The greatest days of our lives are three: our conception (the act of being brought forth by God’s love from nothingness into existence), our baptism (the filling of our soul with the supernatural grace of God), and our birth into eternal life (the purpose of this life is to live with God forever in next). These three are intricately woven together with the bond being God’s grace. At birth, we are a child of Adam and Eve; at our baptism we become a child of God; at death our bodies are transformed and we’re born into eternity.
Two scripture passages that constantly emphasize the dignity of our baptism are chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans and chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians. They are as follows:
-“In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.” (Rom. 12:5)
-“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6)
Elements of these exhortations are contained in the second reading, Peter’s speech at the house of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, considered to be an unworthy Gentile, makes eloquent the intention of God for humanity. The nature of God’s love and the power of baptism unite everyone in Christ Jesus, “who is Lord of all” and who goes about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil. Let’s see what Jesus means by accepting to be baptized by John.
The gospel passage presents two parts of what seems apparently contradictory. The first part is John’s proclamation about Jesus; “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop to loosen the throngs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” This first part brings out the mission of John as the forerunner of Christ. John speaks as an inferior. Think about it as the president of a nation who is to visit another nation. He sends his envoy to meet with the authorities of the hosting nation and to announce his coming. The envoy is only a representative of the president and can only act in respect to his limited authority. Christ is the one coming after John, mightier than John is, because he is the Son of God. Christ’s baptism will be greater than John’s baptism because unlike John who baptizes with water, Christ will baptize with the Holy Spirit. So, everything about John points to Christ. John is Christ’s envoy.
The second part makes the contradiction clearer. Mark does not give enough details about the debate between Jesus and John prior to the baptism but only narrates that Jesus is baptized by John. Mark captures the incidents that happen after as Jesus comes out of the water. But in Matthew, we read about John’s hesitation to baptize Jesus, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented” (Matt. 3:13-15). This raises concerns about Jesus’ baptism in relation to his divine origin. The question is, “If Jesus is the Son of God, was it necessary that he be baptized?” Listening to John’s speech in the first part of the gospel above might suggest that Jesus wouldn’t need to be baptized. Moreover, John’s baptism was a baptism of conversion preparing hearts for the coming of God’s kingdom. So, did Jesus need to be converted? Obviously, not. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1224) “… Jesus' gesture is a manifestation of his self-emptying (cf. Phil. 27). The Spirit who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation, and the Father revealed Jesus as his "beloved Son."
Jesus’ baptism sanctifies the waters of our own baptism. CCC 1218 Since the beginning of the world, water, so humble and wonderful a creature, has been the source of life and fruitfulness. Sacred Scripture sees it as "overshadowed" by the Spirit of God: A t the very dawn of creation, your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. Christ’s baptism consecrates us into God’s love as His beloved children. For that reason, baptism is considered to be the gateway to all the other sacraments.
The lessons from the baptism of Jesus links us back to the message of Peter and to the words of Paul that introduced this reflection. Let me ask you these questions: Do you think you take your baptism seriously? Do you still feel the presence of the Holy Spirit that you received at baptism? We all live in a world that is today, broken in many ways. We live in a world where political commitment seems stronger than religious commitment, where political values seem to drive our baptismal vows very far to the margins. We live in a society where the language of love is suppressed for selfish political ideologies. Think about what has been happening in the past days -the crisis at Capitol, the mess at Law makers’ chambers. Think about the mess across the world. What do we see? It has become so hard to know where the truth is, because everyone presents as being right, correct, and everyone takes accusatory positions against their political opponents. Ironically, self-acclaimed righteousness occupies the center stage in politics and for that reason, no one can accept culpability. Quite a pity! Truth laments bitterly!
Initially, we all thought that coronavirus was the enemy, but is it?. Think deep abou it! The enemy is using us. We have become like wolves looking for opportunities to devour our fellow human being especially if they disagree with our political views. It doesn’t matter if we profess the same faith. We have ended up creating worse viruses: lies, hatred, wickedness, malice, and greed. These viruses are more dangerous than COVID because they rip from us the Christian virtue of love. They wipe off our human feelings, make us numb in the face of the pain of others, and make us insensitive too. We have suddenly become figuratively deaf and blind to the feelings of the other. The world at large, today, sees religion, as an obstacle while some church goers see it as merely a routine to be marked off the checklist. The language is becoming more and more hateful, polluted, and insulting. We scare our children and make the younger generation wonder what type of world they are going to inherit. Where lies our baptismal commitment?
Peter says to the audience at the house of Cornelius, “in every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to Him.” The problem of the world is that only very few people truly fear God. The problem with America is that only very few truly fear God. The problem with those who claim to be Christians is that only very few truly fear God. The problem with Catholics is that only very few truly fear God; only very few remember their baptismal vows when they speak or act, when they make comments on the social media. Religion has been reduced to one of those items to be checked off when filling forms just as we check off gender, ethnicity or race. The consequence is what we all suffer today; the anti-fellow-human virus spreads like wild fire.
Our solution is to invoke the power and resources of the kingdom of God which we embraced at baptism. We must combat the viruses of lies, hatred, wickedness, malice, and greed created by our lack of faith in God. We must restore the kingdom values of civility, respect, peace, and justice. We must promote commitment to humility, courage, and truth. Martin Luther King famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
These take us back to the words of Paul to the Romans, “though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.” They take us back to Paul’s words to the Ephesian community, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Can we possibly remember our baptism and live as God’s children? The earlier we recall that we are baptized into God’s love, not into the Republican party or the Democratic party, the earlier we are saved in Christ Jesus our Lord.