Homily – Deacon Pat Kearns
The Baptism of our Lord (Year B) Mark 1:7-11
Today we celebrate the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. This celebration marks a turning point in the Church’s liturgical calendar. This weekend the Christmas season ends and we will once again return to ordinary time. Although today’s Gospel message is short in length, having only 6 sentences, it contains an abundance of meaning for us as followers of Christ. We are presented with an example of Faith, Humility, and also the revelation of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Gospel begins with John proclaiming that one greater than himself will be coming, that he is not worthy to be compared to one that is to come, and that there will be a new type on baptism of much greater importance than what he can administer. John is quick to direct attention away from himself and onto the awaited messiah. He exhibits sincere and true humility. He also clarifies that there will be a notable and profound difference between his baptism of water and that of a baptism with the Holy Spirit. In John’s baptism, as with the other rites of the Old Testament, grace was only signified or symbolized. In his baptism the external act of cleansing was just that, an outward gesture of a desire for repentance. However, the new baptism, the one instituted by Christ not only signifies grace, but is the effective cause of grace, it actually confers grace.
Saint Pius X explained, “Baptism confers the first sanctifying grace and the supernatural virtues, taking away Original Sin and any other personal sins [as with an adult baptism], as well as the entire debt of punishment which the baptized person owes for sin. In addition, baptism impresses the Christian Character in the soul and makes it able to receive the other Sacraments.” Powerful, isn’t it? It all starts with baptism.
I think it is also pertinent to point out that this act of baptism by Jesus is also his initial act of becoming public and beginning his public ministry. Until then, his life was mostly hidden.
Often the question is asked, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?” especially if his was without sin? The answer is, “He didn’t,” at least not in the same sense as to why we must be baptized. Yet, His baptismal act not only connected him with all of humanity it also set a precedent for others to follow. He in essence was leading the way and teaching by example. And it was through His baptism that sanctified the waters of baptism for all who were to follow for all of eternity, and also revealed to us the Holy Trinity. On coming up and out of the water the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven claiming Jesus as God’s son. There it is! The Trinity revealed.
- Jesus as the Son of God
- The Holy Spirit expressed as a dove
- And God speaking from heaven
This baptism was the public manifestation of Jesus as Son of God and as Messiah, ratified by the presence of the Blessed Trinity.
Saint Thomas Aquinas described the event as follows: “The Holy Spirit descended visibly in bodily form upon Christ when he was baptized so that we may believe Him to descend invisibly upon all those who are baptized afterwards.” Yes, we must have faith to believe, yet Christ and God knew that, and that is why they gave us a sign to help us believe.
And there are a few more things for us to consider from this short Gospel reading. In Christ’s baptism He laid the foundation for a new dispensation of grace. From that moment the baptized received remission from sin, became a child of God, a member of His church, and a citizen of heaven. This baptism becomes the gateway to the life of grace and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments. It is a necessary act for a life in Christ. It also defines our rights and responsibilities as a Christian, our privileges, and our mission. It is through our baptism, and living out of our baptismal promises that unites us with Christ and in this union we can find the strength to go about doing good and living as beloved sons and daughters by faith in the Son of God who lives in us. It is the duty of the baptized then to make a life of grace, a daily life of avoiding sin.
Now knowing this, let us take a moment and reflect upon our lives, our actions, our habits, and our interests, especially in light of who were are called to be as sons and daughters of God. We are called to be holy, disciplined, charitable, forgiving, compassionate, and most of all, loving. Well, do we hit the mark? Or is there room for improvement? Probably some room for improvement, at least in my case, maybe in yours as well.
So where do we begin? All it takes is one visit with the priest for confession to purify our souls, remove the barriers of God’s grace, and to return our souls to the state of our baptism, sinless.
In closing, and following the example of John the Baptist, let us today respond in faith and humility, opening ourselves to the effects of the Holy Trinity, and commit to living profoundly deeper and meaningful lives as Christians.
All this from just six short sentences from the Gospel of Mark! :)
Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!