Reflection on Sunday Mass Readings for Oct. 22 (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalms 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
June 28, 1986. Not a very significant date in world history. Nothing history-making or particularly newsworthy marks this date in the larger world. And yet, for a two-week-old baby being brought to a rural Minnesota parish, this date was to be literally life-changing.
On this day, that baby’s soul was indelibly marked with a mark that would never be possible to remove, and that person was initiated into the mystery of Christ’s life and his Church. This was the date of my baptism, and it is one that I look back on with great gratitude as a gift of the Lord’s grace.
Could I, as that two-week-old baby, recognize the effects that took place as the baptismal water was poured over my forehead by Father Kinzer? Could I recognize that I was made a member of God’s Church, an adopted daughter of the Father?
Of course not, yet tiny and helpless as I was, I was chosen to receive this most precious of gifts. And this theme of being chosen, gratuitously, freely, out of sheer love, with no perquisite, is one that subtly runs throughout the Scripture readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear about Cyrus, one whom the Scriptures tell us is “anointed” (Is 45:1). This aspect of anointing is one that is present within the rite of baptism. Such an anointing is a strengthening of the identity of one called for a purpose, just as the athletes of old used to anoint their bodies with oil for the purpose of running well before a competition.
This anointing with blessed chrism also is a mark of one who is, as is recorded later in the passage of Isaiah, a “chosen one.” It is the Lord who calls his people to receive the purifying effects of his sacraments through the Church, for “I have called you by your name” (Is 45:3).
The Lord, in his abundant goodness, calls his people to partake of his transforming grace through the power of the sacraments.
The second reading further expands this theme of being chosen. In St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he declares that this people was “chosen.” In the Greek, this word connotes a richer meaning as a “summons, or invitation to a banquet.” Clearly, the action in this word is exterior to the one chosen – it is a gift received, not a privilege demanded. The grace and effects that baptism imparts to the one being chosen to be a member of the house of God are all about the Father’s goodness and his desire to bestow sanctifying grace upon his children.
St. Paul then declares the purpose of this baptismal calling to new life in Christ – it is to practice the “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope” (1 Thes 1:3). These three theological virtues, first imparted to the soul through the sacrament of baptism, allow us to partake in the very life of God and again point to his sheer goodness.
These virtues are considered “theological” because “they are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life” (CCC 1813). Only God can bestow such a gift, and in his plan of salvation it is received through the outpouring of the baptismal waters.
All of the themes we have examined in the first two readings – of being chosen, of anointing and of the bestowal of supernatural gifts – are brought to fruition in the Gospel reading in which St. Matthew records the words of Our Lord to the Pharisees about the paying of the temple tax.
Though this story might seem unrelated to the other themes we have reflected on, a connection is made through Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ queries. Jesus deftly stops their musings and trickery by declaring that one must “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21).
Through baptism, the soul is truly marked as belonging to the Lord. So the newly baptized is chosen to live in a manner worthy of his calling, returning to the Lord the gift that has been bestowed gratuitously through his grace.
This week, consider reflecting more deeply on the gift of your own baptism. This gift is truly a summons from the Lord to walk in his way, practicing the virtues so as to make a return in love to God of what truly belongs to Him.
May the truth of being a chosen son or daughter of our heavenly Father spark in you a deep sense of belonging and gratitude to the One who calls you by name to be his.
Sister Sharon Rose grew up in Sauk Centre, MN, and entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in 2005. She currently teaches 2nd grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newport News, and has the joy of being auntie to nine nieces and nephews.