Year A 12th January 2020
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord could be considered the first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The liturgical cycle began in December last year with Advent followed by the Christmas Season and the Feast of the Epiphany. We now have six weeks of ordinary time ahead of us before we start the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the 26th February.
The day of Jesus’ baptism is one of the pivotal moments in his life.
It marks the beginning of what we traditionally call his “Public Life;” the three years in which Jesus travelled the roads of Galilee and Judea, preaching, teaching, healing, revealing the compassion, mercy and love of God and revealing his divinity as the Son of God, as the long awaited Messiah.
Up until this moment of his baptism, Jesus was known only as the son of Joseph and Mary. He was a humble carpenter, living and working in the village of Nazareth which at that time had a population of probably no more than a few hundred people; many of whom would have been related to Jesus in one way or another.
We know very little about the ‘hidden life’ of Jesus before his encounter with John the Baptist.
When John remonstrates with Jesus that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus rather than the other way round, Jesus says No! This is the right thing to do.
And so Jesus was baptised into our humanity, so that we can be baptised into his divinity.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that ‘the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and behold, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son.”
Two incredible events are captured in these two verses of scripture.
Heaven, which had been closed to all humanity since the fall of mankind, opens for Jesus; and in the second event, the Holy Trinity is revealed in the voice of the Father, in Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit represented by the dove, resting on Jesus.
Through the extraordinary sacrament of Baptism, we have direct and full access to the Trinity that is God.
In Baptism we are ‘born again’; a spiritual rebirth into a personal relationship with God through Jesus; we are welcomed into the communion of saints.
Non-Catholics sometimes question why we encourage the baptism of babies and young children who are unable to understand the profound significance of Baptism.
One argument often offered is that it would be better to defer baptism of children until they are adults when they can make a conscious choice for themselves.
As appealing as this argument might seem, it really is inconsistent with other choices parents make for their children, in the very best interests of their children.
Parents don’t usually give their children a choice when it comes to eating healthily or eating their vegetables, learning to read and write, and living by a moral code of behaviour. They enforce these things because they know that good nutrition, literacy and ethics are essential for responsible adulthood.
If we recognise that, from birth, a child has spiritual as well as educational, moral and physical needs, it seems irresponsible (and may I suggest even unchristian) to relegate the spiritual well being of our children to a choice they can make for themselves when they are adults.
Why would we not want to place our babies and children in the embrace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, in union with the communion of saints?
Our children will of course have the opportunity when they are older to affirm (or not) their baptism for themselves in the sacrament of Confirmation.
Sadly, some of them may well choose against belief just as they may choose, as adults, to neglect their health, their ongoing education and the moral code that they were taught as children.
I read a story recently about a young man from Brazil who identifies so closely with his favourite soccer club, Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro , that he has covered his entire torso, from his neck to his waist, with a tattoo in the colours of the team’s jersey; broad black and red horizontal stripes. Apparently it took 32 sessions and over 90 hours with a tattoo artist to complete.
We may doubt this young man’s sanity, but we can’t doubt his commitment and witness to his support for his team. He was willing to invest his money, time, and I suggest a fair amount of pain, to demonstrate his loyalty.
In baptism we are figuratively covered in holy water and holy oil to mark us, indelibly, as followers of Jesus; certainly not as visible as a tattoo but infinitely more powerful and profound. The colours of our baptism are visible in and through our words and actions.
Perhaps as a new year’s resolution we could choose to show our Christian colours more; be more conspicuous followers and supporters of Jesus.
Choose to be more compassionate and less selfish;
more tolerant and patient and less critical;
to listen more and argue less;
to pray more and complain less;
to love more and demand less.
In Matthew’s gospel, immediately after Jesus was baptised, he went into the desert where he was tormented and tempted by the devil.
Baptism doesn’t make us immune to evil but it gives us the strength to resist it.
Unlike Jesus, we will often fall victim to the temptations of the devil who in the words of St Peter (1Peter 5:8) is prowling round us like a hungry lion looking for someone to devour.
The year ahead will bring unexpected joys, new hopes, new opportunities and undoubtedly some surprises.
There will be also struggles, sicknesses and sorrows, disappointments, anxieties and doubts.
Baptism is given to us as an unconditional gift of love and grace and is the gateway to the other Sacrament, very particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, to sustain and nourish us through the trials and tribulations of life.
If we choose to believe and live in that grace, notwithstanding our sorry states of unworthiness and sinfulness, we need not fear what the morrow brings.
The Holy Spirit is with us and within us, always – no more than a simple pray away.
I wish you and your loved ones a blessed 2020.