Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. We see Jesus standing in a long line of men and women who have come to the Jordon to answer John the Baptist’s call to repentance, to a change in the way they live their lives.
In Matthew’s telling of this event John hesitates to baptize Jesus, “It is I who need baptism from you”. But Jesus refused any special treatment. “Leave it like this for the time being, it is fitting we should do what righteousness demands.” And John gave in to him, took him into the river and washed him, as the church prays, “in waters made holy by the one who is baptized”.
In both Mark and Matthew we are told that the heavens opened and God’s Spirit descended on Jesus and a voice was heard, certainly by John and Jesus if not others, “You are my son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.”
We have all been baptized. That’s why we are here. Baptism is the most important of all the sacraments. Without baptism we cannot receive any other sacrament. We seldom think of our baptism, seldom think of the grace and dignity given each of us when we were baptized. At each of our baptisms the Spirit of God was poured into our very being binding us in a special relationship with God our Father. So often baptism is thought of as a one shot deal. The Irish have this saying, “we got to get the kid done’. But baptism is not a one time event. In fact in former times when infant deaths were not uncommon, parents were considered negligent if they didn’t have a child baptized soon after birth. But ‘getting the kid done’ is a very limited vision of what baptism is all about. Baptism is not a one time event it is the beginning of a life time process of our growing relationship with God and our willingness as Christian people to ‘put on Christ’.
There was a time when a very popular saying among young people was, “I didn’t ask to be born.” None of us did. Our conception and birth were beyond our control. But we were born and gifted with life and there comes a time when we have to take ownership of our lives and live them as best we can. It’s the same with baptism. Unless we are a convert to the faith we had no say in our being baptized, our being born into the family of God. As with our physical life so our spiritual life is meant to be nourished and grow. For the first years of our lives that growth and nourishment is the responsibility of parents. They are to bear witness to the faith by what they say and do. As small children we pick up our faith by osmosis, we are influenced by the lived faith of our parents. We are taught prayers, we celebrate feasts, and we are brought to church. If that lived faith of parents is not there then our baptism is sterile and its graces are untapped. We may be pampered, given the best of care and love physically but in the area of the spirit we are children of neglect.
There comes a time in all our lives when we decide whether or not the faith and values passed on to us by our parents have any meaning for us as individuals. If we are to be authentic believers in God and in His Christ, Who loved us and gave His life for us, then we are meant to deepen our relationship with the Father, a relationship which colors and gives life to all the other relationships in our lives. This is a lifelong effort as we try to be like Christ, Who sought always to do the will of His Father. This is a life long effort as we try every day of life to be Christ to others. This is a life long effort as we try to echo the words of St. Paul “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me and the life I live I live trusting in the Son of God Who loved me and gave His life for me.” Trusting in the Son of God, trusting in the wonder we celebrate at this Mass in which Jesus offers Himself to each of us, handing Himself over as He did on Calvary, ” this is my body, this is my blood, this is my life given for you, given to you.”
Our parish motto is, belonging, believing, becoming. Baptism was our invitation to ‘become’. We are ‘becoming’ when, with God’s help, we try to live Christ like lives even with all our faults and failings. We are ‘becoming’ when we will not give up because of the times we disappoint ourselves and others. We are ‘becoming’ when we do try to love others as Christ loved us. We are ‘becoming’ when, in our own ways we grow to full maturity in Christ. We are ‘becoming’ when we put on Christ so that the Father can see and love in us what He sees and loves in Christ. We are all helped in that ‘becoming’ as we believe and belong with each other in our Catholic/Christian communities.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that in all our struggles to believe, belong and become, the Father will look at us as He looked at Jesus coming out of the muddy waters of the Jordon and say of us what He said of Him – you are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.