Baptism of the Lord

Last November my Alma Mater, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook PA issued its glossy journal simply called “The Brook.” It featured several profiles of the new priests ordained
from there the previous spring. Reading through them offered proof positive that each young man had a pivotal moment when a person or event in his life ultimately led to his decision to be a priest. I believe that most of us have experienced such moments in our own lives whatever our calling is.

It is fair to say that Jesus had one of these at His baptism in the Jordan that fateful day. It was pivotal for Him. We cannot know just how His divine nature intermingled with His human nature. But if Jesus truly was “like us in all things but sin” then He could not have known His future any more than we do. So it took a great amount of trust for Him to approach the Baptist and ask for baptism. What would happen to Him? What would follow?

We could say that for John the Baptist to accede to Jesus’ request also took a certain trust, because he intuitively knew that Jesus did not need any baptism meant to wash away sin. In Him there is no sin. So Jesus had to convince John that the ritual was necessary in order to fulfill what He called “righteousness.” We could take that word to mean “the proper order of things.” The occasion also offered up a “theophany,” or manifestation of the Divine. So Jesus heard the heavenly “Voice” of His Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove over Him. Pivotal event in-
deed! So we rightly celebrate this happening not only as a milestone in Our Lord’s life and the launch of His unique mission as an adult, but also as the “closing of the curtain” on yet another Christmas season in our lives, where we focused on Jesus as a Babe in a manger.

This then becomes an opportune time for us to ponder the great gift our parents gave us in our own baptism. No matter how far we have journeyed in faith from that long ago day, or how we just began to travel from the 2019 Easter Vigil, this was the true sacramental beginning of that journey. Our parents believed this to be true, and they fulfilled their duty in passing on the treasure of the faith to us. How well we have lived it, however, is a fit subject for review. As much as they loved us, neither our parents nor anybody else will be with us when our face to face appointment with our just Judge comes due. By then we will have built our profile. That is why we should not only celebrate our own baptism by which we became part of Christ, but also today renew those promises our godparents once made for us. I was deeply impressed by the decision of my close bishop friend who chose to add the date of his baptism on the reverse side of his ordination commemorative card. You don’t often see that, but it was a bit of evangelization done right at the start of his new high calling. Certainly a pivotal moment for him.

Jim Eliot, a dedicated missionary in Ecuador who was killed by the Auca Indians in 1956, said of his baptismal calling: “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to a decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” I might add that would be a pivotal moment.