Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Baptism of the Lord

Father John J. Lombardi

I was listening to a radio preacher recently (trying to get some help!) on the subject of Christmas and God giving us His only begotten Son (see Jn. 3:16), and this inspired man said a remarkable thing I've never heard or thought about: He said that as a married man and father, he himself would give his own life for someone else but wouldn't give his son or daughter over for sacrifice. Wow! That made complete sense, and: Ditto for me, most of us, and, that put Christmas and Calvary in better perspective and Light. Now I know more how much God loves us!

Today we celebrate the end of Christmas (Yes: it's true-the Season of Christmas lasts until dusk tonight-so keep celebrating!). Anyway, today we celebrate with Our Lord's Baptism. This may be beguiling-why should a sinless Lord be baptized. Answer: Because He wants to show us the Way and Path to Salvation thru the sacraments.

Question: What do Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul, baseball players, "Joe Catholic," St John the Baptist and Jewish persons all have in common? Answer: They are all seeking clues. Clues, respectively, to political gain, an edge in a baseball game, an enlightenment into the spiritual life and just Who the Messiah really is! Upshot: clues and signs are all around and we need to learn them.

Now, why does Jesus Christ, without sin, choose to be baptized? In this Sunday's Gospel (St. Mt. 3: 13-17) there are a few answers to the question above: A1: Clues for the Jews. This means the promised Messiah would be identified by Jewish customs and signs (clues) as to His identity. In this case, they are: St John's baptism of repentance of Christ (even though He had nothing to repent of: see below). Any aware Jew would have recognized the Messiah this way. Another: The Spirit descending like a Dove was reminiscent of the Dove appearing after the Great Flood and God's salvation and trust in humanity. No-brainer, right?! And, lastly, the Father speaking after Christ's baptism, "This is My Son in Whom I am well pleased". So there: While God is sometimes mysterious and "hidden" to us, He also gives many clues to His Providence and Love for us. So see these clues-be obvious not oblivious--and thank Him! Remember: some Jews are still looking for the Messiah. Now, if you knew a person was looking for SomeOne and you "had" that SomeOne (read: Jesus Christ!) wouldn't you point him out to your friend? Point: we all must evangelize and not leave it up to others. Don't be intimidated: be inspired!

A2: Divinity Sharing with us: The priest at Mass says in an inaudible prayer as he pours the water (symbolizing life giving water of baptism) into the wine of chalice: "By the mingling of this water into wine may we share in Christ's Divinity Who shared in our humanity." A beautiful prayer expressing our Faith! Namely: that Christ shared our human nature; namely that we share in His Divinity (in some clumsy way, albeit-see II Pt. 1:4); and namely, again: He restores, changes our human nature to and by His Divine Nature. Saints did wild wonderful things like levitate at Mass (Padre Pio) and, well, simple, great things-like feed the poor, like Bl. Damien the Leper priest, and St Therese of Lisieux who prayed and meditated intensely. So share in Christ's Nature by beautiful prayer and holy works of love.

A3: Christ is baptized to commune with our sinfulness-although He Himself was sinless--He would take our sinful nature as in a holocaust, and all sins on the Cross of Calvary to die to them, overcome sin and alleviate our punishments. Christ's baptism plunges Him into our sinful world of death and, well read on (A5 below)…

Recently I read some news stories and was flabbergasted by-and enlightened into-- our human

nature and also into why Christ was baptized. One story told of a man who had a dispute with his wife and then took their four children and killed them. Another story: In Las Vegas (What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay there, mind you) reported how a group brought in a trailer to a populous place there, mobile-like to evade "the radar of the law" and capitalize on others, housing gambling machines, complete with food and toilette, so that, well, people could gamble. The group was being prosecuted for faulty forms of propriety. I thought: what lengths some will go to promote gambling, and others to "just do it". Lastly, I heard of "suicide bombers" (read-terrorists) in Iraq who went to a funeral, a mourner's ritual mind you, and blew themselves up and murdered ten persons in process. Can you believe it? Travesties and clues, un-oblivious signs these, of our fallen humanity, our sinful human nature. If anyone rejects reality of sin in our world today just remember or recount these stories. Upshot: The Lord Most Pure shares in our sufferings and takes on our sin nature-He is not a remote robotic God Who saves us from afar but fuses to Himself our humanity with all its yuck and evil. Call this Divine Solidarity, and be thankful-by fusing your human nature to His Divinity, and respond! Know and realize both the divine and dark depths of our humanity. St Phillip Neri, "Joyful Saint," prayed: "Lord: keep your hand on Phillipo, for today he may betray you. Oppositely, St Catherine of Siena, beautiful Italian lady and saintly soul, once said: "In your nature O Eternal Godhead, I know my nature."

A4: To show us the Way to Righteousness---I was recently visiting a drug treatment center and asked the clients: "Why was Christ baptized if he was sinless?" Immediately, one person (a Catholic I found out as she later made the sign of the Cross!) responded: "Christ was baptized to be as an example for us to follow." Yes: right on! Now, think: Christ did other things like fasting, retreated, prayed, pilgrimaged, and, even though God, did all this because He wanted to not only show us a Way but exemplify it for us. So He wants your children (or you!) to be baptized-don't delay call for baptism today! Your child or you will receive Sanctifying Grace-that Most Beautiful Gift of God's very Life and Love within--even though children may not intellectually understand or completely respond: God still dwells within them, in us, thru the precious gift of baptism!

A5: He rises from the waters of baptism (death) and triumphs into Resurrection. We must always remember this. Sin has no ultimate power over us-it cannot fully encompass us as the Christ overcame it-since He was truly God and Man, embodying our human nature: He went down and came up. An ancient bishop, Basil of Sileucia (+ 459), writes eloquently: "Consider what baptism is and proclaim its grace. All blessings are contained in it. It purifies the world, it restores nature. It is a speedy redemption, a simple remedy, a liquid fire that burns sin away, a sponge that purifies the conscience, a garment that never wears out. It is a womb that conceives without passion, a tomb in which those who are buried are born again. It is the ocean in which sins are drowned; the seal of Him Who takes possession of the fortress. It is the stream that extinguishes the fires of Hell, the grace that gives admission to the supper of the Lord."

A6: Revelation of the Blessed Trinity: Christ is the God-Man (the Second Person of the Trinity); the Dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit (Third Person of the Godhead) and the Father speaks at the Baptism (He is called the "ground of the Godhead). Now this Trinity is Ultimate Reality (all else is passing); the Trinity is personal (not just a force or nebulous spirit); the Trinity is communal life-kinda' like a family is, or friends are; the Holy Trinity is our goal-to live with God happily here on Earth and spend Eternity with Him forever. Now, that's enough of the clues: use them - don't refuse!

Briefly Noted

Politics and Religion-do they mix? Of course. The question is, In what way? As many in our U.S. of A. prepare for voting in primary campaigns, our U.S. Bishops have formed a document to help us vote: not telling us who to vote for but reminding us of Catholic moral and social principles to guide our voting and choices. Following are excerpts from "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship"-- paragraphs 34-38:

  • 34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.
  • 35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
  • 36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.
  • 37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.38. It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual's salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being."

Consider the priesthood or Religious life: Sunday, January 13th begins National Vocation Awareness Week for the United States. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a perfect time for our young people and young adults about finding our vocation to holiness in our own baptism and then figuring out where God is asking us to use our talents…Be holy where you are and pray for vocations!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi