The Baptism of the Lord
A Homily - Cycle A - 2007-2008

First Reading - Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4,3, 9-10, 11b
Second Reading - Acts 10:34-38
Gospel - Matthew 3:13-17

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Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Lord to the Magi.  God has revealed Himself not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.  The Magi represent the people of goodwill coming to Bethlehem from afar to worship the loving God of all mankind.  Jesus Christ is the beloved Son of God.  He himself is God co-existing with the Father.  The God-man begins the new chapter of our human history where every man and woman may find their own story being told.  It is the common story of our human existence seen in connection with that of the Divine: ultimately each one of us needs God and we only find our true satisfaction and fulfillment in the act of worship we render Him, for our duties toward the loving God require that we must know and love Him.  There is no better way for us to fulfill our duties than to give back to God what we owe Him.  And we owe Him WORSHIP.  In effect, the story of Jesus’ Baptism implicitly emphasizes this intrinsic truth about our life that we are God’s children and we should glorify Him.

The Catechism defines Worship as “adoration and honor given to God (CCC, p. 904).  It says, “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the creator and savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (#2096).  As a result, the Catechism points out, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world” (#2097).

The question often asked is, “Why did Jesus want to be baptized by John the Baptist?”  This question, in a way, was asked by John himself when he says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”  And, of course, the Gospel provides us with Jesus’ reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  The people who live according to God’s commandments are considered “righteous” or “just.”  Jesus, who is co-eternal with the Father, does not need to be baptized as John has pointed out, but He wants it as he begins his public ministry and preaches the Kingdom of God.  He willfully accepts God’s plan of salvation prepared from all eternity according to Divine Goodness.  Jesus, therefore, fulfills “all righteousness” in the sense that He only wishes to live according to the will of the Father and gives His life as a ransom for many.

In John 10:15, we find Jesus saying that “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”  He then goes on to say, “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30).  This revelation shows an intimate bond between Jesus and His Father.  This bond cannot be broken, and Jesus is totally aware of who God the Father is.  His knowledge of the Father is so perfect that He always desires to please Him and Him only.  What does God want for us?  St. John tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (3:16).  As the Son of God, Jesus clearly knows what His Father wants of Him, so He obediently and generously gives His life to God when He cries out on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46).  He chooses offering Himself this way to glorify the Father just as He says in John 17:4, “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.”

The Baptism of Jesus, if we put it in the context of His Salvific Mission, begins a journey that would be impossible without His willingness to glorify God by an act of self-offering.  What Jesus has accomplished on the Cross is the climax of love, through which He passionately reveals the Father who has revealed Him at His Baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus, by coming to John the Baptist to receive baptism, shows what needs to be done with regard to men’s salvation.  We too need to be baptized, but in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Through Baptism, we regain the Divine Life, which we had lost because of Adam’s sin, and become children of God.  We become an integral part of God’s Divine family.

John the Baptist spoke about the difference between his baptism and the Baptism from Jesus; the difference has its focus on the actual change of being.  Where John’s baptism only has a symbolic effect, Jesus’ Baptism confers grace that has a direct effect on the soul of the baptized.  In fact, as the Catechism teaches, the baptized “have ‘put on Christ.’  Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies” (CCC. 1227).  It makes them become a new people washed anew by the blood of the Lamb and empowers them with God-given dignities as His children.

Celebrating the Baptism of the Lord today, we thank God for the gift of our own baptism.  It makes us who we are as God’s people who long to “worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23).  Everyday, especially Sundays, we gather around the Altar with Christ to make a solemn act of worship of the Mass, giving praise and thanks to Almighty God for everything we have received in life, but, most of all, the gift of eternal life.  The Mass, therefore, is an action by which we unite ourselves with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, in offering the most perfect sacrifice, the gift of Himself as a sacrificial Victim, to the Father in the Holy Spirit.  At the same time, we are nourished by His words and life.

That is not all about the Mass.  We may try to learn everything about it but we will never fully grasp its mystery.  However, we need to be reminded that the Mass, as emphasized by the Second Vatican Council, “is the source and the summit of the whole of the Church’ worship and of the Christian Life” (“Instruction on the Worship of Eucharistic Mystery” Vatican Council II: the Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. Austin Flannery, O.P., Vol. 1, 1988, pp. 100-208).  We cannot fail to live it.

May we faithfully celebrate the gift of our Baptism by giving God due worship because of His goodness to our lives.

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