The following is a homily which fr Terence Crotty OP preached during the celebration of our Sunday Eucharist in our monastery chapel – 9th January, 2011.

We hear a lot about power in the Church nowadays. Laypeople say that priests have all the power in the Church while priests say the bishops have all the power and so some priests recently formed an association, the “Association of Catholic Priest,” so as to get their hands on a bit of it. So the bishops seem to have all the power but, you know, when you look at them they seem completely powerless. The long and the short of it is that we’d better warn the ESB to start rationing the national grid before it collapses under the strain of so many people looking for power.

The Bible too speaks of power: when Jesus is about to ascend into heaven he tells the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). What is the content of this power? Well, St. John tells us that “to all who did accept [Jesus], he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). This is the power a Christian looks for: not the power to dominate and rule, but the power to become children of God. For St. Luke, that promise of Jesus to clothe his disciples with power from on high is fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For St. Paul, the primary effect of receiving the Holy Spirit is that we can call God Father (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6), so that St. John, St. Luke and St. Paul are all in agreement that the Holy Spirit gives us power, and the primary effect of this power is the ability to call God Father, to be children of God.

After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus suddenly begins to call his disciples by a new name, and that is “brother” (cf. Mt 28:10). So, in Jn 15 he tells them that he no longer calls them servants but friends, but a few chapters later, after the resurrection, he says to St. Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). And just as he is about to die, he gives Our Blessed Lady to the Beloved Disciple as his mother (Jn 19:27). So we see that, whatever the mechanics, in his death and resurrection, Jesus forges a family out of his disciples, a family in which God himself is Father and Our Blessed Lady is Mother.

Today the Church speaks to us about the institution of the sacrament of baptism by Jesus in the Jordan. We are often told that baptism primarily has the effect of making us children of God. And so we see that baptism and the death of Christ are like a nut and bolt that fit together to create an effect, baptism from our side and the death of Christ from God’s side, to make us part of this family forged by Jesus in his death and resurrection. In the Mass too we see the same thing. First the body and blood of Jesus are made present in the consecration and then, in the prayer Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, Almighty Father, we offer Jesus to the Father, just like in his self-offering on the cross. And then immediately, what do we call God? “Our Father, who art in heaven…” So the Mass not only makes present and renews the self-offering of Christ to the Father made on Calvary, but also renews one of the main effects of that self-offering, the forging of his disciples into a family who can call God “Father.”

When I was in school, many moons ago, we had a teacher who was only learning and, God help him, he couldn’t control the class to save his life, and one day he called out “Gentlemen, gentlemen! I call you gentlemen, even though you are not.” Cue a half-muffled laugh in the corner as someone said, “Teacher, teacher, we call you teacher, though you are not.” What’s in a name?! In Mass we are frequently addressed as “Brothers and sisters”, and so we are, because the Creator has, through the death of Christ and our own baptism, recreated us as brothers and sisters, children of God in his Church. Last Friday in this monastery chapel we had an hour of prayer for Ireland, as takes place in most churches in Ireland this year in response to the pope’s request. And I noticed that it was attended not only by the Irish sisters, but by those who come from many countries, Malta, France, England, Scotland, Belarus, Ukraine. As an Irishman I was very grateful for their charity, but we are all united in this irrespective of our countries, precisely because God has given us power to be his children. Every act of charity between us, and most especially the missionaries who give their lives to the poorest of the poor throughout the world, in some way acknowledge this reality which comes to us through our baptism.

Today, therefore, the Church invites us to look again at our baptism, to thank god for this gift and to think how we might improve our response to this sacrament which gives us power to really become brothers and sisters even of those we have never met, children of God, filled with the Spirit who calls God “Father.”