Immersed in Christ: January 10, 2021
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Baptized into Divine Life
The Lord will bless his people with peace. (Psalm 29)
How often do you think about the fact that your existence is an ongoing gift? The truth is, we remain in existence only because God, at this moment, is continuing to say, “Be!” How often do you go beyond this and marvel that, in addition to what you feel and experience as human life, God is also giving you divine life? He is sharing with you the Life by which he, God, has existed from all eternity and will exist for all eternity. You are living now with eternal life. How much of the time are you aware of this?
The Entrance Antiphon shows God the Father evangelizing by introducing Jesus to the world: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Doesn’t it make us want to ask, “Why?”
The Opening Prayer begins to tell us why. We pray that God our Father will “keep us, your children born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling.” The Father was pleased with Jesus because of what Jesus was: his “Son, the Beloved.” And because of what he was going to do: Jesus would make it possible for us to be “born of water and the Spirit.” To be also God’s children. And the Father is pleased with us for the same two reasons he is pleased with Jesus: because of what we are, beloved “sons and daughters in the Son” and because of what we are called to do. In us, Jesus continues his mission. If we are “faithful to our calling.”1
In the Prayer after Communion we ask the Father that “by listening to your Son with faith” we might “become your children in name and in fact” — that is, in action. For this we need to keep ourselves aware of what Baptism made us.
The Good News
We cannot read Isaiah 55:1-11 without being impelled to ask ourselves if we have really heard the Good News. And if we have heard it, understood it. And if we have understood it, kept ourselves aware of it. Isaiah cries out, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” Are we rushing to church, or to any place where we can hear the Good News explained and developed, the way people coming out of the desert rush to a water fountain? When we get off work, do we pick up the Bible before we turn on the television? Isaiah asks:
Why do you spend your money... and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good.... come to me; listen, so that you may live....
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
If we brush off Isaiah, will we also brush off God saying of Jesus, “This is my Beloved Son! Listen to him!”?
What we hear from Jesus is not like anything we hear on this earth. God says it through Isaiah:
My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God is offering to let us think with the thoughts of God and live a lifestyle on the level of God. Can we turn that down? Or have we never really heard and thought about what he is saying?
God invites with a promise. If we read his word, it will make a difference in our lives:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout..., so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose... for which I sent it.
How can we fail to try something that God himself promises will help us? Are we crazy? Or have we just never really heard the invitation? Never listened.
If we haven’t listened before, it is time to listen now. “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” And while he is still able to help us be “faithful to our calling.” If we are faithful, “The Lord will bless his people with peace.”
If Jesus teaches us to pray “hallowed be thy name”—to make it our first desire and effort in life that the Father should be known, appreciated and loved—we can take for granted that the Father inspires us to do the same for the Son. We look to the Gospel to find out what we can say.
In Mark 1:7-11 we find, first John the Baptizer, then the Father and the Spirit, saying of Jesus, “Hallowed be his name!” To John’s testimony the Father adds his voice and the Spirit his confirmation by descending on Jesus in the form of a dove.
“The spirit coming down” is an allusion to Isaiah 63:11,14, where God’s spirit is said to have come down upon the Israelites during the Exodus, just as in Exodus 19:11,18,20, God had come down upon Sinai to form his people. “Like a dove”: This was a symbol of Israel in the Bible (Hosea 11:11, Psalms 68:13; 74:19... Song of Songs, 1:15; 2:14; 4:1; 5:2, 12; 6:9) [and] in rabbinical commentaries.... Jesus is thus designated as the representative of God’s new people according to the Spirit.... It has ecclesial significance: Jesus embodies the new people of God being born in a new exodus.2
In all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, called “synoptic” –“same point of view”—because they are written from a similar point of view with a similar structure). God calls Jesus “my Son, the Beloved” (or in Luke 9:3, “my Chosen”) both at his baptism and at the transfiguration. He applies to Jesus what is prophesied in Isaiah 42:1-8: Jesus is the unique Son of God, the Servant anointed with God’s Spirit (as in “Messiah,” Hebrew for “anointed”).
All this will be for us nothing but abstract biblical scholarship—Wissenschaft—unless we read the passage from Isaiah and meditate about what it means for us personally.
John the Baptizer leads us into it: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That is something to think about. And to remain aware of.
What were you taught about your Baptism? That it “washed away Original Sin” and thus gave you a ticket to heaven? True though this is, it reflects a much later focus on Baptism that distracts us from its true mystery.
"The phrase, original sin, so far as we can discover, was first used in the fourth century. The first who used it was either St. Chrysostom, or Hilary.... Soon after Hilary's time, St. Augustine and other Christian writers brought it into common use.”3
St. Paul presents Baptism as the mystery of dying in Christ and rising again as his purified body to let Jesus continue his life and mission in us. Baptism is the gift of divine life that makes us true children of the Father “in” the Son. We are “heirs of heaven” because it has become our natural home, not just because our sins are taken away. It is not the absence of sin that gives us entrance into heaven but the presence of God’s divine life in us. We may have learned this in the Catechism, but it is probably not what our Catholic culture has made us most aware of. 4
The essence of our redemption is that by Baptism we have “become Christ.” We say to the Father at Mass: “You sent your Son as one like ourselves... that you might see and love in us what you see and love in Christ.” The Father now says about each one of us what he said about Jesus: “This is my Son, my Daughter, the Beloved.”5
1John 5:1-9 assures us:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.... Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory... our faith.
Just to believe in Jesus is already a victory over the darkness of this world and the blind spots in its cultures. But to keep the faith in a way that gives life, we have to remain aware of the mystery of graced existence. Then “The Lord will bless his people with peace.”
What more do you understand about Baptism now? And about who you are?
Put glasses of water where they will remind you of your Baptism. Bless yourself.
1 The 1985 English Roman Missal is more faithful to the spirit than to the letter of the Latin by using words that make us more aware of the practical meaning and mystery that inspired the prayer. In Latin “faithful to our calling” is just “persevering in what pleases you.” And the alternate prayer, “May we who share his humanity come to share [more in] his divinity,” gives theological depth to the anticlimactic Latin “May we who see him as like ourselves externally deserve to be interiorly reformed.” The translators were clearly theologians! 2 Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1068. 3 See The doctrine of original sin... in answer to Dr. Taylor, by John Wesley, Soule & Mason, 1817, Harvard University, digitized 2008. 4 Romans 6:3-11. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos, 683, 1265-1274, 1996-1999, 5 See Catechism of the Catholic Church no 795; Sunday Preface Vii for Ordinary Time.