“The earth was moved and trembled when your way lead through the sea, your path through the mighty waters, and no one saw your footprints.” (Psalm 77:19-20).

One of the priests here at the seminary used this quote in his homily about Jesus walking on the water. It has stayed with me because water had been a prominent symbol in many of the readings at Mass at the end of the Christmas season, especially when we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. And the themes of sacrifice, penance, and conversion present themselves.

Jesus was baptized, not because he needed cleansing, but to make the sacrament efficacious for us. There is a prefiguring of baptism, when God led the Israelite people out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea and then through the Jordan River to the Promised Land. 

Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan and by his baptism, transforms the waters that will transform us. When we enter the waters of baptism, we die with Christ. We die to sin, selfishness, and the lesser pleasures of this world. When we emerge from the water, we are reborn with Jesus to new life; we are forever changed. 

As Lent approaches, many of us here at the seminary are together preparing to do penance. Some are planning to fast, take cold showers, not watch as many movies or TV shows, etc. Penance often seems like something difficult to be endured, but there is a great beauty in penance. 

Penance is a deepening of prayer and love for God and other people by actively cooperating with God’s salvific plan for all people. Our faith is not just about “me and Jesus.” We are called to communion. Through penance, we love others the way God loves them. We are able to participate in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross by uniting our sacrifices to his. 

Through penance, we can offer our love and our prayers, not just in a sentimental way, but in our own flesh, and we are forever changed (converted). God does not love us from afar, He works in, with, and among us. Christ himself takes on our nature, and after the resurrection, he still bears the wounds of his love, often called, “The only man-made things in heaven.” God Himself is forever marked by his love for us.

We also recently celebrated visit of the Magi. Thinking about these themes, my mind drifted back to 2005, when I had the opportunity to travel to Cologne, Germany, to attend World Youth Day with some friends of mine from college. Going to that beautiful cathedral, a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, and to gather for prayer, song, catechesis, Mass, and adoration with Catholics from all over the world was truly awe inspiring. 

One of the greatest things I witnessed while there was the candlelight vigil at the end. Everyone gathered in an open field with Pope Benedict XVI and each was given a candle. More than one million people stood or knelt with candles lit in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. As far as the eye could see, a million tiny, flickering lights pierced the silent darkness. Not simply “me and Jesus” alone, but communion with God and others.

The theme for that World Youth Day was, “We come to worship Him.” This was chosen as the theme because the relics of the Magi are on display in the cathedral. As the week went on, however, another theme emerged that many were talking about — “They departed for their country by another way.” (Mt 2:12). 

The gifts the Magi brought foreshadowed Jesus’ sacrifice, but we saw a symbol of conversion — they went home by a different way. The Magi had seen the child Jesus, Son of the living God, and were forever changed. That World Youth Day forever changed us.

God wades into the waters, into our brokenness and the messiness of our lives. Sometimes, in the depths of those waters, it is hard to see his footprints, but if we give up our attachments to worldly things and offer our whole selves to Him, we will be led home, through mighty waters, forever changed, but by a different way. 

He is the Way.