Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord

The painting above of the Baptism of Christ (ca. 1640) is by Francesco Albani (1578-1660). Albani was an Italian Baroque painter. It is found in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Baptism of the Lord concludes the Christmas season and the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” Christ’s Baptism is a further manifestation of who Jesus is. It is a further unveiling of the mystery of the Incarnation that occurred when Mary said yes to the message of the angel, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We might ask why was Christ baptized? He is God Himself. He was totally pure and without sin. Christ did many things that he didn’t have to do:

1) He is the Divine Word through whom all things came into existence. God did not need to create the world in order to be fulfilled. (John 1, 3).

2) He took on our human nature freely to save us from sin. (cf. John 1,11-14).

3) He paid the Temple tax, even though he was Lord of the Temple. (Mat. 17, 24-27).

4.) He gave his life freely on the cross that we might have eternal life. (cf. John 10, 18).

St. Augustine taught that Jesus was baptized out of humility to be an example for us who need to be baptized out of necessity.

St. Peter Chrysologus says of today’s feast: “Today Christ enters the Jordan to wash away the sin of the world. John himself testifies that this is why he has come: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Today a servant lays his hand on the Lord, a man lays his hand on God. John lays his hand on Christ, not to forgive but to receive forgiveness.

St. Maximus of Turin says: “Christ is baptized not to be made holy by the waters but to make the water holy.”

The Sacrament of Baptism was prefigured by an event long before Christ when Moses led the Jewish people out of the slavery of Egypt. It was the Lord who led them out of Egypt by a cloud of fire. The cloud of fire moved across the Red Sea and it split the sea in two so that Moses and all the Jews could cross and escape from the Egyptians who were chasing them to kill them. When they crossed through the Sea the Jews were saved from death at the hand of the Egyptians. When we were baptized, we were saved from eternal death due to sin.

Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, open eyes of the blind, set captives free, to proclaim Kingdom of God.

We share in Christ’s mission through our own Baptism. Baptism is a privilege we must live up to it or be more severely judged. By baptism, we are called to serve, not just spectators. Confirmation strengthens call we have from baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Pope Benedict XVI said “There is a profound relationship between Christ’s baptism and our baptism. In the Jordan, the heavens were opened (cf. Luke 3:21) to indicate that the Savior opened to us the way of salvation and that we can follow it precisely thanks to the new birth “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), which takes place in baptism. In it, we are introduced in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, we die and rise with him, we are clothed in him, as the Apostle Paul underlines on several occasions (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27).

The commitment that arises from baptism consists therefore in “listening” to Jesus, that is, to believe in him and follow him docilely doing his will, the will of God. In this way, each one of us can aspire to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council reminded, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May we be helped by Mary, mother of the beloved Son of God, to always be faithful to our Baptism.”

Through our Baptism we are called to holiness. Through our baptism we are called to transform our society. Christians are called to confront the culture of death and build a culture of life.
Today we call on Christ to help us to appreciate the gift of life and the gift of our own Baptism. Whatever your station in life, God wants to use you now to carry on the mission of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and lead others to Jesus.

One of the greatest tragedies about abortion is that not only does it deprive the innocent child of life, but also of the gift of the Sacrament of Baptism, though the Church teaches us we can commend these children to the mercy of God.

I would like to share a poem written by a grandmother who lost her own granddaughter to an abortion.

Dear Sara

I hope that you will pray every day for an end to the violence of abortion. Each one of us is called by our Baptism to build a world of true justice, to pray and work towards the day when every child will be able to celebrate their birthday and receive the gift of the Sacrament of Baptism

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