteousness”

Part III: Baptized to be holy

Let’s begin part one with the Gospel of Luke, 3:15-16, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”


Crisis of the Situation.
According to Jewish liturgical practice, what we know as baptism is a cleansing ritual that prepares the High priest for the Day of Atonement.  The High Priest would go to a bath of ‘living water’, bathe in it, and from there, prepare all of the rituals for the Day of Atonement.  What we call Baptism was linked, from the very beginning, to sin.

It makes sense that John the Baptist would call people to repentance, to cleanse themselves from their sinful ways, and to live in accordance to the Jewish law.  Baptism, at least as John understood it, makes a lot of sense…for people who sin.

But it doesn’t make sense for Jesus.  Why did Jesus get baptized?
Why did the Sinless Lamb of God, he who was tempted but never strayed, get baptized by his cousin John?


Beginning from the End

When I was taking Fundamental Moral Theology, we were taught that an action is determined by its end, or final cause.  Why does a mom sweep their kitchen floor?  Because she wants a cleaner house.  Why does a boy drink a hot drink?  Because it is cold outside and he wants to warm up.  An action is determined by its end, or final cause.

Why did Jesus undergo baptism?  Why did the Sinless Son of God, do this?

As some of your know, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a three part book series entitled, “Jesus of Nazareth”.  It’s his own spiritual journey in learning who Christ is, and who Christ wants us to be.  The Holy Father tracks Jesus entire ministry, from his Nativity to his Ascension.

52733683FO001_pope(Now, remember, these books were not ex cathedra statements.  He wrote these books as a fellow theologian, one amongst many, and not as the Pastor of the Western Church as such.  His words are not definitive, but nonetheless, they are illuminating.)

He writes, “Immersion in the water is about purification, about liberation from the filth of the past that burdens and distorts life—it is about beginning again, and that means it is about death and resurrection, about starting life over again…..  So we could say that it is about rebirth.” Vol 1, page 16

It’s pretty self-evident what he is saying here.  That immersing oneself into the waters of Baptism is a new beginning.
It’s about leaving one’s former way of life and entering into a new life, a life with different presuppositions, different ways of being in the world and looking into the world, different ways of interacting with other people.

By entering into the waters of baptism and coming out the other side, you are reborn into a new way of life.

Seeing John’s baptism this way, then, we continue the words of the Holy Father:  “Looking at the events in the light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depth of the Jordan.  He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners.  His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross.   …The Baptism is an acceptance of death for sins of humanity, and the voice that called out ‘This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection.”

Or, as St. John Chrysostom once said, “Going down into the water and emerging again are the image of the descent into hell and the Resurrection.”

What happens when we think about water?  We drink it, it refreshes us, and cleanses us.

But what happens when you have too much water?  You die—you drown.

Water—the protagonist of baptism—gives death and gives life.  Jesus bore the sins of the world as he descended into the waters of baptism. But when he rose from the waters, it was then that he was anointed as the Beloved of the Father, set on a mission to bring the world back to God.  When he descended into the Jordan, he took our place as a sinner, and rose from the waters anticipating the resurrection.

When Jesus was baptized, it was in anticipation to the passion event.  Every action is determined by its end. Why does a person drink coffee in the morning?  So that he may be able to be awake at the office.  Why does a person study biology?  In order to be a doctor.

Why did Jesus get baptized?  In order to prefigure or anticipate the Passion, Death and Resurrection.


What does this mean for me?
When we are baptized, we are reborn into the Mystery of Christ, to live this mystery and his life in the here and now. That we will be praised, rejoiced in, rejected, mocked, scourged and loved just as he was in his short ministry.  That we obtain the genealogy that he was born into, that that history of the Covenants, Abraham to Moses to David, are now ours by virtue of our being Baptized into the Mysteries of Christ.

Fra Angelico, OP St. Dominic & Christ

Fra Angelico, OP
St. Dominic & Christ

What does this mean?  That when we suffer, are persecuted, are going through rough times and glorious times, we ought not be surprised.  We are undergoing the Life of the Savior.  What we went through is our lot.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Fourth week of Lent – Humility revisited

I was walking back from an off-site appointment.  As I had crossed the sidewalk, and I hear someone scream my name.

It. Totally. Made. Me. Freak.

Instantly, I knew that I was in trouble.  But more importantly, I was wondering which government agency had me in their sights.  There was a small part of me (okay, a large part of me) that said, “I wonder if S.H.I.E.L.D. finally found me.  I wonder if they had finally figured out that priests have powers that more comprehensively legit than Iron Man and Thor combined, and they want a D.N.A. sample.  Oh my goodness! I have to tell Michael and Emmanuel!  I have to tell Steve that I’m going to be late to Evening Prayer!  This is going to be so cool!”

downloadI mean, c’mon!  Everyone wants to meet Captain America.

I felt the color in my face drain.  I was seriously worried—I was wondering who was going to call out my name in the middle of the day, in the middle of Bush Street.  I wasn’t even on-call—you know what those days are like—this was supposed to be as low-key as my life gets.

I turn around, and in a really nice car sat a man whom I vaguely recognized.  Then he yelled, “Father!  That homily the other day!”

Oh, it’s that guy, I said to myself.  I flashed back to Sunday, remembering where he sits and which Mass he attends.

“How’s it going?” I asked.  I look at the red stop light.

“You killed it on Sunday!” he yelled over the traffic.  “My Mass was totally convicted.  You could hear a pin drop.  Quiet, man.  You totally killed it.  I need a copy of that homily.”

Hardly anyone asks for a copy of the homily—afterall, we have the podcast.  “Uh, okay,” I respond (yeah, I know, I was totally Father Elegant).  “Sure.  Just email me.  I don’t have your address.”

Green light.

“Seriously?  That easy?” he said, inching his car ahead.  “Okay—I’ll email you, like, tonight.”

He races off, waving goodbye, with me finding a chuckle as I walk back to the Priory.

Shield c

St Thomas Aquinas teaches that the humility is a virtue that allows us to who we really are.  Yes, we are limited and imperfect and we oftentimes fail.  But we have been given numerous gifts as well.  We may not be able to keep the living room clean, but we make the best pancakes this side of Antioch.  We may not be the best test taker, but no one else can play a meaner guitar.  We are limited, but God has also given us numerous graces and gifts.

We are the Order of Preachers. We are privileged to be Dominic’s sons.  We have been given to the Church to be a company of Christians who can bring down the Thunder of God on a daily basis.  But at the same time, we are inefficient, silly, slow to change, and vulnerable to awful land deals.

Fra Angelico OPI hesitate to acknowledge that the Lord has granted me this beautiful grace of preaching the Gospel well.  I also acknowledge that He had given me this beautiful gift of writing, which I had recently re-discovered.  But I am also aware of my countless faults and things in which I need to work on.

It was humorous and beautiful to be interrupted while crossing the street the other day.  But it was also a time where I was reminded of the virtue of humility.  A time where, yes, I thank this parishioner for this compliment.  A time that, yes, I am reminded of the One of gave the gift.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Sunday 11:30 Mass preview

Hear my Prayer

Guest post: Simon Berry

picMendelssohn composed the verse anthem, or hymn, Hear My Prayer to a paraphrase of the opening verses of Psalm 55 by his friend the English lyricist William Bartholomew. Scored for soprano solo, mixed chorus, and organ, it was composed for London’s newly renovated Crosby Hall, the venue for many sacred concerts in the 1840s.

London audiences of the time relished this work. Its four sections present mellifluous airs for the soprano in the outer verses, connected by a dramatic, responsorial dialogue between soprano and chorus, and then a recitative.

Ernest Lough, 1911-2000, made this piece famous with his 1927 recordings, from the Temple Church, London, directed by George Thalben Ball.

The record was issued a few weeks later and its success was due in some degree to the fact that it was issued on H.M.V.’s cheaper plum label. Nevertheless, the sales figures took everyone by surprise and it was H.M.V’s biggest seller for 1927. Six presses had to be set aside at the Hayes factory for its production. Later, it was to sell a million copies and in 1962 GTB and Lough were presented with a golden disc to mark the occasion.


Its still a famous piece of music and one that makes the psalmist’s words come to life.

Come and pray the Mass with us on Sunday, 11:30 Solemn Mass, and be elevated in mind, body and spirit.

How to make a good confession, part III

There is such a thing as Sacramental Abuse.

The blessing and curse of having confessions so often at St. Dominic’s is the fact that many people can come into the box on a regular basis.


The road to the confessional box.

However, almost every priest I know has encountered that one penitent that is not very penitent.  There comes a time in every priest’s life where they meet a person who comes into the box on a regular basis, asks for forgiveness—but at the end of the story, is not really sorry that they did wrong.

Why?  Because they can do that repetitive sin once again and go to confession before Mass and believe that they are good to go.

You know it’s happened.  And you know it happens.

So here’s the thing.  The matter of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is contrition—that is, the state of being in which you willingly say that you will sin no more. What makes the Sacrament of Reconciliation what it is is the contrition of the penitent.  This ain’t Catholic guilt!  Rather, it is a willingness and conviction of knowing that having a good relationship with God takes a lot more work that I am currently putting in.

imagesSo when a person comes into the box, you have to ask yourself if you are really sorry?  Or are we the type of person that says, “I’m going to commit this sin now, and go to the box tomorrow, receive communion, and then sin on Monday.”

One type of person sees their religious life as a series of check boxes.  The other wants a relationship with Jesus.

Which are you?

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner – 3rd Sunday of Lent

iamhe2A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” (John 4:13-15, 26)


St. Dominic’s is privileged to welcome almost 50 catechumens and candidates into the Church this year. Through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process, they have journeyed for eight months towards receiving Christ’s loving embrace in the arms of our Faith. Our Easter Vigil will be quite a celebration!



The Gospel we hear this weekend is the story of the woman at the well. For the next three weekends, we will hear powerful stories of Jesus’ ministry that are saturated with the dynamics of what it means to believe, e.g., woman at the well, healing of the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus. Each of these Gospels is connected to the Rite of Scrutiny, which is part of the RCIA process. You might ask, “What exactly are the scrutinies?” The Church says, “The scrutinies are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. They are meant to uncover, and then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all. In order to inspire in the elect a desire for purification and redemption by Christ, three scrutinies are celebrated. By this means, first of all, the elect are instructed gradually about the mystery of sin, from which the whole world and every person longs to be delivered and thus saved from its present and future consequences. Second, their spirit is filled with Christ the Redeemer, who is the living water (Gospel of the Samaritan woman in the first scrutiny), the light of the world (Gospel of the man born blind in the second scrutiny), the resurrection and the life (Gospel of Lazarus in the third scrutiny). From the first to the final scrutiny, the elect should progress in their perception of sin and their desire for salvation.”

Lent is a time when we join with those journeying through RCIA. Just as they are learning and discovering the power of Christ in their lives, we too ask the Lord for a renewed sense of our need for Him. In fact, at the heart of the story of the Samaritan woman is the recognition of this deep need we have for God. The fabric of the human heart is woven with and by God’s love and only this love can truly make us happy. In their conversation at the well, Jesus awakens this desire and invites her to “drink from the living water” of His words. The desire for God is written in the human heart, because we are created by God and for God. Since He never ceases to draw us to Himself, only in God will we find the truth and happiness for which we never stop searching. As we continue our 40-day journey, we join with those preparing to enter the Church in recognizing our thirst for God. Driven by this thirst, we eagerly approach the fount of His mercy by listening for His words and receiving His love in Eucharist.

~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

Third Week of Lent – Humility

Humility is a fleeing virtue.  The moment you think that you have obtained it, it flies away.  It’s for a simple reason, really.  The moment you think that you have obtained humility, you would like to boast that you are humble, and well—it just doesn’t work.

Humility is not downplaying your gifts and talents.  It is not saying that you a worser person than you actually are.  Humility is admitting your faults and vices as well as your gifts and virtues.  Humility is knowing what you have accomplished in life—with God’s help—and knowing how much work needs to be done.  Because afterall, God gave you your gifts in the first place—of course you ought to glory in the things that the Lord has accomplished in your life.

Let us be thankful for all the good that the Lord has done.  Let us persevere in virtue and humility and obtain our life’s ambition: seeing our God face-to-face.

How to make a good confession, part II

finger-pointingI was talking to a very close friend about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I’ve never heard her confession.  Nor will we ever be in that kind of situation.  (I know, I know, never say never.  But trust me.  This will never happen.)  But as we were talking about going to confession, she asked, “Do you really, really, really don’t remember a single confession?”

Now, here’s the thing.  At St. Dominic’s, any one priest can hear between one to five hours of confessions on any given weekend dependent on the time of year.  For one thing, you can tire of listening for such a long time. Also, the penitent really is completely anonymous unless the penitent actually names himself.  Have I had confessions in which I recognize the voice?  Perhaps…?  Maybe?  But really, if you are on my side of the box, would you take the risk and name the penitent?  Really?

Moreover, a wise priest said to me once that you hear every sin that is imaginable and possible within your first six months.  And you do.  Within six months, nothing surprises you.  You have literally heard it all.  So the myth of fear of the priest yelling “You did what?” is really a farce.

penanceOkay, what about a person comes to a priest for a face-to-face confession.  A common question would be if your opinion of the penitent would change.  I cannot speak for the other priests of the parish, but I can say this: if a long-standing member of my parish community made an appointment with me and intended that I listen in on his most intimate moment with God (second only to receiving the Eucharist), I would feel honored that I had been asked into this person’s life.  A person is having an intimate moment with their Jesus, and allowing me to listen in on the conversation.  For me, it is a most powerful honor.  It’s an honor that I cherish.  What else would I be compelled to do other than to absolve them of their sins?  It’s the only thing, the least thing, I can do!

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner – 2nd Sunday of Lent

hurleyJesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,  conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt.17:1-9)


In the days following my ordination, I had the good fortune to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. It was a memorable experience. To walk where Christ walked, to see what He saw, to celebrate Mass on Mount Calvary: these moments helped to shape and encourage the initial days of my priesthood. One of the most significant moments in the Holy Land was celebrating Mass on Mount Tabor, the place of Christ’s Transfiguration. But in order to ascend the Mount, one has to traverse a number of elevated switchbacks. The large tour buses that can clog the Holy Land Highways can only go so far up. Unable to navigate the steep turns, the luxury liners sit idly side by side at a base parking lot. If you want to reach the peak, you have to be nimble, traveling a bit lighter than the normal tourist. The summit is scaled only by those willing to relinquish unnecessary and burdensome baggage.


Anchorage summer 2009 002As we continue our Lenten journey, we are encouraged to put aside whatever baggage and extraneous creature comforts might keep us from ascending to our own place of transfiguration. This is the whole reason for the Lenten discipline of fasting. By giving up certain good things we enjoy, we prepare ourselves to receive the best: a renewed sense of God’s presence in our lives.

But the journey up the mount is challenging. We need encouragement to keep going. This week’s Gospel story of Christ’s transfiguration gives us that encouragement. Aware that He will soon travel to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed, Jesus reveals his divine nature to Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor, so that they will not lose heart when they witness His Passion. Jesus manifests His divinity in order to infuse His friends with the lifeblood of hope. It is as if he says to them: “No matter what happens in the coming days, no matter how bleak and dark life becomes, know that I am God, I will be victorious, and I can transform all things, making them new.” (cf. Rev. 21:5) This is Good News for us! After the initial spiritual surge of Ash Wednesday, the routine of reality returns. Often, the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we undertake can wane and even fall by the wayside. So for us, Christ’s moment of transformation is a reminder of the dynamic power of celebrating Lent.


Transfiguration_by_fra_Angelico_(San_Marco_Cell_6)Last week, the Gospel reminded us that we can expect temptations to assail us at the beginning of our Lenten journey. This week, we are given encouragement that if we persevere on our journey, we will be transformed. The good things we do, the superfluous thing we give up, the ways in which we lift up our minds and hearts in quiet prayer to God; these are the moments when change happens. For whenever we turn to the Lord with our hearts, He fills them with his life and grace. And so as we face the labors of Lent, whether it is endeavoring to give up chocolate or struggling to break an addiction or bad habit, we climb the mount with Jesus, we encounter the power of his glory and we pray: Transform me, Lord.

~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

Second Sunday of Lent – Perseverance

So how are you doing with all of those penances?

Every Ash Wednesday, we dream about how powerful our Lent will be.  Running three miles a day.  Reading the Bible.  Writing the next Great American Short Story.  Yet here we are, on the Second Week of Lent.  We forgot to run yesterday (and the three days prior), we’ve stopped reading the Bible because Leviticus is so amazingly boring, and writing that short story?  Uh, sure.

Yet when we are reminded of the Jesus’ Transfiguration, we are reminded of something we have forgotten so long ago: the Resurrection.  That we are going to go through trials, annoyances, frustrations.  We will go through those dry spells and those times where we want to give up and those periods of doubt.  But it is not for naught—we are reminded of the Resurrection.  The Transfiguration reminds us that the penances we partake and the sacrifices we endure are for a greater purpose.  They remind us—concretely and painfully—that there is a greater purpose.  There is a reason for our penance.  There is room for joy despite our loss.

The Resurrection.

So stand up.  Try again.  Persevere.

Only through the gristle of the Cross can we come to the glory of the Resurrection.

How do make a good confession, part I

Saint Dominic’s holds confessions before each Sunday Mass.  Potentially, we can have six to seven hours of confession a weekend.


…and you thought YOU had a ugly point of view….

But here are some pictures of what the other side of the confessional boxes look like.  This is my confessional, of course.  Sparse and small.  These pictures are a reason why smell-o-vision hasn’t been invented yet.  You don’t wanna be surrounded by asbestos.

Being in the box, you cannot help but think about what makes a good confession.  This isn’t going to be a comprehensive list, nor is it meant to be.  But just a few thoughts:

  1. A good examination of conscience.  I remember once a person came into the box and after I had led the Sign of the Cross, there was an uncomfortable pause.  A long one.  Eventually, the penitent said, “Um, I don’t know why I’m here.  My wife said that I should come inside.”  Okay, that’s just bad for about 1,001 different reasons.  So this is what you ought to do: Clear your mind, look up the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes and reflect on your life.  To paraphrase Socrates, the unreflected life is not a life worth living.  Look into your past and reflect how good you have been a child of God.  What have you done that brings you closer or further from God?
  2. Focus on your relationships.  The Greatest Commandment is all about your relationship.  How well are you loving God?  Your family?  Your friendsphp5kpNsWAM?  Your roommate?  Your cat?  Our relationships form us, grate at us, and teach us virtue.
  3. So why did you do that?  Again, the unreflected life is not worth living.  It’s one thing to admit that you stole from Safeway; it’s another thing to understand why you stole in the first place.  Do you have a repetitive sin?  What leads you to perform that particular act?  Are you improving in your life with God?  Are you deepening your relationship with Jesus?
  4. Are you really sorry?  Sometimes, we know that something is sinful, but we are still assenting that it is a sin for me.  I’m not promoting “Catholic guilt”—I’m daring you to develop your moral reasoning.
  5. Dream BIG.  What kind of person do you want to be?  Do you want to be a saint?  What kind of saint do you want to be?  Allow Christ’s mission and vision for your influence what you say in
  6. Pray.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your words as you come into the box.


A good friend of mine told me that the box is intimidating.  Certainly it can be.  But it is also a safe place in which we can encounter Jesus in an intimate and personal way.  I go to confession about once every three weeks.  For me, it is that place where I can gauge—honestly—how well my first relationship is going, bad, good, and everything else.

There’s nothing to be scared of when you come into the box.  Coming to this Sacrament is an exciting and important time.  It is a time where Jesus yearns to be with you, to love you—a time where He wants to call you His own.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!