Transforming power of baptism

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 11

Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 or Isaiah 55:1-11; Psalm 29:1-2,3-4,9-10 or Isaiah 12:2-3,4bcd,5-6; Acts 10:34-38 or 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11

With today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we conclude the Christmas cycle. This feast bridges Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his public ministry.

How many beautiful baptisms we have all participated in throughout our lives! It is one of the first steps taken by parents after the birth of their child. Beautiful ritual surrounds the event. It is unfortunate that we sometimes underestimate the transformative power of the sacrament.

Before Jesus begins his public ministry, it is baptism to which he submits. He follows the ritual of his tradition. As we listen to Scripture, two elements of the baptism become clear: Jesus is the Anointed One of the Father, and the purpose of the ministry of Jesus is to “bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1b)

What underscores the baptism event of Jesus is the voice of the Father speaking of his Son “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11), and the reading from Isaiah that gives the focus of Jesus’ ministry: “Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.” (The “suffering servant” spoken of in the first reading from the Isaiah has many parallels to the ministry of Jesus, as we learn in Luke 4:16-19.)

When we meet parents and godparents preparing for the baptism of their child, one of the most important teaching aspects of the preparation is to communicate the commitment of both the parents and child to follow Jesus. It is that commitment that shapes one’s life, that gives it a particular direction.

If we are to take our lead in understanding our baptism as a commitment to follow Jesus, we will see it as a life formed and shaped by the example and words of Jesus. The intimate relationship between the Father and Jesus is central to Jesus’ identity. It is this relationship that defines every word and deed in Jesus’ life.

Baptism, then, calls each of us — not only at the moment of our baptism, but every day of our life — to realize more deeply this intimate bond we have with the Father. And this happens through a life of prayer. The fruit of prayer enables us to hear the words of our Father spoken to us as it was spoken to Jesus: “This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ desire and mission was to “open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:7) Jesus went about this in his daily, ordinary life in an extraordinary way. We, through baptism, are given that same challenge in our ordinary, daily lives as we walk with Jesus in his gentleness of spirit “not crying out, not shouting” (Isaiah 42:2), but bringing about justice to the peoples.

What is the justice to which we are called? It is the same justice “giving everyone their due” as Jesus understood and proclaimed. It is our call to relieve the pain of those who are brokenhearted; it is our generosity toward the lonely who ask for our attention; it is our kind listening to the cry of the poor pleading in the face of despair; it is our compassion for the outcast child. Justice becomes real for us when we have the eyes to see pain in whatever and whoever becomes part of our daily life.

Baptism has a transformative power in its gift of God’s promise that we truly be the person God created us to be. We experience, in our commitment to it, a movement beyond our narrow vision. It is not magic — it is a daily commitment to “put on the mind of Christ” (Philippians. 2:5), to respond to the grace of God’s presence urging us on to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
Would that we are able to comprehend the call of baptism as we hear of it in Jesus’ baptism!

A member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, has been pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights since 1980.

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