Deacon Fritz Bauerschmidt, Professor of Theology at Loyola University Maryland and a deacon of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, preached this homily at Mass in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore, Md, on the vigil of the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord,2021. It has been lightly edited for publication in print. -Ed.
I had a very nice homily in mind for today — something about ancient Israelite cosmology and the symbolic role it plays in Mark’s story of Jesus’ baptism — but, as so often in life and ministry, events interrupt our plans, and I feel compelled to say something about the assault on the Capitol building and about what light the Gospel of Jesus Christ can shed in these dark days.
I feel compelled to say something, but I speak with trepidation, since I cannot really say anything about these things without saying something about the role played by our President. I know that 50% of Catholics who voted in the last election voted for Mr. Trump — for a variety of reasons, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Still, odds are that some of you might not like what I must say. But say it I must, so I hope you will hear me out.
It is hard to deny that this past Wednesday the words of President Trump were a spark, falling upon the fuel of weeks of unsubstantiated and repeatedly debunked claims of a stolen election, a spark that ignited an insurrection that led to an attempt by some to derail the peaceful transfer of power and ultimately to the deaths of five people.
The resignations of numerous people from Mr. Trump’s administration make it evident that even the most ardent supporters of his policies have been forced to recognize his role in inciting these shameful and deadly actions.
Even those who rejoice in his support for the pro-life movement have been forced to see in his actions a blatant disregard for the sanctity of life and for the common good.
I will admit that his words and actions have made me angry. But they have also made me profoundly sad. They have made me sad because I see in Mr. Trump a dark truth about human beings in general.
Donald Trump, despite some residual bluster, now stands defeated: not by circumstances, not by his political foes, not by the media, but ultimately by himself.
He has been defeated by an aversion to truth that all of us, in our own ways, share.
I do not know if his false claim to have won the election by a landslide is a cynical deception or a sincere delusion, but whether deception or delusion, it is certainly evidence of something that is true of all of us to some extent, whatever our political persuasion: In our desire for mastery over our lives, and the lives of others, we will believe and promote falsehoods; we will deny and suppress the truth to bolster our egos, even when doing so deadens our souls and harms those around us.
As the poet T.S. Eliot put it, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
You see this aversion to reality in Scripture, in the story of our first parents, who chose to believe the serpent’s lies that they could steal the wisdom of God and so become the source and meaning of their own existence.
You see it today in the allure of elaborate conspiracy theories that we embrace because they support our worldview. You see it in our resistance to new information that might challenge our beliefs or lifestyles.
You see it in the tenacity with which we cling to the conviction that our side, our party, our tribe should be completely identified with the forces of light and that those who disagree or oppose us must be cast as the forces of darkness.
To recognize in Mr. Trump something that is, to one degree or another, true of all of us is not to excuse his actions. He had a choice, just as we all have a choice. We have a choice: because, into the darkness of deception and delusion a light has shone, and the darkness has not overcome it.
When Christ is baptized, the heavens are torn open and the Spirit of truth descends upon him, and through him is unleashed upon our world. Writing of Christ’s baptism, St. Gregory of Nazianzus said, “Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light.” Christ did not go down into the waters of the river Jordan in order to be cleansed of sin, but rather to purify the dark stream of human blindness that flows from the sin of our first parents.
He plunges into the waters of deception and delusion to transform them into waters of light and life.
In these enlightening waters we find not just our salvation, but an invitation, a call, a summons to reflect in the world the light of truth that has shone upon us.
St. Gregory writes, “God wants you to become a living force for all humanity, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven.”
We must live as light in a world of lies. We must first and foremost proclaim the great truth of the world’s redemption through Christ, but we must also guard the more ordinary truths from which our daily common life is woven.
We must resist the impulse to believe and promote falsehoods that offer our egos temporary comfort in the illusion of mastery. We must bear witness to the truth, even when that truth discomfits us, because without truth we are doomed.
We have seen this week one more example of the destructive force of deception and delusion, and we have heard in our Gospel a call to be bathed in the Spirit of truth. May Christ our way heal and bless our country, may Christ our truth enlighten and empower his Church, and may Christ our life have mercy on us all.