The Baptism of the Lord – Fr. Pete Iorio
January 12, 2020 – 8:30 AM
My dad who is a lifelong Catholic texted me last week. It said: Pete, the official end of the Christmas season is Epiphany, right? I texted back: Actually it is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is next Sunday. He texted, “Well, it is too late. I already took down my Christmas decorations.” Probably the majority of Catholics like him would think similarly. And in some years, the Baptism of the Lord is not celebrated on a Sunday because of the way the calendar plays out.
It is often asked why the Christmas Season ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus is already an adult when he is baptized. I like this answer from Saint Maximus of Turin who died in the 5th century who said: Reason demands that this feast of the Lord’s baptism, should follow soon after the Lord’s birthday, during the same season, even though many years intervened between the two events.
At Christmas he was born a man; today he is reborn sacramentally. Then he was born from the Virgin; today he is born in mystery. When he was born a man, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in mystery, God the Father embraces him with his voice when he says: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: listen to him. The mother caresses the tender baby on her lap; the Father serves his Son by his loving testimony. The mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshiped by all the nations.
Another question arises from John the Baptist himself in today’s Gospel reading: Why are you asking to be baptized by me? Jesus says the answer is to fulfill all righteousness. In other words, He wanted to submit to everything human beings submit to…thus emphasizing that He is fully human and fully divine.
I would say that every human longs to hear or needs to hear the words that Jesus heard. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Gospel of Mark has God the Father’s voice speaking directly to His Son Jesus: You are my beloved Son.
We cannot start the spiritual journey on a negative foundation. If we just seek God out of fear or guilt or shame, we won’t go very far. If we start with the negative, we tend to go negative. We have to begin positively by a wonderful experience that is larger than life. Something that dips us into the depths of our own being. That is what baptism means in Greek BAPTIZO … to be dipped into something.
If we have never had anyone believe in us, affirm us, take delight in us, call us beloved, we do not have a positive place to begin. There is nothing exciting and wonderful to start with. And because trinity is all about relationship, the word of loving affirmation must come from someone greater than ourselves. That is what parents are for. The real job description of a mother or a father is to communicate to that child that they are a beloved eternally existing child of God. This does not mean that they are perfect, but they are loved. Parents mirror the love that God has for all His children. God is Love.
Many people were told that they had to earn it and work for it. Most people think that they are never good enough or holy enough. If the world tells you that we are no good and we can’t do it, we may tend to follow that direction.
It is interesting that Jesus was 30 years old when his baptism happens. AND, He has barely said anything in the Gospels up till now. Looking at this event symbolically, we can say that until we know that we are a beloved son or daughter of God, we really don’t have anything meaningful to say. If we are filled with self-doubt or self-hatred, we most likely have no good news for the world.
In baptism, Jesus was dipped into the mystery of life and death and love. Even He, the unique son of God had to hear it with his own ears. And after that, He has plenty to say. He has found his own identity and own meaning and purpose and mission. The sacrament of Baptism is our initiation rite. We are washed clean of all original sin and the guilt, negativity and shame that comes with sin. In essence, the Body of Christ, the Church which includes the voice of God the Father, says to the child or adult being baptized: You are my beloved son or daughter, and in you, I am well pleased. Until that happens on some level, in some way, basically our life has not begun. We don’t know who you are. In answer to the question: who are you? we respond with our roles: a student, a doctor, lawyer, priest, housekeeper, mother, father, policeman, executive, whatever… These are all great, but they do not state your true identity. These are temporary earthly roles.
Who you are for all eternity is your identity. Who you are is who you are in the eyes of God is your identity.
The only purpose of the Gospel is to tell us the one eternal truth. Once we get that, nothing can stop us. No one can take it away from us because no one else can give it to us… except the voice of God. The job of a preacher is to try to replicate and resound that one eternal message of God that initiates everything good on this earth. My brothers and sisters: You are beloved sons and you are beloved daughters of God. No one can give that to you, and no one can take that away from you except you yourself by refusing to believe it.
Even when we mess up and sin, even when we run away, remember the love of the Prodigal father who always welcomes us back. He helps us to remember what we have denied or have forgotten: You are my beloved child. In you, I am well pleased.