The Baptism of the Lord- 2020
This young man who was raised in a non-Christian background found the Catholic Church and was attracted to the faith. He joined the RCIA program. He said, on the day of Easter Vigil, as he was standing with other catechumens at the baptismal font, he was shivering with fear knowing that if he had made that commitment that day, that was going to be a life of commitment and sacrifice. Trusting the Lord, he made that commitment and he said that it has been very wonderful for the last 5 years. Every day the Lord reminds me “my grace is enough for you”. ‘I follow Him every day making deliberate choices. It is not easy; but it is not impossible’.
The 13th century king of France, (our patron saint) St. Louis IX (1226-70), insisted that the grand celebration of his birthday should be held on the day of his baptism, and not on his birthday proper. His argument was that baptism was the beginning of a life that would continue for eternity in the everlasting glory of heaven. The Baptism of the Lord is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany, because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father. It is also an event described by all the four gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The liturgical season of Christmas comes to a conclusion this Sunday with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.
Who did invent baptism? Neither John nor Jesus invented baptism. It had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent to our Confession. Until the fall of the Temple in 72 A.D., it was common for Jewish people to use a special pool called a MIKVEH — literally a “collection of water” – as a means of spiritual cleansing, to remove spiritual impurity and sin. What does baptism mean? The meaning of baptism can be found in the four letters of the word RICE. R stands for Rebirth. In baptism we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit. We are cleansed from original sin and become sons and daughters of God in a special way. I stand for Initiation. At baptism we are initiated or admitted into full membership in the church, the community of the children of God in the world. C is for Consecration. In baptism we consecrate and dedicate ourselves to seek and to spread the kingdom of God. We commit ourselves to be servants of God, to do God’s will and serve God with our whole lives. And E is for Empowerment. At baptism the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and empowers us, equips us, gives us the moral strength to say no to evil and to live as God’s children that we have become. These four effects of baptism can be divided into two categories, the passive effects (what we receive from God, namely, rebirth, initiation, and empowerment; and the active effect (what we give to God and the people of God), namely, our commitment and dedication to a cause, to spread the kingdom of God.
Why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, receive the ‘baptism of repentance’ meant for sinners? Jesus did not need a rebirth since he was from all eternity the only begotten child of God. He had no original sin to be cleansed from. Did Jesus need initiation? Yes. Being human, Jesus needed to associate and to identify with the community of men and women who were dedicated to promoting the cause of the kingdom of God. When it comes to serving God, no one is an island. We need the community of faith. We need the church. Empowerment: the Holy Spirit is the power of the Most High. The Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism strengthened and empowered him. As we read in the second reading, it was at his baptism that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; [and] he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:37-38). Consecration: Baptism for Jesus was a moment of self-consecration, a moment of self-dedication. For him it was a commitment to do whatever was necessary to promote the cause of the kingdom of God on earth. Baptism was a very important event in the life of Jesus. First, it was a moment of decision. It marked the end of Jesus’ private life, which prepared him for his public ministry. Second, it was a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist (quality of a good leader). Third, it was a moment of approval. Jesus might have been waiting for a signal of approval from his heavenly Father and during his baptism Jesus got this approval of himself as the Father’s “beloved Son”. Fourth, it was a moment of conviction. At baptism Jesus received certainties (assurances) from heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission. Fifth, it was a moment of equipment. By descending on Jesus in the form of a dove (symbol of gentleness), the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of preaching the “Good News” (that God is a loving Father, who wants to save mankind from its sins through His Son Jesus).
The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity and mission. First, it reminds us of who we are and Whose we are. By baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit. Let us always remember that we belong to God and we do not belong to this world or Satan. Let us examine do we always live as the children of God in thought, word and action so that our Heavenly Father may say to each one of us as He said to Jesus: “You are my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased”? Do we ever desecrate our bodies which is the temples of the Holy Spirit by impurity, injustice, intolerance, jealousy or hatred? Second our mission is to be co-creators with God in building up the “kingdom of God” on earth, a kingdom of compassion, justice and love and to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
This is the day for us to remember the graces we have received in Baptism and to renew our Baptismal promises: On the day of our Baptism, as Pope John Paul II explains, “We were anointed with the Oil of Catechumens, the sign of Christ’s gentle strength, to fight against evil. Blessed water was poured over us, an effective sign of interior purification through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We were then anointed with Chrism to show that we were thus consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed One. The candle lighted from the Paschal Candle was a symbol of the light of Faith which our parents and godparents must have continually safeguarded and nourished with the life-giving grace of the Spirit.” This is also a day for us to renew our Baptismal promises, consecrating ourselves to the Holy Trinity and “rejecting Satan and all his empty promises,” which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass-media of communication. Let us ask Our Lord today to make us faithful to our Baptismal promises. Let us thank Him for the privilege of being joined to His mission of preaching the “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.