Baptism of the Lord – Sister Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN

Jan 5, 2022 | Gospel Reflections

January 9, 2022

Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

“Were not our hearts gradually catching fire within us as he spoke to us on the road?”
Two Travelers on the Road to Emmaus

For 15 years I presented at a bilingual diocesan Day of Retreat for 300 baptismal sponsors and 600 candidates: they prepared me to look anew at “You are my son, the Beloved.” At baptisms today this gift of “being beloved” is Jesus’ to those who name him Lord.

Prior to the actions of Jesus, John, and Yahweh at the baptism, Luke as a writer offers a detailed background about familial stories of Jesus and John and the rising public yearning for a Messiah. While the times are troubled, hope does remain for action from God.

The water and banks of the Jordan River provide the site for Jesus’ public adult response to Abba. The vivid movements within Luke’s presentation of John’s baptisms have many spaces for us – first, to approach the scene; then, to observe interaction among the participants; and finally, to select personal meaning from the event. (Viktor E. Frankel notes, “Between every stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response.”)

For Jesus, John’s baptism of repentance is his moment to say a wholehearted “Yes” to whatever will come from the Spirit of God. Baptism by John becomes the gateway for Jesus accepting and embracing his public mission as God’s servant – open to suffering and infused with love for God and for people especially those on the edge of society. A voice from heaven (Abba) responds with delight, “You are my son, the Beloved. In you I am well pleased.” The Spirit (signed as a dove) lights up the depth of the moment and throws new light on Jesus. So begins Jesus’ mission as preached within the community of Luke.

For the crowd at John’s baptism personal questions still remain: “Will the Messiah come soon? Is john the Baptist the Messiah? After I am repentant and baptized, what comes next?” For Jesus, his baptism draws him deeper into prayer rather than into questions. These will come later in the desert and from his experience in his home town.

For now, after much prayer and a long time in the desert, Jesus will begin his conscious journey to proclaim God’s infinite goodness and boundless love for all, especially those on the edge of society. As Jesus Christ understands Abba and the Spirit, God desires but a hearty “Yes.” Throughout the Gospel of Luke more public connections will occur among Jesus as Son, the Spirit of God, and Abba.

Named the beloved son and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will move into the public world of his time and be willing to wait for hearts to respond to his message. He remains fully present and ready to speak the truth. He will choose to be simple and vulnerable, wise about his culture and connected to others with an open heart. Later followers and authors remember that the Beloved Son Jesus also said, “Love others as I love you.” While we are part of the familial heritage of “the Beloved,” he is very direct about what love looks like: sonship is a matter of faithful obedience to Yahweh no matter what.

Luke’s gospel concludes with the post-crucifixion story about the Emmaus journey of two followers of Jesus. After meeting the resurrected Jesus along the way, his actions and words prompt these travelers to remember,” Were not our hearts gradually catching fire within us as he spoke to us on the road.” Jesus’ joy, Abba’s delight and the Holy Spirit’s love encouraged them and now us also on the road.

What direction does your heart take in response to “the Beloved?”



Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;with you I am well pleased.”

The Gospel of the Lord


Meet Sister Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN

Sr. Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN, daughter of John D. and Edna F. Dutcher Thiella, was born in San Francisco, California, on April 26, 1939. She was the first of two children. Her brother John is an attorney. Barbara entered the California Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1957, receiving the name Sr. Andrea. She attended Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, earning a degree in liberal arts and a California teaching credential. Then, she studied at the University of San Francisco and obtained a graduate degree in theology and a California credential in school administration. Later, she received a credential from the State of Hawaii. Sister Barbara has spent half of her years of ministry in formal education and the other half in leadership roles for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Catholic Church at the diocesan level. Within Notre Dame schools, Sister Barbara has served as a teacher and administrator in the Dioceses of San Francisco, Monterey, Sacramento and Honolulu. She also worked at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, as a Campus Minister. As Vice Chancellor in the Diocese of Oakland, Sister Barbara facilitated the Second Pastoral Convocation and the ensuing Diocesan Pastoral Council. The California Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame called her first to direct personnel planning and then to be a member of the California Leadership team. Since 2000, Sister Barbara has been Chancellor in the Diocese of Stockton with a particular care for diocesan ministries that offer resources and training to 34 parishes and 12 missions. Sister Barbara has used her training and skills in pastoral theology and administration, research and development, in service to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, dioceses in the Northern California Province, other religious communities, schools and seminaries. As a woman of the Church, Sister Barbara offers her life to affirm goodness in persons and institutions and to build together with others towards an inclusive community. As a Sister of Notre Dame, she cherishes the gospel call to seek for goodness in all aspects of life. The communal dedication of the Sisters of Notre Dame challenges and strengthens her own following of Jesus Christ.