Catholic Culture – The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord. This brings to an end the season of Christmas. The Church recalls Our Lord’s second manifestation or epiphany which occurred on the occasion of His baptism in the Jordan. Jesus descended into the River to sanctify its waters and to give them the power to beget sons of God. The event takes on the importance of a second creation in which the entire Trinity intervenes.
In the Eastern Church this feast is called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan God appeared in three persons. The baptism of John was a sort of sacramental preparatory for the Baptism of Christ. It moved men to sentiments of repentance and induced them to confess their sins. Christ did not need the baptism of John. Although He appeared in the “substance of our flesh” and was recognized “outwardly like unto ourselves”, He was absolutely sinless and impeccable. He conferred upon the water the power of the true Baptism which would remove all the sins of the world: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sin of the world”.
Many of the incidents which accompanied Christ’s baptism are symbolical of what happened at our Baptism. At Christ’s baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him; at our Baptism the Trinity took its abode in our soul. At His baptism Christ was proclaimed the “Beloved Son” of the Father; at our Baptism we become the adopted sons of God. At Christ’s baptism the heavens were opened; at our Baptism heaven was opened to us. At His baptism Jesus prayed; after our Baptism we must pray to avoid actual sin.
Excerpted from Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas
The mystery of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by St John, the Precursor, proposes the contemplation of an already adult Jesus. This mystery is infinitely linked to the Solemnities of the Lord’s birth and the Epiphany that we have just celebrated, as in some ways it takes up and represents their significance to us.
At Christmas we have contemplated the human birth of the Word incarnate by the Virgin Mary. In the 4th century, the Fathers of the Church deepened the understanding of the faith with regard to the Christmas mystery in the light of Jesus’ Humanity. They spoke of the Incarnation of the Word already working like the ‘Christification’ of that humanity that he had assumed from His mother. Or put in simpler terms: Jesus is the Christ from the first instant of conception in Mary’s spotless womb because He Himself, with His Divine Power, consecrated, anointed and ‘Christified’ that human nature with which He became incarnate.
In the mystery of the Epiphany, we then meditated on Christ’s manifestation to all nations that was represented by the Magi, the wise men from the East, who came to adore the Child.
Now, in the mystery of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River, we again encounter and represent the truth of the Lord’s incarnation and His manifestation as the Christ. Jesus’ Baptism is in fact His definitive manifestation as the Messiah or Christ to Israel, and as the Son of the Father to the entire world. Here we find the dimension of the Epiphany which was His manifestation to all nations. The Father’s voice from heaven shows that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shows the Trinitarian nature of the Christian God. The true and unique God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shows Himself in Christ, through Him, with Him and in Him.
The Baptism in the Jordan returns to the great Christmas theme of ‘Christification,’ Jesus of Nazareth’s spiritual anointing, His presentation as the Anointed One par excellence, the Messiah or the One sent by the Father for the salvation of mankind. The Spirit that descended on Jesus shows and seals in an incontrovertible way the ‘Christification’ of Jesus’ humanity that the Word had already fulfilled from the first moment of His miraculous conception by Mary. Jesus, from the very beginning, was always the Lord’s Christ, He was always God. Yet, His one, true humanity, that which is perfect in every way, as the Gospel records, constantly grew in natural and supernatural perfection. ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with men’ (Lk2:52). In Israel at 30 years of age, one reached full maturity and therefore could become a master. Jesus came of age and the Spirit, descending and remaining on Him, definitively consecrated His whole being as the Christ.
The same Spirit, that descended on the water of the River Jordan wafted over the waters during the first creation (Gen 1:2). Therefore, the Baptism in the Jordan presents yet another truth: that Jesus has started a new creation. He is the second man (1 Cor 15:47) or the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), that comes to repair the first Adam’s guilt. He does this as the Lamb of God that takes away our sins. ‘Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realised what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners’ (Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Bloomsbury 2007, p 18).
Excerpted from the Congregation for the Clergy
Introductory Prayer: Almighty and eternal God, you are high above us in the heavens, and yet you are so near to me. I know that you love me infinitely. I rest in your love; I find my strength and hope in you alone. Thank you for loving me despite my sinfulness and complete unworthiness. In return, I offer you my whole self, along with my intense desire to put you first in my life.
Petition: Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours.
One Mightier Than I Is Coming: John knows who he is not. Proper self-knowledge is an essential step on the path to sanctity. John is attracting the attention of the multitudes in Israel. Many people would be flattered or even intoxicated with this notoriety. Yet John is not grasping for power, nor does he seek to be someone he is not. He is preparing people’s hearts for the true Christ. The Evil One will continually try to get us to look to ourselves and our own talents in an attempt to distract our eyes from God and his plan for us. John gives us a shining example of the triumph of humble self-knowledge over the wiles of the devil. When we are totally oriented toward God, we give rise to the desire to eliminate from our personal life any lie, vanity, and inflated opinion of ourselves. We begin to live in the truth, giving all the gifts God has granted us their real value. We use them for the service of his Kingdom, without taking anything for ourselves, since everything is his.
I Am Not Worthy to Loosen the Thongs of His Sandals: There is no holiness without humility. Simply understood, humility means living in the truth. This humility is born of a proper understanding of our relationship to God. It has nothing to do with a lack of self-respect – Jesus was humble, yet with utter self-possession and strength! Humility is the awareness that even our greatest talents come from God and are meant for his glory. In the end though, even John’s humility will pale in comparison to the humility that Jesus models for us in his life. “The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world — the cross — and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid” (Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, God Is Love, 35). Once again, we see that Jesus asks of us only what he himself has been willing to embrace. He is the source of the strength I need to practice this humility in my daily life.
Jesus Was Also Baptized: By being baptized, Jesus associates himself with sinful humanity. He has taken our flesh in the Incarnation. Now he sets out on the path of taking our sins upon himself so that he might redeem us from them. If it was a scandal for the Jewish people that God would become a man, how much more scandalous was it that he would be baptized, a manifest sign of repentance for sins? So great is God’s love for us that even this act is not beneath him. It is one of many steps by which he will allow his love for us to lead him even to the ignominy of the cross. Have I truly contemplated how important I am to Jesus?
Conversation with Christ: Blessed Lord, you went to the extreme of the cross to prove your love for me. You have borne my pride, and with your love and humility, you have proven yourself stronger than my greatest sin. Give me the strength and courage to follow you down the path of self-giving and humble service to those around me. Free me from the shackles of pride.
Resolution: Today I will read and reflect upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1262-1270.