January 11, 2015
The Baptism of the Lord
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, marking the end of the Christmas liturgical season. Tomorrow we will begin Ordinary Time. The liturgical color will be green and it is the time of year in which we concentrate on the public ministry of Jesus. We celebrate Ordinary Time until the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, which this year is February 18th.
It is in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that we read about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John. Each of the accounts is very similar. They are very brief, but all include the same information. This is Mark’s very brief account which we read this year: “It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:9-11). In each account we hear that Jesus is in the Jordan, the Spirit descends upon him, and a voice is heard saying, “You are my beloved Son.”
The source of the Sacrament of Baptism is Christ himself. Prior to starting his public ministry around the age of thirty, Jesus went to John the Baptist in the Jordan to receive the baptism which John was offering, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). It was a baptism with water only. John the Baptist reminds us, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1: 7-8). The obvious question is why did Jesus need to be baptized? One possible interpretation is that Jesus was not cleansed by the waters; rather he sanctified the waters. In a sermon, St. Gregory Nanzianzen said, “He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake…to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.” Jesus introduced the Spirit to the baptism. So now, when we are baptized we are freed from the eternal effects of original sin and whatever personal sin we may have committed (this would not affect babies as they do not commit personal sin) and we receive the Holy Spirit, transforming us into temples of the Holy Spirit and begin to live a new life as children of God.
Baptism is a sacrament. A sacrament is “an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us by the work of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1131, 774). A sacramental is something different. A sacramental is a sacred sign “instituted by the Church…that bear a resemblance to the sacraments (CCC1667). One does not receive grace as one would through the sacraments. Sacramentals signify spiritual effects obtained through the intercession of the Church. Sacramentals include blessings, processions, devotions such as the Rosary, and objects such as holy water, palms, ashes, candles, and medals. They are signs of holiness which all people, especially the laity, can express their faith and draw others to the Lord.
Holy water is a sacramental. Every time we use it we are reminded of our own baptism. We remind ourselves that the Lord has cleansed us from our sins at baptism and continues to do so through Reconciliation and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. One year ago Pope Francis spoke these words: “Our baptism has changed us, given us a new and glorious hope, and empowered us to bring God’s redeeming love to all, particularly the poor, in whom we see the face of Christ. Our baptism has also given us a share in the Church’s mission of evangelization; as disciples, we are also missionaries” (Homily, 1/8/14). May we be reminded of the power of our own baptism each time we make use of holy water, calling us to a new life, being missionaries of love.
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