King Louis ofFrancewas accustomed to sign his name on royal documents “Louis of Poissy.” When asked why he did this instead of the expected “Louis IX, King of France,” he replied, “Poissy was the place where I was baptized.” He continued to explain that he would loose his kingdom and title when he died, but, “baptism is my passport to life.”
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Gospel account from St. Mark recalls Jesus being baptized by John. The setting provides a question about the identities and roles of John and Jesus. In the beginning of the passage we are told that people were wondering if John was the messiah. He clearly corrects this thought saying that “one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Jesus comes forward to be baptized by John. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the voice of our heavenly Father clearly identify Jesus for who he is: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The first reading from Isaiah gives insight into the ministry of Jesus to establish justice on the earth. As the prophet, speaking for the Lord, says: “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” The mission of Jesus is to bring life and light.
The baptism foreshadows the baptism of the faithful. Jesus does not baptize himself because all has not yet been fulfilled. In fact this is only the beginning of His public ministry. The gift of baptism will only come after His passion, death and resurrection when He opens the doors of sacramental grace.
It is in this grace we receive in baptism and continually refreshed and nourished with the Eucharist that we receive life. It is not our life but God’s life living within us. Through baptism we enter into the mystery of the paschal mystery; we are mysteriously united with Christ in his death so that we can live.
In response to this great gift of life we are called to live well. St. Paul in his Letter to Titus reminds us: “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the close of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time in the Church. We move from the festive atmosphere with gatherings, gift giving and celebrations back to the ordinary routines of daily life. As we move forward in time, on this journey of faith, we are reminded today that God’s grace is with us. Jesus has been born. Jesus died. Jesus rose from the dead. He has given us life.
This life of grace is life in union with God and communion with each other in Christ. Let us make the most of the time we have by responding whole-heartedly to the love of God by doing good in the ordinary activities of life.
Msgr. Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.