By Fr Seán Maguire
The Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus in January. The feast brings the Christmas season to a close and marks the beginning of ‘Ordinary Time’. The Sacrament of Baptism has been explored in detail in recent editions of Totus Tuus, so in this last article on Baptism, we will reflect on the Baptism of Jesus and reflect on how it impacts us profoundly.
The Church ponders Luke’s account of Our Lord’s Baptism in its liturgy this year: “Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’” (Luke 3:21-22) This gospel passage is rich in symbolism. Jesus prays after his baptism. The baptised are likewise called to a life of prayer. The heavens were opened for Jesus. Similarly, Heaven was opened to us at baptism. We see the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove. We become Temples of the Holy Spirit in baptism and the Holy Trinity takes possession of our souls. Christ was proclaimed the “Beloved Son” of the Father. We become God’s adopted children through the church’s baptismal womb.
It is important to remember that Jesus did not need to be baptised by John because John’s Baptism was one of repentance. St Augustine explains that “the Lord desired to be baptised so that he might freely proclaim through his humility what for us was to be a necessity.” Jesus was fully human but he was absolutely sinless and impeccable. Yet he chose to humble himself and be baptised by John in order to sanctify the waters of baptism. He gave the baptismal water power which could remove all the sins of the world. So Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Christian baptism in the Jordan River.
In one of his homilies, Pope Benedict said that “the Baptism of Jesus introduces us into the daily regularity of a personal relationship with him. Indeed, by immersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus united himself with us. Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge he built between himself and us, the road on which he makes himself accessible to us. It is the divine rainbow over our lives, the promise of God’s great “yes”, the door of hope”. Benedict continues that Baptism shows us what path we must “take actively and joyfully in order to encounter him and feel loved by him.”
So because of our baptism, Jesus is close to us, he dwells within us and calls us each day to encounter him in prayer and in the bits and pieces of our everyday lives. That is how much he loves us. It is no wonder then that Blessed Marmion once said: “Never should we think of our baptism without deep feelings of interior gladness.”
I hope you have come to a deeper appreciation of the Sacrament of Baptism. Our baptism certainly wasn’t a one-day wonder but it is something that affects us deeply. It transforms our identity. It is truly the greatest gift of our lives, where we are born into the supernatural life of God.
I will conclude these reflections on this sacrament by sharing Pope Francis’ words which he proclaimed in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate: “Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5:22-23)”