Life of the Beloved

01-10-2021HomilyFr. Clement Attah, VC

It is very exciting to get to experience different cultures. It gives you a sense of balance. One of the very interesting thing I have noticed living in the US for the last three years is how very affirming you guys are. Americans find it very easy to express their feelings towards you. Not just here in the Church, even in the soccer field people walk up to me and tell me how much they appreciate or love me. It’s just an amazing way to help people appreciate their self-worth.

It’s a different culture back in Nigeria. Typically, Nigerians rarely use words to express how much you mean the world to them. Nigerians demonstrate love and gratitude through actions. I think unconsciously, like every human being, the average Nigerian crave for people to tell them how much they are loved and appreciated too. As a teenager, I enjoyed it a lot those very few times my mom called me “her flavor.”

Victor Hugo, in his novel, “Les Miserables” written in 1862 says, “The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved.” Every day I see how our modern culture and personal experiences conspire to kill this conviction in us.

Over the years, different circumstances and personal experiences must have created some sense of self-rejection in us. We sometimes get ourselves into some messy situations that make us doubt if we deserve God’s love. Today’s feast of the Baptism of our Lord is God’s response for anyone here struggling with self-rejection. St. Mark says in today’s gospel, “And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” One of my favorite author Henry Nouwen in his book “Life of the Beloved” says that God spoke these words to Jesus and to all of us His children created in His image and likeness.

Life sometimes tries to corner us into that space of self-rejection. Self-rejection according to Nouwen is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the voice that calls us the “Beloved”. I don’t know what is making you feel worthless or not good enough right now. But I want you to know that you mean the world to the One who matters most. God will always love you no matter what. I understand things have happened to you that makes you doubt yourself or love yourself. Your ex probably abused you such that you lost your self-worth. Your daughter or your son probably makes you feel you are not a good parent. Perhaps a habit you have been struggling with for a long time makes you think you are not good enough for God. Perhaps your parents or siblings make you think you are not good enough. Or your responsibility as a mom or a dad might be so overwhelming that you have given in to self-pity. It is also possible that you think the Church puts a lot of burden on you with her “rules” that make you feel guilty and less a child of God. These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling you the truth about yourself. The truth even though you cannot feel it right now, is that you are the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace. 

Christ’s Baptism like our own Baptism is a testimony to our eternal Belovedness. Baptism for me is the earthly confirmation of our eternal identity as God’s Beloved sons and daughters. That is why at our Baptism, we all received an indelible character. The CCC #1272 states: “Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation….” Can you see how beautiful our dignity is! Scripture says in Zachariah 2:8 “You are the apple of God’s eyes.” In Jeremiah 31:3, God emphatically says to us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

So I want us to leave Church today with a renewed sense of self-worth. When circumstances of life try to make you feel worthless, remind yourself that you are loved by the Best and the Greatest. When the voices around you make you feel unlovable, remind yourself that God loves you unconditionally. When the world try to convince you that the burden is on you to prove that you are worthy of being loved, remind yourself that you were loved by God even before He created you. When your sins or your weaknesses make you want to quit pursuing a life of holiness, remind yourself you are not the sum of your weaknesses but of the Father’s love towards you. Every time you feel hurt, offended, rejected, criticized, left alone, abandoned, pushed aside or forgotten, remind yourself you are intimately loved long before your parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded you. You are God’s Beloved! That’s what express the core truth of our existence. That’s the truth we should celebrate again and again. That’s the truth that will help us live life to the fullest. I pray that today’s Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord will make you delight in the dignity of your Baptism above all other competing voices that tries to put you down. Amen!