Pope John 23rd died on November 23rd, 1961. At his funeral a few days later, Cardinal Suenens of Belgium preached the homily. He told the hundreds of thousands who watched that funeral, “the most important day of this man’s life was not the day he was elected pope, nor was it the day he was named a cardinal, nor was it the day he was ordained a bishop, nor was it the day he was ordained a priest. The most important day of this good man’s life was the day he was baptized.”
Baptism is the foundation of our lives as Christians. It empowers us to receive all the other sacraments. Our baptism is our birthing in our life with God. When talking about baptism some people will say, ‘we’ve got to get the kid done.’ Something like, ‘stamped for the dance’. Our baptism was not a one shot deal, it was the beginning of our life long process of growing in grace before God and others. Our baptism was the beginning of our life time process of growing to full maturity in Christ. We live our baptism every day of our lives.
As St. Paul tells us, at our baptism the Spirit of God was poured into our hearts and in that Spirit we have the boldness to call God, Father/Mother. In that Spirit we have the boldness to approach the throne of grace with confidence, trusting that our Father/Mother loves us more than we love ourselves, knows us better than we know ourselves and will be with us through all the joys and sorrows of our lives.
In the gospel we see Jesus waiting in line to be baptized by John. John is shocked when he sees Jesus and tries to prevent the ritual. “I need to be baptized by you and you come to me.” But Jesus didn’t want special treatment; He was one of many waiting His turn. Matthew tells of what happened when Jesus came up out of the water, “the heavens were open to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And this voice from heaven saying, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
This voice was for Jesus only. It was His epiphany, His coming to a consciousness He never had before, a deep consciousness of His relationship with the Father. He is the beloved son with whom the Father is well pleased. In a way these same words were said over us at our baptisms – this is my beloved daughter, my beloved son with whom I am well please.
If we are in any way conscious of how deeply we are loved by God, then God’s love evokes our mutual love for God. Jesus heard this voice of love ‘this is my beloved son’ and then left for the desert to prepare Himself to give His whole life to God in gratitude. If we could truly appreciate God’s love for each of us, a love proven beyond doubt in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus – we would do our best to live our lives in thankfulness to the God Who loves us.
Just a word about our second reading and the words of Peter,’ I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.’ There are three forms of baptism; baptism by water, baptism by blood, and baptism of desire. We were all baptized by water. In the early years of the church people who were under instruction for baptism but who died for their faith were considered to have been baptized in their own blood. Anyone who fears God, not fear as we usually think of it, but fear as a reverence and an awe of God as he/she knows God, and does what is right, receives the baptism of desire. The fact is the most common form of baptism is that of desire given to good people of all faiths as they do their best to love and serve God as they know God.
As we continue to celebrate this feast of the baptism of Jesus we are brought back to our own baptisms – which most of us don’t even remember. St. Paul tells us that before the world began God chose us in Christ to be His adopted sons and daughters, to be God’s own. As Jesus had His own epiphany at His baptism when He became deeply conscious of His relationship with Father, may each of us be blest to have our own epiphany of knowing that we are loved by God, we are God’s own. May each of us live our lives in such a way that the Father may say of us; this is my beloved daughter, my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.