Baptism of the Lord 2016
Pope Francis sometimes asks people how many of them know their birthday. Nearly all hands up. And then he asks “hands up, how many know the date of their baptism?” Not so many! The Pope then makes the point that the day of our baptism is in many ways the most important day of our lives. It’s the day Jesus is born in us. It’s the day the love of God is poured in a new way into our hearts. It’s the day the flame of the new life begins to shine in our lives.
That’s why we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today. It’s officially the last day of Christmas. The point is clear – Christmas starts with Jesus born in Bethlehem, then Jesus shown to the nations (the Kings), then Jesus baptised, opening up the way for all of us the way to enter into God’s life. Because we are baptised, people need no longer looked for the light that was over the crib two thousand years ago. We now are to be that light in the world.
Perhaps we are so used to it in Ireland we forget the impact of baptism. I remember meeting people who had grown up in East Europe during the era of Communism when mention of God and religion was banned. One person I know, for instance, told me how the Communist dictatorship in Hungary tried to wipe out religion from people’s hearts and make them believe it’s nothing but a fairy tale. As a result, many people gave up their religious practices either out of fear or other personal reasons. In her family nobody practiced their faith, not even her grandparents. She remembered that in school they studied the texts of the Bible as they did other works of literature. With their friends we once talked about Jesus, but since nobody knew anything about him, they thought he was a brilliant man of his times, or a wise man, or a healer.
But she managed to get to a major gathering of Catholics – a little like World Youth Day – and was completed overwhelmed by it. For her it was a personal meeting with God. When she got back home, together with four other girls, they decided to try and live this new experience of love together, changing our neighbourhood with love. Someone had the idea of going to our parish priest to tell him all about our experience, so she suddenly found myself in a church. She said: “I didn’t even know how to address a priest, but I’d such a flame within me that I started telling him everything, like a volcano. In the end the priest asked me if I’d like to attend catechism classes. That same afternoon I went to my first lesson”. But everything had changed. Her way of life changed. She was more loving. Later on, we formed a group where we tried to live the words of the Gospel together. More and more young people wanted to share our way of living. It took her two years to prepare for Baptism. Finally, on Easter Sunday, at 17 years of age, she was baptized and received her First Communion. Her life’s big dream had become a reality. She remembers that as I stood there at the baptism she told Jesus: “Here I am! Now I’m all yours! I’m very happy to be a Christian, and I feel that if God chose me from among many, then I have a mission: to bring Jesus to everyone I meet.”
That’s the meaning of today’s Feast. Jesus is baptised. He didn’t need to be but he wants to show us that we can share in his baptism, that is, share in the life of God that he opens up for us and that we can bring Jesus to everyone we meet, serving, loving, giving our lives day by day for others.
One last point. Notice the Holy Spirit in today’s readings? The Holy Spirit comes up Jesus. We can do nothing in the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. We need to call often on the Spirit. I was glad as a diocese that we are calling every day on the Spirit for our Synod. But each of us can do so personally. We often pray to Jesus. We pray to God the Father in the Our Father prayer but perhaps we forget the Spirit. But the Spirit is the Lord, the giver of Life, giver of gifts, the One who keeps us going even when it’s not easy.
So, let’s take away from today – a new recognition that the day of baptism was the most important day in our lives. It gave us a new life and a new mission. And it also promised us the great help of the Holy Spirit so let’s pray every day more to the Spirit.