OUR BAPTISMAL CALLING: LESSONS IN MOTION
Welcome to our lessons in motion. Our baptismal journey will take us to different times and places, around the globe. In the hope that, after these travels, we may see, the bigger picture of our Baptismal Calling.
PART 1: WHY JESUS WAS BAPTIZED
Our reflections for this Feast of the Lord’s Baptism will first bring us to India. Here, we shall try to look into why Jesus had to be baptized. The year, 1947. India was just granted independence from British rule. Their leader, Mahatma Gandhi, a man of faith, a writer, a politician and a pacifist.
By means of fasting from food, long vigils of prayer, marches, protests and civil disobedience, Gandhi persuaded the British to grant independence to India.
Even though a civil war between the Muslims and Hindus of India followed, and even though Gandhi himself was assassinated in 1948, he nevertheless began an immense movement toward freedom, peace and justice.
One of the reasons why Gandhi put on a loincloth, and fasted from food, almost to the point of death, was to show solidarity with his Indian people, and to identify with them in their suffering.
This is one of the reasons why Jesus was baptized in today’s gospel, to show solidarity with us and to identify more deeply with us.
No, Jesus did not need to be washed clean from Original Sin. Jesus had himself baptized not for personal reasons. His baptism affirmed His Public Calling. Not only did He identify with us, in our need for forgiveness. He also went public, empowering us, who received Baptism in His Name, to do the same: Dare to go public with your Baptismal Calling!
PART 2: BAPTISM: LIVING & BELIEVING
From South Asia, we fly now to an ancient civilization, a multinational entity extending over a large area in East Asia, China. The years, 2007-2010. In this village, in the North of China, people work in agriculture. They are poor. Water is precious. Houses have no heating nor sanitary facilities.
Fr. Peter spends his life travelling from one village to another. He has no house of his own. In 23 villages, families host him for a night or two. And everything he owns, he carries in one bag. He says, “Every day I go to celebrate mass. I hear confessions and I visit the sick. I spend 1 or 2 days in each village. On a Sunday, there are 3 or 4 masses in places we’ve selected so that many people can attend.”
Fr. Peter has been a Catholic priest for 12 years. 4 of them he spent in this parish. People look forward to his visits. In this house, he’s considered part of the family. But what he is doing is “illegal”. He is a priest of the “Underground Church”.
“We are suffering persecution. The freedom of the Church in China is still very far away. But we have to trust, because Jesus told us, ‘Do not be afraid!’”, Fr. Peter says. “The Church in Rome was persecuted for 300 years. And in the end, she obtained freedom,” he continues.
So far, the Chinese Government tolerates religion only under the strict control of so-called Patriotic Associations. Their purpose is to ensure that religious beliefs do not threaten the party line. And it’s a question of loyalty not only for priests.
“Joseph”, Chinese labourer in the Underground Church, says, “I was baptized in the patriotic church. Then, later I found out that there were 2 churches: the patriotic church & the underground church. So, I began to pray – asking God to make me understand which one is the real church.”
Christians who do not surrender their faith to government directives are driven underground. They are in danger of being arrested at any moment. Mass is celebrated in secret since makeshift churches can be torn down by local authorities from one day to the next.
“Teresa”, another Chinese labourer in the Underground Church, says, “I was baptized as a child. During the Cultural Revolution Catholics were persecuted; they beat me up and I abandoned the faith. During those years, I did not give glory to God. But even if I have not always been faithful, I believe God is the real God.”
This first leg of our stop-over in China inspires us the be brave to go public with our Catholic baptism. Catholics in China have lived through fears, persecutions and many unimaginable trials! Through their journey they have only lived and believed in the God of Faithfulness and His encouragement, “Do not be afraid!” Wow!
We have not, thankfully, experienced their lot in the Philippines, which somehow enjoy “religious freedom.” But are we standing up for our beliefs? Or is our faith an underground faith still? Let us dare to go public!
PART 3: BAPTISM: SUFFERING & DYING
The second leg of our journey to China brings us to the depths of the earth. Behind this expanse of stone & mortar a reign of unimaginable brutality & persecution is imposed on Christians in China.
Testified by one who had been jailed and tortured, “I was not arrested because I committed a crime; I was taken to jail because I am a Christian – but that’s alright- because I understand that when we suffer the Lord is glorified…because His people stand up for Him.”
Despite these horrendous conditions Christians are standing firm and the underground church is flourishing under God’s protective cover. Hidden places of worship are all over China.
At then end of this tunnel is a cave never before visited by anyone from the outside world. It lies approximately 30 ft. underground dug entirely by hand. It has no structural support & little in the way of clean air. By the grace of God it has served as a seminary for more than 20 yrs. It has never been discovered.
A woman teacher in this seminary relates, “I’m teacher in the underground Bible School. During the year I only see the sun for 6 days… when we have a break from the training. Every 6 months we teach 80 to 100 students. The training is intensive. Everyday from 5:30am to 10pm non-stop. The underground room is about 15′ x 15′, only 2 meals a day, we have no money as the Church is very poor. Many times we eat the food for feeding pigs. When we are sick we have no money and it’s very risky to see a doctor we are just praying for healing from our Lord.”
And what maybe equally as unbelievable is the JOY these Chinese believers experience in their suffering. Their testimonies are riveting. A Christian believer says, “Why is it so difficult to become a Christian and an evangelist in China? I do not have the answer. But the Holy Spirit works on me…and encourages me. I am not afraid of being arrested or suffering in prison. I am committed to serve the Lord even though that I may have to die.”
A Christian who spent 6 years in jail says, “Suffering helps me to grow spiritually. It is beneficial to me and to the Church. It is my ‘wealth of the heart as I do not have money & other things.”
Pls. remember the Underground Church in China which is enduring great persecution while carrying the cross behind the wall. An appeal from a an Underground Christian, “I heard that U.S. have religious freedom. We want to be like you. We suffer much in China for the Lord. And if you do not need to suffer, you should work hard to proclaim the Gospel, love the Lord more and read the Bible more. Spending more time serving the Lord is important. And the Lord will reward you. Pls. pray hard for the Christians in the Underground Church in China. We have a price to pay to follow Jesus: suffering & persecution.”
A beautiful Prayer from the Heart of an Underground Christian who spent 23 years in Jail:
Thank you, Lord. Thank you for allowing us to suffer for your glory.
That Your Name be glorified. Thank You for setting up a good example for us to follow. We will bear Your cross to follow You everyday no matter where You go, we will follow. The way of the Cross leads us to victory.
Thank You, Lord. Amen.
Are we living up to the Name and Baptism we carry? Let us not be worthless Christians.
Let us take to heart Jesus’ words: “Do not be afraid!”
From our brethren in Underground China:
- to work hard to proclaim the Gospel
- to love the Lord more
- to read the Bible more &
- to spend more time serving the Lord.
God bless you in your life of Witnessing!♥