We’re God’s children now

By: Msgr. Stuart Swetland

Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 10

Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 or Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm 29:1-4,9-10 or Psalm 104:1b-2,3-4,24-25,27-28,29-30; Acts 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16,21-22

ONE OF my favorite passages in sacred Scripture is 1 John 3:1-2. It reads “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I love this passage because it emphasizes the fact (not the metaphor) that we are God’s children now. By our baptism, we have died with Christ and have been raised up in him (cf Romans 6:1-11). We have become “new creations,” the adopted sons and daughters of God. Jesus is our big brother. God is really our Father. We really have a share in the life of the Holy Spirit. We are now part of God’s family.

When we make the sign of the cross and pray “in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” we are signing our family name. We all share this name for we are all members of the same family.

THIS SUNDAY we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Of course, his baptism was somewhat different than ours. He is by nature what we are by adoption. He has no need to be transformed by the saving waters of baptism from the stain of original sin or the corruption of actual sins. In fact, in Jesus’ case, the order was reversed. By his baptism, the waters of baptism were made holy, while we are made whole by these saving waters.

Jesus’ self emptying in his baptism foreshadows the total self-emptying in his passion, death and resurrection, which “unsealed” the baptismal font, making it the source of sanctifying grace and the gateway into the church and her sacramental life.

At Jesus’ baptism the heavens closed by the sin of Adam are opened and the Spirit descends. The Father is heard to proclaim, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3: 22). With this action, Jesus begins his public ministry to reveal to the entire world the merciful love of God.

This celebration affords us the opportunity to reflect on our own baptism. Do we realize that at the moment that we were baptized the Father said the same words that he said of Jesus? We may not have heard them spoken, but they were said nonetheless. For at that moment we really became the adopted son or daughter of God. And proud Father that he is, he said, “This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”

AS A PRIEST I sometimes encounter a person who has difficulty accepting this unconditional love and adoption by the Father. They somehow feel themselves unlovable.

I guess, in fact, we all at times struggle to accept fully this seemingly unfathomable mystery — that the God who created everything that is, desires such an intimate relationship with us that he actually adopts us right into his divine family. We really become partakers in the divine nature. We become co-heirs with Jesus Christ and sharers in his mission of mercy.

In other words, like Jesus, Abba, our Father, finds us adorable. This fact should become the ground of our being. This spiritual truth should define who we perceive ourselves to be and what we are called to do. “For we are God’s children now; what will come later has not yet come to light, but we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”

This fact must lead us to peace and joy for indeed our God is Emmanuel — God with us and God for us. We are part of his family now. We need to be about the family business of mercy.

A priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Msgr. Stuart Swetland is the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md.

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