Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of January is dedicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus: let us reverently pray His Holy Name and make reparation to our good Lord for the many times that His name is spoken with irreverence! This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. I share with you a reflection on our Lord‟s Baptism. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week: “The Baptism of the Lord: Jesus wished to be baptized. The institution of Christian Baptism. Thanksgiving. And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the Heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and a voice from Heaven saying: This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. (Matt. 3:16-17) In today‟s Feast we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John in the waters of the Jordan. Though He Himself had no stain to be washed away, He wished to submit Himself to this rite as He submitted Himself to the other requirements of the Law. He submitted Himself to the laws that ruled and governed the lives of the people of Israel who had been elected by God to prepare the way for the Redeemer. John the Baptist carried out energetically his mission to prophesy and arouse a great movement towards repentance as an immediate preparation for the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The Lord desired to be baptized, says St. Augustine, so that He might freely proclaim through His humility what for us was to be a necessity. (St. Augustine, Sermon 51, 33) By His Baptism Jesus left for us the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, directly instituted by Christ with what would be a further progressive determination of its elements, and be imposed as a universal law from the day of His Ascension. All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me, the Lord was to say on that day. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:13) In Baptism we receive Faith and grace. The day we were baptized was the most important day of our lives. Just as the parched land does not yield its fruits if it does not get water, so also we who were like dried sticks can produce fruits of life only if we receive freely the gentle and abundant rainfall of grace from on high. (St. Irenaeus, Treatise against Heretics, 3, 17) Before we received Baptism we were outside the locked gates of Paradise, unable to bring forth the slightest supernatural fruit. Today our prayer enables us to thank God for this totally undeserved gift, and to rejoice in the countless good things He has so lavishly bestowed on us. Thanksgiving is the very first emotion that should be born in us in response to our Baptism: the second is joy. Never should we think of our Baptism without deep feelings of interior gladness. (Abbott Marmion, Christ, the Life of the Soul) We must rejoice in the cleansing of our souls from the stain of original sin, and of any other sin we may have committed before our Baptism. All men are members of the same human family which was originally damaged by the sin of our first parents. This original sin is transmitted as an inextricable part of our fallen human nature, by generation, not by imitation, and is to be found individually in each one of us. (Paul VI, Credo of the People of God) But Jesus gave us Baptism as a specific means of purifying our human nature and freeing it from the terrible affliction of this sin we were born with. The baptismal water operates in a real way, signifying what the use of natural water signifies - the cleansing and purification from every blemish or stain. (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11 and John 3:3-6) Thanks to the Sacrament of Baptism you have been turned into a temple of the Holy Spirit, says St. Leo the Great. Don’t ever let it happen, he exhorts us, that you drive away so noble a Guest by your evil deeds, or ever again submit to the power of the demon: for the price you were bought with is the Blood of Christ. (St. Leo the Great, Christmas Homily, 3) The effects of Baptism: cleansing from original sin, new life, Divine Filiation. Entry into the Body of the Church. Almighty, eternal God, when the Spirit descended upon Jesus at His Baptism in the Jordan, You revealed Him as Your own beloved Son. Keep us, Your children born of water and the Holy Spirit, faithful to our calling. (Collect of the Mass) Baptism initiates us into the Christian life. It is a true birth into Supernatural Life. It is the new Life preached by the Apostles and spoken of by Jesus to Nicodemus: Truly I say to you that he who is not born again from on high cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: what is born of the flesh is flesh but what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6) The result of this new Life is a true divinization of man that gives him the power to bring forth supernatural fruit. Often the dignity of the baptized person is veiled, unfortunately, by the ordinary circumstance of his life so, like the saints, we must strive hard to live in accordance with that dignity at all costs. Our highest dignity, that of being children of God, conferred on us by Baptism, is the consequence of our re-birth. If human birth gives as its result „fatherhood‟ and „sonship‟, in a similar way those engendered by God are really His children. See what Love God the Father has for us that He has called us children of God! We really are! Beloved, now we are children of God and it is not yet shown what we shall be. (cf. 1 John 3:1-9)
The miracle of a new birth is achieved at the moment of Baptism by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The baptismal water is blessed on Easter night and in the prayers we ask: Just as the Spirit came upon Mary and produced in her the birth of Christ, so may it descend on the Church and produce in her maternal womb (the baptismal rite) the rebirth of the Children of God.
The profound reality corresponding to this graphic expression is that the newly baptized person is born again to a new life, the life of God and thus is His „son‟: And so we are sons, and heirs too, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. (cf. Rom. 8:14-17) Let us give thanks to our Father God for bestowing such gifts, gifts beyond all measure, upon us, upon each one of us. What great joy it is to think often about those realities! ‘Father’, said that big fellow, a good student at the university (I wonder what has become of him), ‘I was thinking of what you said to me - that I am a son of God! - and I found myself walking along the street, head up, chin out, and a proud feeling inside… a son of God!’ With sure conscience I advised him to encourage that ‘pride’. (J. Escriva, The Way, 274) Vocation to sanctity and the apostolate. The baptism of children: In the Church nobody is an isolated Christian. From the time of Baptism each person is part of a people, and the Chruch presents itself to the world as the true family of the Children of God. It was the Will of God to sanctify and save mankind, not in isolation, separated from one another or without forming a people that would acknowledge it in truth and serve it in holiness. (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 9) And Baptism is the door through which we enter the Church. (idem, 14; Ad Gentes, 7) And in the Church, precisely through Baptism, we are all called to holiness (idem, 11, 42), each one in his own state of life and condition, and to the exercise of the apostolate. The call to holiness and the consequent need for personal sanctification, is universal. Everyone - priests and laity - is called to holiness; and we have all received in Baptism the first fruits of a spiritual life which by its very nature will tend to maturity. (A. del Portillo, On Priesthood) Another truth intimately connected to the condition of being a member of the Church is the sacramental character a sure and indelible spiritual sign imprinted on the soul. (Dz-Sch, 852) It is like Christ‟s seal of possession on the soul of the baptized. Christ took possession of our souls at the moment we were baptized. He rescued us from sin by His Passion and Death. With these thoughts in mind we appreciate the Church‟s desire that children should receive early these gifts of God. (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction, 1980; cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 867) It has always urged parents to have their children baptized as soon as possible. It is a practical demonstration of Faith. Neglect to do so is not caring for their freedom, just as if one were to cause them hurt in their natural life, to neglect to feed, clothe, clean or care for them when they were unable to ask for those things for themselves. On the contrary, they have a right to receive this grace. What a wonderful apostolate there is for us to exercise in many cases - among friends, companions, acquaintances! Baptism brings into action something greater than any other good: grace and Faith; perhaps, eternal salvation. It can only be by ignorance and a distorted Faith that many children are deprived, even by their own Christian parents, of the greatest gift of their lives. Our prayer goes up to God this day asking that He many never allow this to happen. We have to thank our parents who brought us, perhaps just a few days after we were born, to receive this holy Sacrament.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may we grow in our awareness of the grace of Baptism, deepen our commitment to live in accord with our Baptismal commitments to God, and cooperate with His sanctifying grace! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel