Theme: The Value of Christian Baptism
Today’s feast, the Baptism of our Lord was originally one of the three Gospel events marked by the feast of Epiphany. In the Western Church, it was later overshadowed by the visit of the Magi before Pope Pius XII in 1955 instituted it as a separate liturgical commemoration of Christ’s baptism. The Baptism of Christ is a great point of Theophany because in it the great mystery of the Blessed Trinity is made manifest. The Gospel reading (Mathew 3:13-17) confirms the manifestation of the Blessed Trinity at the Baptism of Jesus. God the Father is revealed in the Voice which confirmed the Sonship of Jesus, God the Son is revealed in Jesus who was baptized and God the Holy Spirit is revealed in the Dove which descended on the Son. This manifestation of the Trinity thus becomes the origin and destination of our Christian worship because all our prayers begin and end in the name of the Blessed Trinity.
An interesting aspect of our reflection today is on the necessity and importance of Christ’s baptism. Would Christ’s ministry not have been successful without receiving John’s baptism? We know that John’s baptism is different from the baptism Christians receive today. John’s baptism was only the baptism of repentance and was not mandatory for all Jews. The baptism Christians receive today is a Christian ritual for cleansing and incorporation into the family of God. So Christ had no atom of sin, he had no need for cleansing and was already the son of God. But he had to receive baptism in order to identify with the people and confirm his oneness with them in their longing for God. His baptism is also a confirmation of his incarnation, proving that he has not only taken our flesh but has also come to live among us and do the things we do. He thus, approved baptism as a means to God and God used it to commission his public ministry with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
The first reading (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) speaks of the Servant of the Lord, the Chosen one with whom God is pleased and anointed with the Spirit. He is to be a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. In the Gospel reading, we find Christ to be the fulfillment of this prophecy because he was anointed with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father confirmed that He is pleased with Christ. Christ also confirmed this in his appearance in the synagogue at Nazareth when he claimed the mission of the Chosen one (cf. Luke 4:14-22). The Church’s interest in celebrating the feast of Christ’s baptism is to afford us the opportunity to reflect on the value of Christian baptism. Before his ascension into heaven, Christ upgraded baptism from a mere religious observance to the exalted dignity of a sacrament when he gave his apostles the mandate to go and baptize all nations in the name of the Trinity (cf. Mt. 28:19).
Beloved friends, the sacrament of baptism is not only important but also necessary for our salvation. That is why the Catholic Church affords everybody the opportunity of being baptized as early as possible. It doesn’t matter if the baptism is received in a pool or at the baptismal font, as an infant or as an adult. What matters is being baptized as early as possible with the correct intention, matter (water) and form (words of baptism) by an ordained minister or by anybody (if the recipient is in the danger of death). Baptism as a necessary means of salvation provides us with the garment for the royal banquet in heaven. This garment received only once is supposed to remain clean until death. But if out of human frailty it gets filthy with the stain of sin, Jesus still grants us another opportunity to make it clean again. When we ask for forgiveness of sins, the ocean of mercy flowing from the confessional purifies this garment again.
Therefore, today let us learn to be conscious of our baptism and ask God for the grace to fulfill our baptismal promises. Let the Holy Spirit we received at baptism enable us to go about doing good as the second reading (Acts 10:34-38) tells us Christ did. So let us pray that God may renew the graces and gifts we received at baptism to enable us become true sons and daughters of God so that our thoughts, words and actions will always be pleasing in His sight. Happy Sunday. God loves you.