I really enjoy attending a baptism. There is nothing like it to get us to remember our own baptism and the importance of this sacrament. Usually I have no idea who the person is who is being baptized since most of the time it is an infant. But whether it is someone who I know whose child is receiving the sacrament, an adult friend who is receiving the sacrament at Easter such as I experienced last year, or a total stranger, I enjoy being present at a baptism. The truth of it is that no one who is being baptized is really a stranger, or at least not after the baptism. Once they are baptized, the person is a member of the Body of Christ, a member of the same Body that I am. That makes us brothers or sisters in Christ.
As I witnessed a baptism on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord I remembered that baptism is actually the start of our new relationship with God. We become priest, prophet, and king; this means we have a mission that we embark upon when the time is right. For an infant, the parents and godparents are charged with making sure the child is educated in the faith, preparing him or her for the mission when it is appropriate. This means that the parents and godparents are supplying the faith, so to speak, until the child begins to receive other sacraments and has begun to live a mission into which they continue to grow. For adults, the period of catechumenate is the time in which they are preparing so that once the sacraments are received, they can move out into the world to live them.
Liturgically, we have spent time celebrating the coming of the Son of God into the world, an event that is the most monumental, unfathomable occurrence that has ever have taken place. We have spent time with paupers and wise men, Mary and Joseph, angels and even an evil king. We have contemplated the magnanimity of God, bending low to become one of us in order to bring us His Kingdom. Therefore it is fitting that after a time of joy and reflection upon the coming of the Lord, we move onto reflection on the purpose of His entrance into the world. The mission of Jesus was not static, but dynamic. There was movement from birth to ministry. Just as we have to move forward, knowing we cannot stay somewhere forever no matter how cozy and comfortable it is, so too, Jesus had to leave the manger and flee into a harsh world after a short time. When St. Joseph, His father, knew it was time to come back and settle in Galilee, he did not linger in Egypt, but returned. He knew it was time to move on. However, he waited for God to reveal to Him when the time was right.
We do not know what happened in the life of Jesus during the years in Egypt, nor do we know what took place between the return to Nazareth and His Baptism. We do know, however, that He went to Jerusalem yearly with His parents for Passover. We know Jesus lingered and was "left behind" once, causing His parents to return after three days of travel to find Him teaching the teachers. And we know that at this time, Jesus seemed to have awareness of who He was, but not of when the time had come to begin his mission. His parents seemed to know it was not the right time. Therefore He obeyed them and returned home. It was not yet time for Him to move on into His ministry.
We know that Jesus lived the years of preparation in "hiddenness." To be behind the scenes for all those years when He knew He was the Son of God with a mission to accomplish means He had to be listening to the wisdom of His parents who were essentially saying: "Not yet, Son." He learned humility from them, understanding that they had the role of raising Him as a young Jewish man, learning the customs and laws of their faith. His first teachers, that is, His parents, prepared Him well. At His baptism John the Baptizer protested that Jesus ought to be baptizing him and not the other way around; yet Jesus insisted it needed to be this way in order to fulfill that which had been promised. He learned this not just from His parents, but from the Father who sent Him. This shows us that we, too, need the teaching of the faith from our parents who help us to grow in relationship with our heavenly Father, too.
The Baptism began Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing; it is the beginning of His effort to move His people out of darkness and towards the Kingdom He came to build. By being baptized He is teaching us that we need baptism so we can really begin our relationship as adopted sons and daughters of God, working with Him to build the Kingdom. We need time to grow and prepare, to pray about what we are called to do as followers, each to his or her unique ministry, given our unique gifts and situations. If we are baptized as infants the preparation is that which is given by our parents and godparents and all those who educate us in the faith. If we are baptized as adults, the time of preparation is the RCIA as we come to understand more fully what we are going to receive and how to be fully alive in the faith.
The Baptism reveals not only who Jesus is, but it reveals who we are to Him, and most importantly, that all of us share a mission. We are His people who He loves so much that He shares everything with us. His ministry is ours. His people are ours. His Body and Blood are ours. His love is ours. His glory will be ours in the end. Conversely, our humanness is His, our bodily weakness is His, our pain and suffering is His, and even our sins become His, (in the respect that He takes them on, not that He commits sin.) The mission means movement from the comfortable to that which might be outside our comfort zone. There must be movement, but if we have been prepared, and if we continue to call upon the Lord in prayer, we can fulfill the mission to which we are uniquely called. Like Jesus, we need to continue to be in relationship with The Father, so that along the way we have His guidance. To be a disciple missioned through our baptism means we need to continually call upon God to help us in our day to day lives. We may be the only introduction to God some people ever experience. The Baptism of Jesus is inviting us to get out among His people, just as Pope Francis keeps insisting, but we need to know Him who we serve, also.
The Baptism of the Lord reveals not only the Son, but the truth about God as Trinity, reminding us that the Father sent the Son into the world for a reason. This connects Christmas to the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism and maybe this is why we celebrate it as the gateway to Ordinary Time. He comes as the Incarnation at Christmas and now we see the revealed Son beginning His ministry, the reason He came in the first place. This teaches us that we are given the gifts of life and the empowerment of Baptism to continue this mission in the way we are chosen and in the way we are called.
Pope Francis has said that we should celebrate the day of our baptism like a feast day since it is the day when our ministry as priest, prophet and king began. Do you know the day of your baptism? Mine was on May 15. Look up the date of your baptism and keep it as a feast as the Pope has suggested. It is the day when your preparation for ministry was initiated and it marks the beginning of your relationship as adopted son or daughter of God. Let us celebrate the day of our baptism to refresh our spiritual memory, renewing our relationship with the Father who sends us forth on a mission to complete the work begun by His Son.
May we have the courage to enter the journey anew! May we realize the gift of our own baptismal graces and ask the Lord to help us put them to use! May we have the strength to follow Jesus from Baptism into the mission as followers of His! May we recognize His presence in those to whom we minister and in those who minister to us! And may we celebrate baptism, knowing we are never alone, but that we are One Body in Christ! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord. Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The top photo is 'yours truly' on the day of my baptism.
The icon is San Jose en el Rio Grande by Fr. William hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/312-san-jose-en-el-rio-grande or at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-en-el-rio-grande-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The bottom photo is mine, taken of the Rio Grande outside of Taos, New Mexico.
For more on Pope Francis' statement on baptism see http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1400069.htm
Heart Speaks to Heart