Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Baptism of the Lord

There was a couple who, though they loved their Catholic faith, decided not to have their children baptized. As they saw it, they could make their own decision when they were older.

Their family and friends were puzzled and alarmed by their decision and tried to encourage them to change their minds. They prayed hoping they would see the wisdom of having their children baptized even as infants.

Eventually, as the parents reflected on their decision, they did change their minds. They realized that their faith was the most important gift they had received from their own parents and that they wanted to pass it along to their children. They also understood that until the children were baptized, they could not receive their first Holy Communion. Not wanting to deprive them of that sacrament, they scheduled an appointment with the deacon to arrange the baptism.

We end our celebration of Christmas today with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own baptism. The vast majority of us would have been baptized as infants because our parents wanted to pass the faith they loved on to us. Baptizing babies has been the custom of our Church from the earliest days. In the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter is preaching to Cornelius, a Roman soldier. Later on in the story, Cornelius asks that he and his whole household be baptized. We can assume that children and infants would also have been baptized on that day.

Because we were baptized as infants, however, we have no memory of it other than the photographs and videos our parents would have kept for us. We cannot always understand how it has changed us or made a difference in our lives. But one thing is certain. We are different people because our parents decided to have us baptized. We received the gift of faith and became children of God. God planted the seed of everlasting life in our souls and it has been growing within us ever since. Whether we understand it or not - whether we appreciate it or not - our baptism was the most important day of our lives because it united us forever with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ baptism was an important day for him as well. All the gospel writers give it a prominent place in their accounts of his life. It marked the end of his hidden life in Nazareth and the beginning of his public ministry throughout Galilee and, eventually, to Jerusalem. On that day, God announced in a booming voice from heaven to all the world that Jesus was his beloved Son. And Jesus received the Holy Spirit who came down upon him in the form of a dove. It was that Spirit which gave him power to preach the good news, to heal the sick and to drive out demons. It was in the power of that Spirit that he rose from the dead.

Jesus’ baptism also reveals to us the meaning of our own baptism. Just as God proclaimed from heaven that Jesus was his Son, so, in the waters of this sacrament, we became children of God. Though all people - baptized or unbaptized - may be called children of God because they were all created by him - the baptized person is a child of God in a very special sense. Just as children enjoy the right to live in their father’s house, eat at the table and have their needs taken care of, so we - the sons and daughters of God- have all the blessings of his house at our disposal. We are enlightened by his word. We receive all the graces that come from the sacraments. And we are part of this community, the Church, which stretches out over all the world. Furthermore, just as children can expect to receive an inheritance from their parents, so we expect to receive as our inheritance everlasting life in the Kingdom of God. All these blessings are showered upon us in abundance because of the gift of our baptism.

As sons and daughters of God, we also live with a profound sense that we are loved by God. The gift of the Holy Spirit which came down upon Jesus at his baptism and which we received at ours, is the gift of God’s love. The Holy Spirit reveals to us how much our Father loves us. He teaches us that we are loved  just as we are. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or to make him love us less. No matter what sins we have committed in our past and no matter what situation we find ourselves in today, God continues to cherish us as his precious sons and daughters. This relationship is ours because we became his adopted children through baptism.

It is important for us as daughters and sons of God to spend time each day contemplating God’s love for us. It will help us to grow in confidence. When we face difficulties, we will endure them with more patience knowing our Father is by our side. We will make better choices because we will not want to disappoint our loving God. We will be less likely to turn to the cheap substitutes for God’s love such as overeating or impulsive shopping because we have experienced the real thing in Jesus. And we will overflow with joy knowing that all the abundant blessings of our Father’s house are ours, and we will want to share those gifts with others.

Knowing all the graces that are ours through baptism, why would we ever want to deprive any child of them? Why would we want to live any other way than the way of love Jesus has shown us? And how can we live our dignity as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father in such a way that others will want to join this wondrous household of faith?

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