Year C. Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.
Caherdavin Parish, January 9th, 2022
Today, the Feast Day of the Baptism of Our Lord, marks the Church’s conclusion of the Christmas season. Over two weeks ago, we celebrated his birth, we contemplated the crib, then we celebrated the holy Family, and then the Epiphany finally arriving at his public Baptism. What we celebrate today is the beginning of his public ministry.
Luke’s account emphasises a few things. First, it highlights how Jesus is humble. He didn’t need to be baptised. But he was willing to go out to the desert and put himself in the queue along with those who wanted John the Baptist to baptise them. They were people who knew and felt they need to start again in life, that they need the sins and burdens and failures somehow to be washed away so that they could really be in a good relationship with God and others. John’s baptism was only a symbolic ritual. Jesus himself will be the one who will really and truly take on their sins, enter into the darkness of their lives and go right to the Cross out of love for them, dying for them so that they might experience the light and love and strength of his Resurrection. But today we see himself simply there in the queue waiting in line with them. It’s for them he has come. God the Father is clearly pleased with Jesus’ approach. He makes a declaration to Jesus; You are my Son, the Beloved in whom I am well pleased”.
Luke then emphasises the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus after his baptism by John. Jesus wanted to really comfort us and help us live a good life; he would do so ultimately by dying on the Cross and thereby providing us with the great gift of the Holy Spirit, the very link that bound him with God the Father. The Spirit that came upon Jesus to help him in his mission is the Spirit the Risen Jesus now wants to give us for the mission each of us has – as a parent, a grandparent, a worker, a teacher, a priest… We need the Holy Spirit so much because we ourselves are weak and often discouraged in our mission. The Spirit puts fresh heart into us.
So what are we to take away from today’s Feast Day? First, the reminder that we ourselves have been baptised. Pope Francis often says we should know the date of our baptism and celebrated it every year. The point is baptism – and Saint John Paul II also agreed on this – baptism is the most important day in our life. It put new life into us, the life of God. We think of the white garment that is put around the child after baptism. Yes, in baptism, sin is taken away, we are “re-generated” as the Second Reading puts it, we have been brought right into the house of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and so now we can live good lives because the Spirit is coming alongside us whenever we feel we might be stumbling and helps us.
There is a risk, of course, that we take baptism for granted. We grow up almost automatically being baptised. So it’s good to hear of someone who discovered faith later in life. I’m thinking of a real story I heard recently. It was of someone from Hungary whose Benath. During Communist times the regime there had 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 benath’s family nobody practiced their faith, not even her grandparents. She remembers that in school they studied the texts of the Bible but simply as an example of literature. Benath and her friends did actually once talk about Jesus, but since nobody knew anything much about him, they just thought he was a brilliant man of his times, or a wise man, or a healer.
But one day Benath was invited to a large gathering for Young people that was taking place in Rome. She was delighted to be going to Rome but the gathering itself really took my breath away. It was a gathering of young people who were Christian. She had never seen so many young people together, and they happy to be Christian and celebrating their faith in God, who is Love. At that meeting she suddenly realised that there’s just one thing to do in life: to love. She felt a new light had entered her life: that she was loved by God and this changed she life.
After she got home, together with four other girls, they went to the local church and met the priest. She had never been there before. Soon she started to take catechism classes in the parish.
At home too her life changed. She described how normally she would put up a fight everyday to avoid cleaning the house. Instead now she did it singing. She also started to be more attentive to schoolmates. A group of them starting reading the Gospel and trying to put it into practice together. It took her two years to prepare for Baptism but the big day came on Easter Sunday when, at the age of 17 she was baptized and received her First Communion.
I was struck by way Benath said: “My life’s big dream had become a reality. I remember that as I stood there in front of the priest in my heart I told Jesus: Here I am! Now I’m all yours! I’m very happy to be a Christian, and I feel that if God has chosen me from among many, then I have a mission: to bring Jesus to everyone I meet.”
So let’s remember today Jesus’ humility, the gift of the Holy Spirit and our own baptism that made us Christians with a mission.