The Baptsim of the Lord

Sometimes the Sacrament of baptism is almost totally identified with taking away original sin. While that was and is true, it is only one part of the sacrament and often a misunderstood part. The concept of original sin refers not to an action but to a relationship with our Father [1].

But what did baptism mean? What did the Jesus mean when he told his disciples to go out and baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Since Jesus did not need to be freed from original sin, what did his baptism by John mean?

The Church asked itself these questions during the Second Vatican Council[2]. It studied and recovered that which was always there but had been either forgotten or simply pushed aside. The Council emphasized these three truths about baptism: 1) Baptism is an initiation into the people of God; 2) Baptism is a call to discipleship; and 3) Baptism is a commissioning.

Baptism is not just a christening, a signing with Jesus Christ. Baptism is a commissioning. The baptized are called to ministry, to do the work of God. All of us, not just priests, all of us are commissioned through our baptism to be representatives of Jesus. All of us were chosen by God for his mission. Our Lord told us, it is not you who chose me, it is I who chose you[3]

Baptism means for us exactly what it meant for Jesus that day he stepped into the River Jordan and was washed by John. He was beginning his public life, his mission. His baptism was his initiation, his entrance into that mission. He emerged from the water commissioned by the Father to do his work. In the waters of baptism we have been initiated, called and commissioned. We have been initiated into a worldwide people, called to discipleship and commissioned to ministry.

A perfect opportunity to exercise our compromise as Christians, our commission in the Church is being a volunteer in our Habitat for Humanity Ministry. They need help in many ways, and we should put our faith into action.

The importance of this epiphany lies in the words of the Father: This is my Beloved Son, listen to him. Jesus and Jesus alone is our teacher. In a world full of gurus, dynamic preachers, and people of every opinion imaginable each with thousands and thousands of followers; we need to look to only one place, to only one person for guidance. We only need to look to Jesus Christ.

Our way to God the Father is through the person of Jesus Christ. We take these steps by responding to his call for us to take up our crosses and follow him. Any theory or practice that diminishes the need for Jesus in our lives or relegates his presence to a secondary role can not be our way to the Father. We are not told to listen to this guru, or that dynamic preacher, or to read this or that famous writer, we are told to listen only to the Beloved Son[4].

When you leave Church today and dip your hands into baptismal font think of your dignity, your call and God’s statement of your commission: You are my Beloved in whom I am well pleased. Go and be my disciples. His love is beyond our understanding. His voice is the one we need to hear.

[1] The emphasis on original sin originated with St. Augustine during the fifth century.
[2] The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II, was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It opened under Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965. Four future pontiffs took part in the council's opening session: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who on succeeding Pope John XXIII took the name of Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani, the future Pope John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II; and 35-year-old Father Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who more than forty years later became the current Pope Benedict XVI.
[3] John 15:16.
[4] The writer Annie Dillard had a mystical experience that led her to the convent. She was walking through the woods when she saw a valley below her and two men in the water. She realized it was John the Baptist and Jesus. She saw Jesus come out of the water. Suddenly, she was right next to the Lord. She saw the beads of water on his shoulders. She looked closer and in each bead of water she saw a nation, a city, a home, a person’s face. It was then that it occurred to her that Jesus knew everyone one of his people and was baptized to care for and to serve each one of us.

ilustration: Annibale Carracci, The Baptism of Christ (1584), Oil on canvas, S. Gregorio (Bologna)

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris