This past Monday, January 8th, we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Often this will be on a Sunday, but when the Epiphany is celebrated on a Sunday after January 6th, the feast gets moved to the Monday after the Epiphany. This Sunday is the second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The Baptism of the Lord occurs when Jesus is about 30 years of age. And of course it’s not like a baptism we have today. Rather, in this action, Jesus is preparing for the start of his public ministry. He stands with other sinners and is baptized by John the Baptist. People would see John in the wilderness to go through the baptism ritual as a way of starting a new chapter in their lives. Jesus, in His baptism, shows us how He stands with us as sinners. Upon His baptism Mark’s Gospel tells us a voice comes from the heavens that says “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is the one we all hope for; now He begins His mission.
This mission is one that changes us. At our own baptism, we are claimed for Jesus. The sign of the cross is made on our forehead by the priest or deacon and we are named, signifying that we are special and unique to God. The water poured over us, the chrism on our forehead, and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” bring us closer to God. Through this, and through the mission of our Lord, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. The light of Christ shines with us every day, signified by the Easter Candle that is lit, from which the baptismal candle is then lit too.
What’s important to remember is that because we are created by God, and because of the actions of Christ, we are forever unique. We are not just one among many or a number, but we are forever loved by God. Nothing can separate us from that love. And that is important to remember in a world where we can compare ourselves to others, and in a society that values power and getting ahead. God’s Kingdom is not like “Survivor” where we have to compete and jockey with one another to win. The Crown of Eternal Life is there for us all. It just requires learning how to respond to our baptism. The Baptism of our Lord began His mission; He then carried that out in the three years that followed.
At the same time, what is important to remember too is that while baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ, we still deal with our humanity.
Whenever I would hold a baptism class, this was something I always talked about with new parents. I reminded them that while they love their children and will surely do much for them, they are also human. They will make mistakes. They’ll let them down; they’ll forget something; do something wrong, etc. That’s because they are human. And this of course goes for priests too. I go to confession because I am a sinner. I try my best as a priest, but I sometimes make mistakes. For instance a couple of weeks ago, I forgot that the feast of Mary, Mother of God was not obligatory as it was on a Monday, so we had two Masses that day, and perhaps some people who came thinking it was an obligation because they were not informed by the priest (oops!). Another time I completely lost my place in the Eucharistic Prayer and skipped over a part after the consecration had taken place (yes Mass was still valid that day). Interestingly with respect to the holy day a parishioner sent me a very kind note saying “thanks for talking about it, it shows you are a real person.”
The point is that we are all striving to grow towards sainthood. Baptism does make is extraordinary in a sense in how it brings us closer to God; it claims us for Him, and we receive His love in a special way. Sin is no kryptonite. But we must also never forget as we move forward, we’ll continually do good things while also making mistakes – hence the other sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation to help us along the way.
My homily for the Feast of Mary, Mother of God could be summed up in two words: “think little.” What I preached on was that it was a series of little things and actions we can do to show our love for God and others over the course of our lives. Certainly that’s what happened between Mary, Jesus and Joseph over the 30 years prior to Jesus starting His ministry. But those many little things surely also had a profound impact on Him. That’s something to also ponder as we now start this brief stretch of Ordinary Time for the next month (amazingly, Lent is just a month away!). God’s love is truly extraordinary in that it is perfect, forever, and unceasing and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. But we need to grow daily in learning how to respond to it – something that when you add up the many little things we do over a lifetime can truly take an ordinary soul and turn them into an extraordinary one called a saint, and do so much for other people too to help them on their journey through this life into the next.
Have a blessed week!