byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
We are still in the rainy season in southern Florida which began on May 15 and runs through October 15. South Florida receives about 70% of its annual rainfall during this season. We are very familiar with the thunderstorms that can suddenly occur after daytime heating in the afternoon hours. We know the difficulties that come with the rainy season, but we also know the positive side of rain in many different ways.
Rain obviously brings water. We need water in order to live. Water cleanses us, refreshes us, and replenishes our bodies. That is why water is such a powerful sign of life in Baptism. In the waters of Baptism, we are washed of our sinfulness and given the gift of God’s life. The Church has always viewed the rain in the biblical account of Noah’s Ark as a prefiguring of salvation that would come through Baptism. As is stated in the blessing of water at Baptism, “The waters of the great flood you made as a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.” Through Baptism, we are members of God’s family, the Church, and as members of that Church, we are new persons in Christ.
We should never take our Baptism for granted. Baptism gives us a share in the common priesthood of all believers. By Baptism, we participate in God’s divine nature and become co-heirs with Christ. Through our Baptism, we no longer belong to ourselves but to Christ who died and rose for us. We are called to serve others as Christ did and to hold all persons with respect and love. Baptism gives us the sublime right to participate in the central act of the Church, the Eucharist. Our Baptism has changed us and has configured us to Christ forever. We have received a dignity that has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and can never be taken from us. As we experience rain, may it remind us that we are baptized Catholics and may we always be grateful for our Baptism. As pope Francis has stated, “Baptism is the door that permits Christ the Lord to make His dwelling in us and allows us to immerse ourselves in His mystery.”
Jesus, having lived in Palestine, was quite familiar with rain. Palestine’s rainy climate was quite different from that of southern Florida. The first appreciable rains normally arrived in mid-October to early November with the last significant rains falling in the first half of April. Such a pattern is quite different from ours. Christ, through whom the water was created, was quite familiar with rain which enabled Him to use it to make a point.
On one occasion Jesus said, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say that it is going to rain – and so it does; … You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Lk 12:54, 56). Jesus’ words give us something to reflect upon. We do well at interpreting the weather and preparing for it but do not always do so well in seeing God’s presence among us. The reality of God is not as vivid to us as that of the weather. Perhaps rain, created by God to sustain us, might help us to appreciate His presence more.
On another occasion Jesus told His disciples, “Your Heavenly Father … causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). Christ used this image to teach that God treats all of us equally. Our Baptism gives us a dignity before God that is the same no matter who we are. That is a very important lesson upon which to reflect. Whenever we are tempted to think that someone is better than we are or that we are better than others, let us recognize that whatever we have comes from God. We are all members of the same human race created by God. We are all infinitely loved by Him.
The rainy season brings many clouds. Clouds can be quite gloomy as they block the sun. A few successive afternoons of rain and clouds can be quite discouraging. However, behind the clouds is the sun. The sun is always there even though we cannot see it. If it were not, we would not see the light that still brightens the day. Reflecting on those afternoon clouds might help us deal with the clouds of suffering and pain in our own lives. God is always behind those clouds. The Son of God is behind them, and we are able to see because He is the true light who has come into the world. We need to look at that light coming through the clouds, as difficult as that may sometimes be.
Jesus, familiar with the rains, was also familiar with clouds. In fact, He used clouds as the image for His coming again when he said, “They will see ‘the Son of man coming on the clouds’ with great power and glory” (Mk 13:26), and “You will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk 14:62). It was also a cloud that overshadowed the disciples on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration and from a cloud that the Father spoke to the disciples. The clouds were a sign of mystery but also of hope. We are fortunate in southern Florida that the sun appears quickly after the threatening clouds and that gives us good reason to reflect upon the virtue of hope.
Rain and clouds remind us of our life in Christ, of hope and of the Lord’s presence. Reflecting on the elements of nature which God has given to us helps us to see Him and His love for us. May we know better the new life we have received in the waters of Baptism and always have hope when the clouds appear. Pope Francis reminds us that Baptism, “illuminates our entire life, guiding our steps until (we reach) the heavenly Jerusalem.”
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 16, 2022