FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
“Daughters and sons in the Son” —filii in Filio
Appreciating Christ’s Baptism as Revelation, ours as Transformation.
How would you answer now the basic question of life: “Who is Jesus Christ for you?” How would you answer the second question: “Who are you?”
Does the answer to the first question give you the answer to the second?
The Entrance Antiphon shows God the Father introducing Jesus to the world: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
In the Opening Prayer we claim the same identity for ourselves, with this difference: we are children of God, not by nature, but by a special kind of “adoption” that is the grace, the “favor,” of actually sharing in the divine life of Christ. Therefore, for us it is not natural to act on the level of God. We can, but only if we choose to act by the Spirit given to us. So we pray that the Father will always be well pleased” with us by keeping us “faithful to our calling.”
In the Alternate Opening Prayer we ask for this again. We ask that we whose humanity makes us like Jesus externally might be reformed interiorly — re-shaped, re-structured in mind and will and heart by reflection on his words — so that our actions will show us to be like him in sharing his divinity.
In the Prayer over the Gifts, as we present the bread and wine to be placed on the altar as symbols of ourselves, we acknowledge that we can only live on Christ’s divine level by “becoming one with him” in the sacrifice he made on the cross. We are divine because we died in Christ by Baptism and rose with him out of the waters of Baptism with a new identity: sons and daughters of the Father “in Christ” the Son. We “present our bodies” again under the symbols of the bread and wine as a pledge that we will try to live out the mystery by which we “became Christ.” 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 nourish our divine life with the “bread of heaven,” which the Church understands to mean both the word of God and the body of Christ received in Eucharist. Both are offered to us in the Mass.
Sent with News
In Matthew 3:13-17 we see Jesus introduced to the world by the Father’s voice and the Spirit’s descent. In the Preface for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord we say to the Father: “Your Spirit was seen as a dove revealing Jesus as your servant.”
We who “become Christ” by Baptism need to be identified, introduced to the world in the same way. It is not enough that the Father, speaking through the Church, claims us as his children and Jesus gives us his name as Christians. It also has to be visible to others that God is “anointing us” with his Spirit to do for the world what Jesus came to do. We, as Christ’s body on earth, are “sent to bring to the poor the good news of salvation.” All of us.
Pope Paul VI said the Church “exists to evangelize.” That means you and I exist to evangelize. We are the Church. If we are not evangelizing, we are not being “faithful to our calling.” We are not living up to our identity. We are not being authentically what we are.
This calls us to discipleship — not to just “following Jesus,” which is what people commonly assume it means to be a “disciple.” A disciple is a “student.” If we are not committed students of the mind and heart of Christ as revealed in his words, we are simply not disciples. And we are not equipped to evangelize.
When the Father introduced Jesus as his “beloved Son” the second time — when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain — Matthew, Mark and Luke all say he added the words, “Listen to him.” The point is pretty clear: If we have been properly introduced to Jesus, we will be listening to him; that is, to his words. In this age of literacy, to “listen” includes to read. So if we are listening, we are reading Scripture. If we are not reading Scripture we are not listening. And if we are not listening, we do not know Jesus Christ. 2
Strong words. In the Second Vatican Council the Church made them her own by quoting St. Jerome: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” If we are ignorant of Christ, we have not heard the Good News. And so the Church “earnestly and specifically urges all the Christian faithful... to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scripture the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ.” Until we do we cannot evangelize others, because we have not been evangelized ourselves. 3
Is it any wonder that four of the last popes have called for a “new evangelization”? We know what is wrong. We know why Christians are not having as much effect on the world as we should have. We just need to do something about it.
Some Christians are transforming the world. We have an impressive number of modern saints, heroes and martyrs who are “bringing to the poor the good news of salvation.” Many of them are rich themselves, but are sharing their time, talents and resources with others in need. The question is, what have you done to spread the Good News? What are you doing? What will you do?
And what are you doing to prepare yourself?
Servant and Spirit
Isaiah 42: 1-7 makes the call to “be Christ” about as inspiring as it gets. He describes first what the Messiah will be; then how he is going to fulfill his mission, then what that mission is.
The Messiah, God says, “is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” Wouldn’t you like God to say this of you? Then be the “messiah of the Messiah,” anointed in Baptism to let Jesus continue his saving work in you.
The Messiah will do his work gently, with patience and compassion for people: “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus will work with whatever we give him to work with. He rejects no one. Are you still afraid to volunteer?
Jesus’ mission was and is to “bring forth justice to the nations,” not through worldly power and force, but through the persuasive power of truth and the irresistible force of love. He came to be “a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out... from the prison those who live in darkness.” There are no prison walls so confining as the “box” of cultural conditioning. Unless Jesus frees us to think “out of the box” by faith, we will “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” with no one to “guide our feet into the way of peace.”4
A good example of confining cultural conditioning is “Relativism,” which Benedict XVI has identified as the “central problem for faith today” because it is a “self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable.” It is “ultimately based on a rationalism which declares that reason... is incapable of metaphysical knowledge.” It is a despairing “resignation before the immensity of the truth” that keeps human beings from aspiring to become anything more than highly skilled, effective technologists. Those who have subjected themselves to the “dictatorship of relativism” are imprisoned in the darkness of “Lucifer,” mendacious “bearer of light.” Jesus, on the other hand, is “the true light, which enlightens everyone.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Jesus invites us to enter into that light by becoming his disciples. It we do, the Responsorial (Psalm 29) tells us, “The Lord will bless his people with peace.”
The “Good News of Peace”:
In Acts 10:34-38 Peter announces this blessing to the Gentiles assembled in the house of the Roman centurion, Cornelius. He delivers to them “the message of ‘the Good News of peace’ proclaimed through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all.”
Christians can offer this message of peace to the world. And we are charged to do so. First we need to experience it in our hearts through reflection on God’s words. Then we need to express it in our lives. And through this we need to give it to others. The Church ”wants the whole world to hear the summons to salvation, so that through hearing it may believe, through belief it may hope, through hope it may come to love.” And through love “The Lord will bless his people with peace.”5
Now who do you say that Jesus is? And who are you?
Read Scripture. Live what you read. Share what you experience.
1 Romans 12:1 and Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 795, quoting St. Augustine.
2 Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.
3 Philippians 3:8; “On Divine Revelation,” no. 25; quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 133.
4 Luke 1:79; Matthew 4:16.
5 Vatican II, “On Divine Revelation,” no. 1.