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Catholic Voice
  February 4, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

'My soul is anchored in the Lord'

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett

"For Zion's sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn, and her victory like a burning torch. Nations shall behold your vindication … you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord … ."

These words taken from today's first reading reflect the theme chosen for this Liturgy: our soul is anchored in the Lord. He is the one who prevents me from being drowned in the waters of secular humanism, crime, discouragement, failure and all the other forces that inundate us in the destructive tide of this culture. He is the one who prevents us from drifting along with the tide until we crash on the rocks of destruction. Christ is the one who, like in the story of the Wedding Feast of Cana, changes the tasteless water of inactivity into the rich taste of wine in which he can take delight.

He wants our lives to be marked with the sign of His Spirit, anchored in his light and drawn by a future full of Hope.

Tattoos have gone mainstream in our culture. College students and business professionals alike have subjected themselves to hours of needle pricks to adorn every imaginable part of their bodies with colorful geometrics, designs, flowers and images, some that are better left unsaid.

Now, those who want to stay ahead of the trend are getting branded rather than tattooed. As you can imagine, branding hurts quite a bit, and once you are branded, you are branded for life.

Whatever symbols a person chooses say something about him or her. That's why tattoos and brands are chosen in the first place — as a mark of identity. Pain, indelibility, identity — these are the central aspects of what it means to be marked. If it didn't involve pain, it wouldn't be indelible: marks that don't hurt are the ones that wash off. If it were not indelible, what it reveals about a person's identity wouldn't be so critical.

In baptism we are "tattooed," or better, "branded" by God and in God. Baptism is not just a simple ritual or milestone: it means to be transformed in the spirit of Christ, the suffering, humble servant of God, and to resolve to pay the price for living that Spirit. Baptism means to take on a faith that becomes part of the very fabric of our lives, to embrace an identity in which God and the things of God become both our life's journey and our destination. It is to be anchored in a God who prevents us from drifting away from the life we know we must live each day. It is not by chance that we use the symbol of an anchor, for that was one of the earliest marks of our faith — branded on the tombs and hearts of the earliest Christians.

We are called to accept Jesus' Lordship over our lives. He comes to be the Lord of our hearts and the center of our lives. He comes to redeem us and send his Holy Spirit upon us.

Martin Luther King Jr. had one of these Holy Spirit experiences. Young Martin wanted to be a professor. He wanted the simple life of an academic, having earned his Ph.D. at Boston University. He hoped to become the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta someday.

But then, God worked through the Montgomery bus boycott to change his plans and he began working through the political turmoil of those early days of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. One night, after a series of contentious public meetings, Martin came home exhausted. His phone rang, and a threatening voice — not the voice of God — said, "We're going to get you!" Dr. King froze in fear.

But that night, Martin said he heard another voice, this time from God, from the heavens above. "Martin, you do what's right. You stand up for justice. You be my drum major for righteousness. I will be with you." Just like each one of us when we are baptized, Martin's name was called, and the Holy Spirit came down upon him. He was able to rise above the fear to a vision greater than his own. Later he would write: "Man must devolve from all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

Don't wait for the chance to do great acts of service! Start by doing small, everyday acts of love and service to your brothers and sisters.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said: "Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve … . You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love."

Just a few months before he was assassinated, Dr. King was preaching in a church one Sunday. Here's what he said:

"Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral," Dr. King told his congregation. "If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize; that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards; that's not important. I'd like someone to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like someone to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to be able to say that I did try to visit those in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s life was anchored in Christ, Our Hope. Christ came to change the bottom line, the equations, the trends, the perspectives, the standards by which we live our lives, the ways we deal with one another, the factors that go into the decisions we make, the things we value and seek for ourselves. In Christ, the "watered down wine" of rationalized self-centeredness is replaced with the "new wine" of compassion and gratitude for the life God has given us, the "new wine" of honor and respect for every human being as a child of God, the "new wine" of justice, mercy and the peace of God, The Host of the great wedding feast.

Let us go forth from this celebration renewing our own baptisms. Let us be branded with the image of Christ, our anchor of strength and the promise of a future full of hope. And may the good and gracious God bless you and grant you peace.

(This was Archbishop Brunett's homily at the Cathedral of Christ the Light on Jan. 20.)

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