The Baptism of the Lord: “AND A VOICE CAME FROM HEAVEN”
Celebrating the baptism of the Lord offers us a great opportunity to reflect on our own baptism. The question is, how much do we understand the profound grace which comes from baptism? The second reading of today highlights Peter’s message at the house of Cornelius. The apostle sends a strong reminder to the community about faith in Christ Jesus and calls their attention to a significant point, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Christ’s mission starts with anointing by the Holy Spirit. As God, Christ would not need to be baptized in the sense that we are. He has no need to be cleansed from sin as we see in the encounter with John the Baptist at the River Jordan.
Saint Maximus of Turin once wrote about Christ’s baptism this way, “At Christmas, he was born a man; today he is reborn sacramentally. Then he was born from the Virgin; today he is born in mystery. When he was born a man, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in mystery, God the Father embraces him with his voice when he says: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: listen to him. The mother caresses the tender baby on her lap; the Father serves his Son by his loving testimony. The mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshiped by all the nations.” Jesus submits himself to be baptized by John in conformity to the will of God thereby inviting us to listen to God.
In baptism, there is a dying and a rising. The soul dies as a child of Adam and Eve and rises as a child of God. Through baptism, sanctifying grace, which is the life of God, enters the soul for the first time and changes it. By this, the soul has what’s called an indelible mark that literally transforms it. It’s a mark that can never be removed. There are 3 sacraments that leave this mark on the soul: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. We become sacred at baptism as adopted children of God. On the outside, we look the same, but interiorly everything is changed.
God makes a declaration about each one of us at our baptism, “This is my beloved son or daughter.” It is a completely gratuitous gift from the love of the Father. To be a Christian, you must understand that you are a beloved child in whom the Father is well pleased. The Holy Spirit descends from heaven for your sake and places that gift on your soul. At baptism, God gives you an identity. You do not just become someone, rather you become God’s beloved son/daughter. It is important we know who we are and live up to that identity. St. John would say, “Beloved, we are God's children now” (1 Jn. 3:2). Are you aware that you are God’s beloved child? Are you able to hear the voice of God reminding you of that every moment of your life?
Jesus’ baptism brings a revelation for us, and Luke in the gospel draws our attention to the mystery of the presence of the Trinity in Christ Jesus. Having been baptized alongside the people, Jesus immediately begins to pray, “heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” These details carry specific importance because Jesus is both God and man at the same time. His divine origin commissions his earthly ministry, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus is that servant who takes our sinful nature to free us from sin.
Let’s talk about prayer and being calm as ways to express our identity as God’s children. The gospel reports, “Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” This means that the spirit which comes upon Christ inspires him to pray. Think about the temptations of Christ for a moment, which happens right after his baptism. The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights before the devil came. Jesus faced the devil as a human being. He stayed calm, was not anxious, because he knew his identity. He is the beloved Son of the Father. Prophet Isaiah reminds the people of Israel at the time of their exile and captivity, “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm (Is. 40:9-11).
We live at a time when fear and anxiety seem very common. Believers who relate to God in an uncertain or anxious manner are more likely to experience symptoms of psychological distress, including anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion which can lead to poorer health. You could be baptized, yet you imagine that God has little or no interest in your personal affairs. You worry and become anxious. My question for you at this Mass is to examine whether anxiety is making you forget that you are God’s beloved son/daughter during these times.
We hear in the gospel today, “And a voice came from heaven.” That voice still speaks to us at various moments. God never speaks fear or hopelessness. He never speaks negativity or desolation. God’s voice speaks peace, joy, compassion, hope, mercy, kindness, and truth. Saint Paul reminds us, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15) My friends, one way to hear God’s voice is through prayer.
As you plan the year 2022, make out time in the busyness of your day to stop and listen to God. Make a schedule of prayer just as you make a schedule of your other activities. The true secret of the saints is this decision to cultivate their interior life. Everything I talk about in my homilies you will not be able to do for a sustained time if you do not take care of your interior life. You must pray every single day. It is where virtue grows, where you will hear God’s voice, where you will be inspired, as well as find peace, joy, and wisdom. A consistent prayer life brings wisdom that only God can bring. You cannot grow in the life of God without a prayer life. Make prayer an intentional act. Sometimes we don’t feel like praying. Still pray, because you are doing it for God’s sake, not your own. If every time we prayed, we felt warm and fuzzy, people would pray all the time. Sometimes prayer is dry, keep praying. Sometimes it’s wonderful, keep praying. Put a reminder on your phone, set a time and place, and as the Nike commercial says, “Just do it.” Are you starting your day with a moment of prayer where you sit with God before any other contact? Are you stopping by within your day to sit with him and talk for a while? Are you ending your day with him whereby before you go to bed, you set aside some moments to share your day’s activities with him and hear him give you a final evaluation? Prayer is a great way to hear God’s voice. Make a schedule of prayer.
A second way to hear God’s voice is to take each moment at a time. Be calm! Remind yourself that God is in charge. What does he want of you? Are you open to adjustments? Are you willing to take things the way they come and still be thankful? Most times, we are inclined to take control. That makes us want things the way we desire. In the events that things change, we get upset and feel frustrated. For this reason, we find it hard to slow down mentally. Have you been unexpectedly sick? Have you been asked to do a different task at work other than what you planned? Has your trip been canceled against your plans? Have you been told to wear the face mask against your will? Have you been unable to go in the direction you thought you would? It might be anything. What is your reaction to life in general? Are you an angry person? Learn to see the good that comes from every experience no matter how little. That is a great way to hear God’s voice and to experience calm. Imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary and Joseph. In the middle of the night, the angel wakes them up and asks them to move to Egypt because Herod is going to kill the infant. This would have been inconvenient. They never planned that trip, and perhaps would not be traveling at such an odd hour. The Blessed Mother and Joseph always see the good in each moment -no space at the inn, Simeon’s prophecy of suffering at the presentation, the response from Jesus after the Passover, his reply at the first miracle at Cana, etc. Mary and Joseph would always remain patient and calm.
During these tough days of life, ask yourself whether God is inviting you to reflect deeper on how you are responding to your baptismal commitment. Do you hear him say about you, “This is my beloved son/daughter?” Maybe you can be more prayerful. And your prayer life can lead you to a better calmness and patience to deal with the realities of the time. God’s voice does not happen in haste, it comes slowly. It does not happen in chaos; it comes in quiet and peace. The Psalmist says: “I will listen to what God the Lord says, he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly” (Ps. 85:8). Maybe he is talking to you. What voice do you hear, God’s voice or your own voice?
Readings: 1st- Is. 42:1-4, 6-7; 2nd- Acts 10:34-38; Gospel- Lk.3:15-16, 21-22