The feast of the Baptism of the Lord
First reading: Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm: 29:1-4, 9-10
Second reading: Acts 10:34-38
Gospel: Mt 3:13-17
By Jem Sullivan
There’s something about the beginning of a new year that makes us want to start afresh. Television reality makeover shows tap into this natural human desire to begin anew. Something in all of us longs for a makeover, whether spiritual, physical or emotional.
We make resolutions that give a sense of starting anew as another calendar year begins. Whether it’s a resolution to pray more consistently, to eat healthier, to exercise more often, or to be more mindful of our words and actions, we look for ways to improve ourselves in the year that stretches before us.
However, keeping New Year’s resolutions is another matter. We are only a few weeks into this calendar year and I’m sure that, like me, you’ve already fallen short of your best intentions to turn a new page.
Our shortcomings need not lead to disappointment or self-doubt. Rather, the beginning of a new year is a graced opportunity to remember our absolute dependence on God. We stand in need of God’s grace, every moment of every day. For God, who created me, is the one who alone can re-create me so I become the person I was created by God to be!
The baptism of the Lord brings us to the font of grace that makes us new every day. For at baptism we were given the unmerited gift of becoming a new creation in Jesus, God’s beloved Son.
Baptism is the ultimate spiritual makeover of creatures who, lost in sin, are reconciled to friendship with God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Jesus submits to the baptism of St. John as a manifestation of his self-emptying love. This divine love is poured out for you and for me on the cross when from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus flowed blood and water, symbols of the sacraments of new life that are baptism and the Eucharist.
And as today’s Gospel concludes we see the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters of the first creation, now descending on Jesus to inaugurate a new creation as the Father reveals Jesus as his obedient and beloved son. By his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus sanctified all baptismal waters in which our sins are buried and we rise as reborn in the Spirit to new life.
Baptism is the “gateway to life in the Spirit,” as the catechism puts it. In baptism, we are released from the tyranny of sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God. Sin can no longer hold us as captives because we have grace, the supernatural strength to live a new life in Jesus Christ, whose life, death and resurrection is the pattern of our renewal and rebirth.
Baptism is “God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift,” wrote St. Gregory of Nazianzus. To live daily this new life of grace we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How can you rely on the grace of baptism?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.