As we’re celebrating the Baptism of our Lord, I think it’s a fair question to ask, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?” In baptism, we know that we are reborn through water and the Spirit, cleansed from sin, and made adopted sons and daughters of God. This is true for us, but Jesus Christ is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father…he came down from heaven.” Certainly Jesus didn’t need to be freed from any sin (either original sin or actual sin). Surely His own Holy Spirit, through whose power the Virgin Mary conceived, need not descend upon Him at baptism. No doubt the one who came down from heaven need not have heaven opened up for Him.
But we must remember that everything that Jesus did was not for His own sake; it was from the will of the Father for the sake of you and me and all humanity. He allowed Himself to be baptized to align Himself with us sinners, whom He came to save. He made baptism no longer the symbolic baptism of John, but a real/true baptism; He made water not only symbolize the freely flowing saving grace of God, but made it to be so. He was baptized so that we could be; the Spirit descended on Him so that the Spirit would descend on us; the heavens opened up to Him so that heaven could be opened to us; it was said to Him “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” and God says the same to us at our baptism.
The baptism of the Lord also marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Monday/tomorrow we begin Ordinary Time, following along the path of discipleship as we continue to encounter the words and actions of Christ each Sunday at Mass, and are drawn up into the life of Christ through the Eucharist. But just as Jesus’ ministry and saving mission began with His baptism, each of us is given a mission in our own baptism as well. There is the general calling, the general mission of following the Christian way of life. Yet there is also a specific calling, a specific vocation that each of us has been given by God. This vocation flows from the grace of our baptism, when God called and claimed each of us by name. And fulfilling our vocation—answering God’s call with faith, hope, and love—allows the fruits of God’s grace to be born in us and through us, for our good and for the good of the Church. Christ continues – here and now, despite the cultural noise and distractions – to call His disciples to follow Him in bold and dynamic and radical ways: to a life dedicated to prayer and ministry, to the mission of the Church, in service of the Sacraments; to witness to the Good News of our salvation and the eternal life that it promises, that there is much more to life than even the good things of this world can fulfill.
God calls many to do this by living faithfully and generously the bond of the holy marriage covenant. God calls others to live the Christian life faithfully and generously as a single person out in the world. And God calls some to live faithfully and generously through a religious vocation. In particular, it bears considering whether Christ is asking you to dedicate your life completely to Him and to his Bride, the Church, as a consecrated man or woman or as one of His priests. Religious vocations are hardly a thing of the past, but remain a part of God’s invitation and God’s calling today—though today there are also more distractions and more forgetfulness in day-to-day life of God and of our Christian calling, of the turning point that our baptism was and so must continue to be. Each of us has our role to play in nurturing and supporting vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. As we know from Fr. Paschal Yohe and Fr. Andrew Norton, religious vocations have been born in this parish, and perhaps this invitation is being whispered by God to one of His chosen and beloved sons and daughters gathered at this celebration of the Eucharist here today. May each of us allow God to grasp us by the hand, to form us, and to set us as a light for the nations.
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