Jan 11, 2019

The Baptism of the Lord - "A gift of divine love"

(Baptism of the Lord: Luisa Piccarreta)

Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

Parishioners here are familiar with the large side walls of our Church and the wide doors that are placed on either side.  They are meant to be security doors so you cannot enter from the outside since there is no door handle.  You can only go out.  Yet, for the majority of the time they provide either a convenient exit or simply remain closed.

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  As we now complete the hectic Christmas season, we find ourselves back in to some "normal" routine.  However, around Church ministry there is little that is routine or normal.  Here we see Jesus now as he begins his public ministry. He comes to the Jordan River where John is actively involved in his baptismal ministry and preaching up a storm.  John calls people to repentance and to prepare them for the imminent coming of the Messiah - who is Jesus of Nazareth. In so doing he is inviting all to walk through a new door, to begin a new way of life and to embrace this Christ about to appear.

Truth is, though, the crowds around John likely did not take particular notice of Jesus.  He like others joined in the masses yet once John saw him, his cousin after all, he knew of his importance.  The Gospel writers and the early Christian communities more likely were tying events together once they realized the nature of Jesus and mission. Everything we read in the Gospels is by hindsight in light of the resurrection

So, Jesus comes to be baptized by John.  Although he bears no personal sin, he enters the waters and there embraces our humanity in all with all its brokenness. Thereby he makes this sacrament the first one which leads to all the others and raises humanity to a new higher level before God. In this way, baptism becomes for all of us a door to enter.  Unlike the church doors, there is a handle on this one.  In fact it is wide open and prominently bears a sign that reads "Enter here one and all."

In baptism we are grafted on to the vine of Christ's life and love in the Mystical Body of the Church and become sons and daughters of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The dysfunction of original sin is washed away and although the broken world into which all of us are born remains, we now stand in a new relationship with God.  The grace of the Holy Spirit brings us into a new life as we are conformed to his likeness in this gift of divine love.

But there are many who were baptized into the Church but no longer attend.  What happened?  Why not?  Some have said the generations of today are not joiners.  They don’t join clubs and organizations like so many did in the past.  They tend to live their lives more independently and they don’t see the need for long term commitment.  There may always be something new and better so they cherish their freedom and individuality.  Many chose to be married later in life if they chose marriage at all. I think there is much truth to that. 

But for those baptized, we do not join a club or society or some kind of historical organization.  And while it is assumed that once baptized, you’re forever now a Christian sacramentally, if we look upon our parish, our Church and the Christian faith as a kind of society or club like others, then it might be understandable that, at least for now, something better has come along. 

But baptism brings us into a new relationship with God where we are graced and conformed more intimately into the life of Christ himself.  Jesus was not just some wise teacher or dead prophet but he is Lord of heaven and earth. The door of baptism opens us to a lifetime of grace and growth and we are invited each day to live as worthy sons and daughters of that grace as adopted children of a living God who now live life with a new perspective.

So what may indeed be lacking in so many today and even among those who remain faithfully involved in the life of the Church is to see our faith as a personal relationship with God; that we are called to come to know Christ Jesus as Lord of our lives. If we look to the ritual of baptism we may find a good reminder of how we can live.

Traditionally, water is poured over the head of the baby or adult to be baptized as the words of baptism are said along with the name of the person being baptized. In an emergency situation, such as in a hospital with a premature baby, a priest or deacon may simply take water and quickly baptize the baby over the head with the proper words and name.  I’ve done that a few times over the years.

My favorite, though, is for the person, even a child, to immerse themselves in the water, often kneel, as the baptismal words are said and water flows down over the person’s entire body.  It may be more dramatic but certainly emphasizes the point of cleansing and the total commitment of that person to the new faith in Christ and the Christian way. 

I think each method may provide for us a symbolic way to measure our commitment to Christ and his Church.  Do we simply dip our finger in the faith and quickly cover ourselves with little thought to what Christ is asking of me as a result of my baptism? Is my Catholic faith just simply a box I check off and move on like I would track attendance at some event?

Do I stand for a moment and reflect on who Christ is and who I have become as a result of being washed in grace and made a child of God?

Or am I willing to jump in to my faith and give myself more totally to the Lord and his Church? When baptized I promised, often through the family into which I was born or maybe later in life, to reject sin and worldly ways and to embrace God as Lord of my life and expressed my commitment to the Catholic Church in the Christian faith.

We have walked through the door opened for us by Christ in the waters of baptism.  At Christmas, God was born of Mary and entered our world.  Now in baptism God’s grace is born in us and we become his adopted children.

Our second reading from Titus so beautifully reminds us: “When the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared . . . he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit . . . so that we might become justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” It is all a gift of divine love. 

Almighty ever-living God, 
who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son, 
grant that your children by adoption, 
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, 
may always be well pleasing to you. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Roman Missal)

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