On this, the first Sunday of Ordinary Time, we recall the Baptism of the Lord, but in addition to remembering this historical event, we also are asked to call to mind our own Baptism.
Sometimes we think that Baptism is just one of those things from the past, perhaps from when we were infants, that doesn’t have all that much effect on our lives now. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s consider three effects of the Sacrament of Baptism. First, baptism washes away original sin and fills us with grace, which is Christ’s divine life in us. Baptism doesn’t remove or cancel all the effects of Original Sin. We still have a strong tendency, called concupiscence, toward sin. But through Baptism, we are filled with God’s life and are reunited with the Heavenly Father. Later in life, if we have fallen into sin (and we all do), we can experience the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Confession which restores us back into communion with God.
The second effect of baptism is that it emblazes an indelible mark on our souls. We become patterned after Jesus. Just as Jesus is the beloved son of God, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. Like Jesus, we can now refer to the first person of the Trinity as Our Father.
Finally, at our Baptism, the Holy Spirit is breathed into our souls. From that moment on, the divine presence of the third person of the Trinity is in abiding communion with us. Because of this indwelling of the Spirit in our hearts, minds and souls, all the baptized are united in the Mystical Body of Christ.
In this week’s readings, we hear the Father’s voice coming from heaven, we see the Son in the river, and we watch the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove. As we see the Trinity together for the first time in Scripture, we are reminded that these same three persons are a daily reality in our lives because we have been baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
First Reading Reflection
Isaiah chapter 40 begins what scholars call the Book of Consolation, the first prophetic proclamation of Gospel tidings that this holy feast of the Baptism of the Lord exactly fulfills. The vox clamantis in deserto, the voice of the Baptist is that clarion cry that calls us to attention and moral reformation in anticipation of the coming of our Lord and Savior. In the liturgical life of the Church, this mystery is presented to us soon after our celebration of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany cycle to remind us that the sweetness of the mysteries of the birth and infancy, with all the domestic joys that they evoke for us, holly-decked firesides and seasonal carols, are not where we are to remain in the journey of faith.
We are called out into the desert, that place where the evil one waits with his temptations, but also where Israel is wedded to her God in covenant. Each, the domestic and the desert, need their moment in life but to enter into the fullness of the glad tidings we must set out for the desert, that place where we have to cast ourselves entirely on God. That is where the Baptist leads, this new Elijah of the New Covenant, because the straight highway for the Lord is found only there.
Second Reading Reflection
In his pastoral letter to Titus, bishop of the Church in Crete, St. Paul reminds us that in Jesus Christ the “grace of God has appeared.” This grace, which has come to us through Baptism and Confirmation, what Paul calls “the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” makes Christians able to live in a new way. This change is a radical one in the deepest sense of that word (going down to the radix or root of a thing). In another verse from this part of Titus, St. Paul says, “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another” (3:3).
This is a picture of the world without the grace and mercy of Christ. It is the default position of the human race, the world we return to if we do not tend to the things of God in a serious way. So in this letter St. Paul counsels Bishop Titus to exhort his flock to live the grace they have received, “to reject ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, devoutly in this age.” We live in a culture that has been shaped by that grace and so it is easy to begin to take it for granted and to live worldly lives, seeking only the newest pleasures that modern technology provides or speaking and acting as those out- side the faith. But the veneer of the residual effects of grace wears thin in our culture and unless we live as Christians and not as the pagans do, we will soon see it, and ourselves, descend to that default position again.
Gospel Reading Reflection
There are so many mysteries in this short tableau from Luke’s Gospel! The whole of the centuries-long messianic longing of the people of Israel is suggested in a few words, and, too, the excitement over the appearance of John the Baptist, who describes himself, not as the messiah, but as the friend of the bridegroom, the promised one who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And then, in anticipation of that very Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan to show us the power present in the true sacrament that he will institute—in the presence of the Father, by voice, and the Holy Spirit, in the image of a dove, giving us the first Trinitarian disclosure in the public ministry of Jesus. It is the life and power of the Trinity that Baptism will impart to us.
And still another gift is given in Baptism, which this text makes clear. In the note on the last verse in this reading in the Revised Standard Version we find that the Greek says not so much “my beloved Son,” as “my Son, my Beloved.” That hints that there is an original Hebrew or Aramaic phrase beneath the Greek. In Hebrew, the phrase would be ben David, literally, “son of David,” but the name “David,” translates from the Hebrew as “Beloved.” So in this one sentence we see that Jesus is the beloved of God, the Son of the Father, and the inheritor of the throne of David! And we, too, are drawn mysteriously into his status as beloved Son and heir to the kingdom in the Baptism that his entry into the Jordan makes possible.
With your family, friends or small group, watch the short Opening the Word video on the community page at FORMED.org. Then discuss the following questions:
What are the three effects of Baptism? What are some ways in which we all still experience the consequences of Original Sin?
At Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon us in order to help us to become more like Jesus. What are some of the ways that the Spirit aids us to be more Christ-like?
Reflections reprinted here with permission from Augustine Institute.