On the Sacrament of Baptism
[Is.40:1-5,9-11; Tit.2:11-14;3:4-7; Lk.3:15-16,21-22]
Today we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism. This brings our Christmas season to an end, and it marks the second epiphany, when John the Baptist reveals Jesus to be not just an ordinary man, but also the true Messiah.
Now, some people wonder why Jesus was baptised at all, since he’s the Son of God and free of sin. The answer is that he didn’t have to be baptised. He chose to.
On that day, the Jordan River at Bethany was full of people. They were all unclean sinners who came to John seeking healing and a new beginning. But their presence symbolically defiled the water.
That’s why no community leaders were present. They wouldn’t associate with unclean sinners, and they personally saw no need to repent. But Jesus was different. He cared for the people and he wanted to encourage them. So he showed his solidarity by joining them in the river.
At that moment, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Baptism, for he brought with him the Holy Trinity to John’s cleansing ritual. When Jesus waded into that river, his flesh purified and blessed the water. Then the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove while his heavenly Father looked on and said, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased (Lk.3:22).’
Jesus’ Baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry, and it marks the beginning of our own life in Christ.
There are distinct parallels between Jesus’ Baptism and our own. At Jesus’ Baptism, God the Father proclaimed him as his ‘Beloved Son’. At our Baptism, we become the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, Jesus becomes our brother and Mary becomes our mother (and sister, too).
At Jesus’ Baptism the heavens opened, and at our Baptism heaven is opened to us. As well, the Holy Trinity was present at Jesus’ Baptism, while at our Baptism the Trinity makes their home in our soul.
And finally, Jesus prayed at his Baptism. At ours, the Church prays for us but we must remember to continue praying if our baptismal gifts are to be effective. [i]
Just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus said, ‘…go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt.28:19). Many people have forgotten this. They’ve forgotten why their Baptism is important. But it’s worth remembering what Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘Truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again’ (Jn.3:1-21). It’s through baptism that we’re born again.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘… no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again.’
So, what does Baptism do for us? Firstly, it gives us a fresh start by wiping clean all our sins, including both original sin and any other personal sins we may have committed (Acts 2:38). This means we no longer have to suffer any punishment for those sins. We can begin again.
Secondly, Baptism fills us with sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace makes us holy and it imprints on us an indelible sign that marks us forever as sons and daughters of God. As well, Baptism fills us with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, knowledge, reverence, courage and wonder and awe. These gifts give us the graces we need to play our part as members of the Body of Christ, in the Church and in the world.
In 2018, Pope Francis said that Baptism isn’t a magical formula, but a gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us ‘to fight against the spirit of evil’, to make this a better world. However, as happens with any seed full of life, this gift takes root and bears fruit only in a terrain fed by faith. [ii]
In the Church of Sant’Egidio, in Rome, there’s a crucifix of Jesus without any arms. It reminds me of St Teresa of Avila’s poem:
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
Compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now
When next you use holy water to make the Sign of the Cross, remember your Baptism and how you’ve been ‘Christified’.
Through your Baptism, you represent
Jesus in the world today.