“Remember and Retrieve!” One of the sisters at St. Mary’s High School once noted that those baptized as infants spend a lifetime trying to “remember and retrieve!” Can you remember your baptism? Not many of us can, because human memory does not kick in for a few more years. In the early church it was adults and families who were baptized. They remembered together.
When adults are baptized in “RCIA,” they can speak for themselves and accept the demands of the Christian life. Infants have godparents to speak for them. That’s still most of us. When we “grow up,” however, we slowly come to an understanding and acceptance of the gift and responsibilities of our baptism.
This year presents St. Matthew’s account of John baptizing adults in the Jordan River. This ceremony scripted by John, was not Christian baptism, as we know it. Those approaching him were aching for a personal new life. Like the Servant in Isaiah, (our first reading) Jesus experiences the Spirit of God gently settling upon him. The image of a dove evokes peacefulness and possibilities for a new beginning – a new birth. In Genesis 8, a dove brings Noah the signs of hope for new life. Jesus’ mission, in a similar way opens a new hope-filled chapter in the history of God’s saving action. Jesus experiences a profound opening to God’s love and pleasure in him, which enables him to lead others to know God’s delight and love in them. This booming moment of joy is like having the heavens ripped open as the divine love pierces through any barriers to the human heart.
Jesus showed up for John’s baptism with many others. He had no need to be baptized for the repentance of sins. St. Matthew’s story notes this. But, as one of the first acts in his public life, the Master joined with ordinary folks yielding to the grace of God. It was an Epiphany. God also showed up. God remembered.
Jesus’ baptism was the first of the epiphanies of his life. In the river Jesus committed himself to the establishment of the reign of God, in partnership with God’s Spirit. In our baptisms we do the same. The rite for Baptizing Children says that we are “baptized into Christ.” As Christ was “priest, prophet and king, so [we] are to live unto everlasting life.” This is an awesome and demanding possibility.
Baptism is not initiation into an exclusive club of rights and privileges. It is initiation into Christ. We literally “put on Christ.” That is a call and a way of life, not a membership. The charge of Vatican II was for each of the baptized to participate “fully, consciously and actively” in the Christian life, not just clergy and religious folks! If we are to be leaven in the world, we will only do it connected to one another. Early in his papacy, Pope Francis talked about the history of the church as being not so much a history of building cathedral “walls,” but one of Christians building lives and communities of love and service.
Our Baptism font has been away for a while. Only recently is it back our door restored for that most Catholic of “hand” rites. On automatic pilot, we put our hands in to the “agua bendita” and remember our baptisms every time we walk through the door. Each one of us shares the epiphany baptism of Jesus. Each one of us is equipped by that dove-gentle Spirit to be Christ in the world today. To the extent that we live and act as Christ in every corner of our lives, we, too, will be ready one day to hear the voice of God: “This is my beloved son, [my child], with whom I am well pleased.” That is God’s great compliment to the beloved siblings of Jesus in the Body of Christ.
A gentle week,
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM
Adapted from Celebration’s sample homily of January 10, 2016 by Dn. Ross Beaudoin.