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Homily of Bishop Denis from Mass on the Feast of the Baptism of the Our Lord

Saturday 08.01.2022, 7.30pm: Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Tullow


Only a few days ago the three Magi – Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar made their way to Bethlehem. They have barely unloaded their camels and here we are celebrating the Baptism of Jesus. Epiphany was a manifestation of God’s glory to the world; the moment of baptism is a manifestation of God’s glory on His Son and next Sunday at a wedding in Cana we will see God’s glory being expressed in the life of a sacrament.

Baptism is an adult moment for Jesus. An adult decision, a mature choice. Sometimes you hear the comment that so and so will walk to the font because his parents were slow to register him for baptism. Well he and all who are presented as might be judged ‘late’ for baptism are in good company, in fact they are in very good company!

On a Vigil Evening like this, in the context of the most unsettling pandemic of our lifetime, a pandemic that has shook the foundations of civil society, community and Church, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord marks the conclusion of the Christmas Season. Let us acknowledge all our failures to live out fully our baptismal promises as we call to mind our sins … 


Every sacrament celebration has been affected by this pandemic Covid-19. Little ones awaiting First Holy Communions saw their many ceremonies being rescheduled. Older ones preparing for Confirmations likewise have had very different cermonies. I celebrated the sacrament in UPMC Nowlan Park for the city parishes of Kilkenny and in O’Moore Park for the many schools in Portlaoise parish. Marriages too were disrupted as were baptisms. The sacrament of the sick has to be administered with cotton buds and in Intensive Care Units wearing layers of PPE.

The unwelcome visitor Covid-19 has made our sacramental world very unsettling and unnerving. And yet every sacrament is an encounter with the healing, loving and merciful God. To the couple presenting their newborn for baptism, they mightn’t understand the intricacies of baptism but they want to do whats best for their child, they want for themselves the protection of God. Parishes must encourage couples on these sacramental journies. It is never right to refuse a sacrament; John the Baptist didn’t refuse despite initial protestations, we should never refuse either. Baptism is a gateway sacrament. I believe in and encourage good preparation for each and every sacrament; yet something jars with me when I hear that such and such a course is a precondition for a sacrament. Church law – Canon Law is very clear[1] – the only grounds a baptism can be denied is where there is no hope that a child will be brought up in the Catholic faith. And even then it shouldn’t be refused, but delayed until such hope might be established.

Recent times much has been made in media circles around baptism and its use as filter for entry into local schools. The articles were always emotive. I recall one seasonally titled: “Unbaptised children find there’s no room at the inn[2]. Baptism has never been a criterion for entry into any of our primary schools in Kildare & Leighlin; it is essential for sacramental enrolment into the different programmes and classes at school and parish level. But it must be much more than that, baptism must be the criterion for a much deeper engagement in the life of the Church, the parish and the diocesan community. I commend Tullow parish through the Notre Dame Culture Initiative project who continue to dig deeper into the sacrament, so that the young people in our schools are prepared to make a real difference in our world. When the late St. John Paul II was asked what was the most important day in his life, he replied: “the day I was baptised[3].

Luke’s gospel ends today with that very strong endoresment from above: ‘And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the beloved; my favour rests on you.”’[4] Among the most beautiful moments during the Baptism Liturgy as the parents are invited to trace the sign of the Cross over the ears and mouth of their new born with the words “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his Word and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.[5] At Baptism we listen to God’s Word, we make promises, we pour water, we dob a little oil, we give a name, we warp a blanket, we trace a sign of the Cross and we make the sign of the Cross. All the time promising to do our best for what we have been blessed with. That’s all that is asked off any of us – the Lord will do the rest.

We often hear great debates around vocations and who can be ordained, a more important understanding for all of us would be to more deeply appreciate what it means to be actually baptised. In recent ‘lockdown’ days where congregations gathered virtually for Eucharist and didn’t receive Eucharist; in those spiritual communion we might ask ourselves what it means to be deprived of Communion? I am conscious there are still many who tune into Mass each week on the parish webcam. As you reflect on your spiritual communion, rather than focusing on hunger for Eucharist, let us think about what Eucharist entails: becoming a healer, a forgiver, a uniter our local community. What does communion mean for us, if we are not changed afterwards? Let us take a moment to reflect on our own baptism as we prepare to renew our baptismal promises …

A Renewal of Baptismal Promises

Dear friends,
through the paschal mystery
we have been buried with Christ in baptism,
so that we may rise with him to a new life.
Now that we have concluded the Christmas Season,
let us renew the promises we made at baptism
when we rejected Satan and his works. And so:

Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? We do.
Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin? We do.
Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness? We do.
Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? We do.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried,
rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? We do.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? We do.

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
has given us a new birth
by water and the Holy Spirit,
and forgiven our sins.
May God also keep us faithful
to our Lord Jesus Christ
for ever and ever. Amen.  

[1] Canon 868

[2] Holland, Kitty, ‘Unbaptised children find there’s no room at the inn’, The Irish Times, 12 December 2013.

[3] Weigel, George: ‘The most important day of your life’, The Catholic World Report, 27 April 2016

[4] Lk.3:22

[5] From the Liturgy of Baptism