‘Our Father’ -- Christ’s and ours
Baptism of the Lord, Year C
First: Is 40:1-5,9-11
Second: Ti 2:11-14, 3:4-7
Gospel: Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
This Sunday, the Church celebrates Christ’s Baptism.
John’s Baptism was a Baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sin. It comprised a symbolic cleansing through immersion in water. In fact, “Baptism” comes from the Greek baptizein, which means “plunge” or “immerse.”
Why did Jesus undergo Baptism? He certainly did not need to be cleansed from sin. Instead, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit.”
(We give water the power to cut through grease or oil by adding soap or detergent; analogously, by his Baptism, Jesus gave water the power to “cut through” sin.)
With his Baptism, says the Catechism, Jesus began his public life, allowing himself “to be numbered among sinners” as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
(To continue my analogy, imagine Jesus, immersed in the Jordan River, soaking up, as it were, all the dirt and sin being washed off the people John was baptizing.)
Because Jesus took our sins upon himself, he deserved death. Because he submitted to death, he rose again. Accordingly, says the Catechism, we pray that we may “be buried with Christ in Baptism to rise with him”; that we may “go down with him to be raised with him”; that we may “rise with him to be glorified with him.”
However, water and forgiveness of sins are not the whole of the story. At Jesus’ Baptism, “the 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 Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’“
What happened to Christ at his Baptism reveals what happens at our own, says the Catechism: “the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high Heaven” and, “adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God.” God not only saves us from the consequences of sin, but also adopts us as his children -- “not because of any works of righteousness” of our own, “but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
In his 1986 encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vivificantem (“Lord and Giver of Life”), Pope St. John Paul II noted that the “Trinitarian formula” of Baptism (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) expresses the Sacrament’s “life-giving power.”
The Church insists on this precise formula, mandated by Christ. No other formula brings about a valid Baptism.
In spite of John’s greatness, Jesus said that “the least born into the Kingdom of God” was greater. John’s Baptism brought about the forgiveness of sins, but it did not confer supernatural life.
The Sacrament of Baptism accomplishes both. It introduces us into “the intimacy of Trinitarian life,” says the Catechism, for the Holy Spirit communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son. It not only purifies us from sin, but also makes us “a new creation”: adopted sons and daughters of God, “partakers of the divine nature.”
After Baptism, we can truly say “our Father” -- Jesus’ and ours. You can see why I said once: impulsively, after baptizing a baby, “This child now has as much right to Heaven as Jesus Christ himself!”
Scott Hahn puts it this way: “You can forgive your auto mechanic if he overcharges you; but it’s unlikely that, upon forgiving him, you’ll adopt him into your family. Yet that is precisely what God has done.”
“In Baptism we are identified with Christ, baptized in the Trinitarian name of God; we take on his family name, and thus we become sons in the Son. We are taken up into the very life of the Trinity, where we may live in love forever.”