Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when we mark the time when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. In following Jesus, we, too, get baptized, in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For the Mass, there are some options for the Scripture readings. One option for this year is from Paul’s letter to Titus, and I think it is a great description of what baptism is for us. The reading has two parts, one from Chapter 2, and the other from Chapter 3. In the first part, Paul writes: “Beloved: the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires … as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”
The second part is more poetic:
“When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deed we had done but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”
In baptism we are cleansed; we are freed from slavery to sin, and we become a people claimed for Christ! In baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and our reborn! All this is from the unconditional love and grace of God!
So when we read the Gospel account of Jesus’ baptism, when heaven is opened, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” we can know that love of God extends to us. Otherwise the Son of God would not have been born into the world to save us. Can we believe also that God is “well pleased” with us? This is a bit tricky, as we know we’re not perfect and we have sinned. If I were to take God’s words as meant also for me, it would be in the same context as we hear in Genesis, when God looked at what He created, and “saw how good it was.” In loving us into being, God is well pleased with us.
What is our response to being cleansed and renewed? What is our response to being baptized? Are we “eager to do what is good?” Are we willing to reject the “worldly desires” that are manifested in greed and lust and domination? Are we willing to reject the “godless ways” of hatred and fear and violence? This is part of the challenge that comes from our baptism. This is the challenge as we face the moral, social, and political issues of our day. As I reflected on the reading from the letter to Titus, the words “saving all and training us” struck me. Jesus did come to save us all. And He seeks to train us to love as He loves. The mission we have all been given by virtue of our baptism is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, by sharing above all, the love He has for the world.
Fr. Phil, CP