Sunday, January 11, 2015

Yes, Carrie, there IS something ‘in the water’!

Carrie Underwood

(Baptism of the Lord (B): This homily was given on January 11, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 John 5: 1-9; Mark 1: 7-11.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Baptism of the Lord 2015]

A couple of weeks ago a parishioner sent me the following email, which included a YouTube link:

Fr. Ray,
I’m not sure if you’ve heard this new song by Carrie Underwood—“Something In The Water.”  If not, take a listen; it’s pretty good.

So I did.  And he was right; it was pretty good.
In fact, I’d go so far as to call it “very good.”
Here are some of the words:

He said, “I’ve been where you’ve been before.
Down every hallway’s a slamming door.”
No way out, no one to come and save me
Wasting a life that the Good Lord gave me
Then somebody said what I’m saying to you
Opened my eyes and told me the truth.
They said, “Just a little faith, it’ll all get better.”
So I followed that preacher man down to the river
And now I’m changed
And now I’m stronger
There must’ve been something in the water
Oh, there must’ve been something in the water
Well, I heard what he said and I went on my way
Didn’t think about it for a couple of days
Then it hit me like a lightening late one night
I was all out of hope and all out of fight
Couldn’t fight back the tears so I fell on my knees
Saying, “God, if you’re there come and rescue me.”
Felt love pouring down from above
Got washed in the water, washed in the blood
And now I’m changed
And now I’m stronger

It’s not often that a Christian song gets favorable reviews from Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines, but I’m happy to say that this one did.  According to what I read on one web site, Rolling Stone praised the song, calling it a “spiritual heartstring-tugger,” and Billboard gave it four out of five stars stating: “Carrie Underwood offers a message of faith in times of trouble.”

Actually, this positive reaction from non-religious sources really doesn’t surprise me in the least, because I think that the sacrament of Baptism (which, of course, is what this song is all about), responds to some very basic human needs that all of us have (including the people at Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines!).    Some of those needs are explicitly mentioned in the song itself, others are implied: the need to change our lives for the better and be forgiven for the things we’ve done wrong; the need to deal with the wound that we all sense we have at the very core of our being; the need to be strong in the face of the temptations and trials of life; the need to do good and avoid evil; the need to have a relationship with the One who made us; the need to know that we’re loved; the need to know that we matter.

Baptism responds to these needs because, as Carrie Underwood indicates in her song, there is something “in the water” (so to speak).  And that “something” is sanctifying grace. 

Sanctifying grace is the grace of justification; it’s the grace that makes us pleasing to God; it’s the grace that makes us God’s adopted children; it’s the grace that makes us members of God’s family, the Church—and ultimately heirs to the kingdom of Heaven!

In other words, it’s the grace that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, died on that cross and rose from the dead to give us.

Yes, Carrie, there is definitely something—something very special and very powerful—in the water!

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “the whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in Baptism.”  (CCC, 1266)

Now, since most of us were baptized as infants, we tend to take all of this for granted, don’t we?  I know I often do.

I was reminded of that this past week as I was reading the story of Joseph Fadelle, a man who converted from Islam to Catholicism in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein.
This was a man who gave up his inheritance (which was pretty extensive), and his family, and his security—and who was shot and almost killed by his own uncle and brothers—BECAUSE HE WANTED TO BE BAPTIZED!  He longed for the sacrament of Baptism like a starving person longs for food.  And he was ready to pay whatever personal price he needed to pay to receive it.

He definitely understood that there was something very, very special in that sacramental water!

But it took him years—literally!—to attain his goal, because at the time it was against the law in Iraq for a Muslim to become a Christian.  In fact, it was not only against the law; it was also a crime punishable by death!  And so, even when Joseph went to Catholic churches he was turned away.  The priests were afraid he was a spy, and that if they baptized him he would very quickly betray them and turn them in to the police.

Oh, the things we take for granted in these United States (like being able to book baptisms at our local parishes!)—although, we’d better be careful because there are many in our country right now who would love to outlaw Christianity if they had the chance.

That’s one of the reasons we pray so often for religious freedom in our prayers of the faithful at Sunday Masses.

Now you might say, “Fr. Ray, today is the feast of the baptism of Jesus.  What exactly does all this have to do with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River 2,000 years ago by John the Baptist?  Jesus wasn’t a weak sinner like we are.”

True.  But there is a very definite connection between his baptism and ours.  From one standpoint, at least, you could say that his made ours possible!  Here’s how one Catholic theologian put it: “Jesus does not enter the water [of the Jordan] to be sanctified [like everyone else].  No, the Holy One enters the water to sanctify.  He empowers the water to become no longer just an outward sign, but a vehicle of the Holy Spirit bringing inner cleansing, rebirth, and transformation.  Here Jesus institutes the sacrament of Christian baptism, something essentially different and greater than the baptism of John, which foreshadowed it.”  (Marcellino D’Ambrosio, “Jesus Sanctifies the Water of Baptism,” January 9, 2013)

Living as a follower of Jesus Christ, my brothers and sisters, means being faithful to the grace of this great sacrament.  Many Christians, as we all know, don’t understand that—and so they treat Baptism like it’s nothing more than a ceremony of initiation into a club (as well as a really good excuse to get together with family and friends for a big party!).

No wonder they don’t experience any power or joy in their Catholic faith!

These people obviously need to sit down for a little Catechism lesson—with Carrie Underwood!  And the good news is they don’t even have to leave their homes to take the class.  All they need to do is go to YouTube, like I did, and listen to this song—and I mean REALLY listen to it!—especially the last verse (which I didn’t read to you earlier, but which I will read to you now to close my homily).

May Carrie’s words inspire us to a deeper faith in the power of Baptism, and in its ability to change and transform our lives for the better:

And now I’m singing along to Amazing Grace
Can’t nobody wipe this smile off my face
Got joy in my heart, angels on my side
Thank God almighty, I saw the light
Gonna look ahead, no turning back
Live every day, give it all that I have
Trust in someone bigger than me
Ever since the day that I believed
I am changed
And now I’m stronger
There must be something in the water

[If you'd like to see the music video of the song, click here: Something in the Water]