Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

January 9, 2021
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
Psalm 104: 1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Titus 2: 11-14, 3: 4-7
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

If Jesus was God, why was He baptized? This has always been a perplexing question frequently asked in catechism class. If John’s baptism was one of repentance, this seems to imply falsely that Jesus was a sinner. In fact, John the Baptist tries to prevent Jesus’ being baptized, but Jesus insists. Instead, the Baptism of Jesus is an essential part of His work of the redemption of each human person. Jesus enters into solidarity with all men and women; He becomes one with each of us to share all the aspects of our lives. He even takes upon Himself the condition of our sinfulness, even though He Himself never sinned.

The condition of our sinfulness means that Jesus has willingly suffered the effects of original sin that we suffer in our lives today: the pain of illness and physical disability, the emotional and psychological struggles we must face, the drudgery of work, the challenges of putting up with one another and encouraging each other to change, the emptiness we feel at the deaths of those we love, the discouragement and despair that sometimes creep into our lives, the tragedies we must endure, and finally our own sickness and death. Yet, Jesus does not sin.

When we ask how Jesus could be human if He did not sin, we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Jesus came to reveal God to us, but He also came to reveal us to ourselves. He is truly God and truly human, and the reason He is truly human is that He does not sin. Sin is nothing other than the rejection of our humanity, of who we are. We are creatures of an all-good God, and when we sin, we reject what God has made us to be. Jesus’ sharing of our wounded human condition reverses our rejection of God’s goodness in our lives. Through our baptism, God offers us an opportunity to share actively in the reversal of our rejection of God and His goodness in our lives by how we act and by how we love.

The Baptism of the Lord is the event in which God not only reveals Jesus to be His Son, but also reveals the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Father proclaims Jesus to be His Son and the Holy Spirit descends from heaven. As Luke writes, “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 beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” The point of this is through the Lord’s Baptism, the true nature of God, who is love, is revealed fully for the first time in Sacred Scripture along with the authentic and full nature of man. These natures are wed together in Jesus Christ in love. As we have read from the first Letter of John throughout the Christmas season, “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in Him.”

Through our own Baptism, we are enveloped in that mystery of God’s love, and we receive the grace, the gifts, and the virtues to love as God loves—which ultimately requires our acceptance of the cross in following Jesus and being nourished by His Body and Blood in our participation and reception of the Eucharist. As Pope Benedict XVI once observed, “The Baptism of the Lord was held in great importance by the apostolic community, not only because in that circumstance, for the first time in history, there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads to Palestine. The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of His baptism of blood on the Cross, and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.”

The Baptism of the Lord is the beginning of His public ministry and the central part of His mission to heal us and to transform our human condition. He lovingly accepts our sinful condition without ever sinning. He was tempted like we are, faced the difficulties of living with others, was confronted with misunderstanding and discouragement, was physically tortured, felt the emptiness of being alone, and suffered the final fate of sin by accepting in loving obedience His death on a cross. And because He did, Jesus revealed to us our true path and ultimate destiny, perfect love and eternal life. Baptism is the sacrament that begins our journey to become who and what we truly are; it is the sacrament that makes each of us to be sons and daughters of God, and it is the sacrament that charts us for our final destiny where we will hear the voice of the Father say: “This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.

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