Baptism anoints us with the power to do good

Baptism of Christ by David Zelenka
This week we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, the first of the Luminous Mysteries.

I contemplate this mystery, turning it over in my mind as the beads twirl in my hand: What difference does Jesus’ baptism make? This moment when God anoints “Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.” (Acts 10:38)

It’s the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry of going about “doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.”

And then the hidden-in-plain-sight of it all stops me at once. The whole of discerning deacons is anchored in the fragile power of baptismal waters. What other authority do we have, but to claim our baptism as giving us all we need to be full participants in the life of our Church?

This wild but wholly traditional Christian conviction led us to take a leap and launch something new: a meeting ground between Pope Francis’ vision for a synodal Church, and the active question swirling around women’s inclusion in the order of permanent deacons.

Three years in, and our mission could not be more relevant or urgent. The synodal path has revealed what is in the hearts of the people of God throughout the world: They have named, as urgent, the need to rethink women’s participation and actively deliberate about including women as deacons – as something that cannot be kicked down the road.

This impulse was affirmed when the synod assembly this past October affirmed this – 81 proposals were put forward, but only one marked as urgent:

”It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry.” (Women in the Life and Mission of the Church, Section 9.m,, Synthesis Report, Oct 2023)

So I turn the beads over, marveling at God’s timing, God’s unfolding.

What does it really mean to be co-responsible for the mission of God? It is – perhaps – to not endlessly wait for permission. But to go ahead and not be afraid to initiate – publicly – the work of going about doing good, healing those oppressed by the devil (the devil, who would tell us to stay silent, stay small, keep the Church limping along in its mission, which bars women from preaching and ministering without sacramental authority).

What does this mean for you? To be baptized with the Holy Spirit and called into Jesus’ mission? Who could you share good news with about the synodal path? Who are you called to listen to, to collaborate with, to offer up a shared contribution for the Church’s renewal today?

It is humbling to think we can even offer a contribution; we have to rely on grace to guide every step. To be discerning deacons: to discern what is not of God, so that we might serve and heal what oppresses us. To drive out what divides us, clouds our vision and shrinks rather than magnifying the gifts of God within us.

My prayer or hope for us this year, then, is rooted in this most luminous mystery: the holy urgency and power of baptism, which flows not from the status the world gives or grants – but from the living waters of the one who came to save us from every evil.

Let us seek to walk in the ways of Jesus’ baptismal power –vulnerable, fragile, but eternally so. May all that we build this year reflect the power of Jesus– power that is meant always to be shared, given away, and grown for God’s victory of justice.

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“Our St. Phoebe Day celebration was a Catholic mass at its best—coming together, unified at the Eucharistic table, getting nourished through meaningful ritual, prayerful and relevant songs, a challenging message on synodality from scripture, and engaging and honest testimonies from two women in our community. St. Joan of Arc parish today did what Jesus did years ago—fed souls and gave people hope.”
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community
Minneapolis, MN
“Together, we are grateful that the ministry and example of St. Phoebe enlivens our community to participate in exploring the unique gifts of women in our faith community. Here at Cranaleith, we feel strongly about creating space for all those seeking wholeness and transformation for themselves, their communities and society. This retreat was an opportunity for us to do just that.”
Cranaleith Spiritual Center
Philadelphia, PA
“The icon of St. Phoebe is still present in our Chapel today, where we are able to remember her witness and ask her to intercede on our behalf.”
Rosemont College
Rosemont, PA

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