One of the great strengths of our Catholic Church is its sense of history. The basis for our faith actually goes all the way back – before the time of Jesus and John the Baptist. It goes even beyond the time of the great Prophets – back to Joshua, Moses and the call of Abraham, and includes all who believed in the hope for the divine Messiah, the one who was coming into the world. Many of their adventures took place in and around the Holy Land. Moses led the people as far as the Jordan, and Joshua led them through it to enter the Promised Land. Elijah was taken up from Elisha beside the Jordan. This is one of the reasons Jesus goes there to be baptized by John, for the Jordan stands between the desert and the Promised Land. Through it we share the same faith as these ancient figures.
St. John the Baptist emerged from the desert wearing a prophet’s habit, to announce the arrival of the Messiah. This is why he is so prominent during Advent. But today, there is another new beginning, the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. John, in a way, represents the old covenant, which must now be fulfilled and give way to the new. Elsewhere, John says that he is the friend of the bridegroom, that Jesus must increase and John must decrease; John’s mission is coming to an end as Jesus’ ministry begins: “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That might make one wonder why Jesus submits to being baptized by John. We believe not only that Jesus is God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who creates and sustains everything, but also that, as a human, He is sinless, and had no need to wash for repentance. Why would a holy man desire baptism?
Traditionally, there are two answers to this. First, Jesus wished to be ritually washed by John to show full solidarity with us: like a good leader, He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t done Himself. Second, by going down into the waters of the Jordan, He sanctifies the waters of the whole world, to make them fitting for his own life-giving sacrament, which He gives to us through the Church. That symbolism continues in the Sacrament of Baptism. The consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water. For when the Savior is washed, all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then, so that Christians will follow after Him with confidence.
Spiritually, we go down into the Jordan with Christ, leaving the desert of this world, so that we can one day enter the promised land of heaven. Physically, of course, we still live in the world, in this desert. But we can prepare a way for the Lord, by living out our baptismal vows, by letting Christ feed us in this desert with himself as heavenly food, by working with Christ to establish his kingdom of peace and justice. At his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus sums up all that history of salvation, and begins his public mission of preaching the kingdom. He passed that mission on to the Apostles, and they pass it onto the whole Church; and, so, we carry on that mission today.
An important point made in the Gospels is that, following Our Lord’s baptism by John, Jesus was praying. Throughout his whole life on earth, prayer is a strong theme, and such is the case here. After Jesus has been baptized, two things happen: First, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. Second, a voice from heaven affirms Jesus as God’s beloved Son. Empowered with the Holy Spirit and affirmed as God’s Son, the way has now been prepared for us.
When we were baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon us and we were adopted as children of God. This makes the day of our baptism the most important day of our lives. What else could be more important or more significant for our lives than the day when we were baptized and became a son or daughter of God, capable of inheriting heaven? Everything flows from this: at our baptism, we are brought into loving relationship with God the Father, Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit; and it is this relationship that will bring us to everlasting happiness!
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Congratulations to our parishioner, FELIX CONTE, who celebrated his 100th Birthday this past Thursday! Felix and his wife, Barbara, have been longtime fixtures and supporters of our parish. Prior to the pandemic, they were regular attendees at our parish Sunday Mass.
May they continue to enjoy God’s blessings and the support of our whole parish family.