The Baptism of our Lord
"On coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him" (Mk. 1:7-11).
The question of the day is, "When was the last time you blessed yourself?" Can this question appear as an odd and inappropriate question to ask publicly? When glancing at this question, you may wonder if this writer missed the mark for this reflection. Of course, we do bless ourselves when thanking God for our meals or ending our prayers by signing ourselves with the sign of the cross. We typically say, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." However, when looking closely at the theme for today, as the Church calls us to celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, think back on the last time you blessed yourself with holy water.
If you have not been to Church for a while due to the Pandemic, you probably have not blessed yourself close to a year. When I remember my standard practice of going to my church, "St. Teresa of Avila," I dipped my hand into the holy water font to bless myself with holy water when entering the church. And if it's baptismal Sunday, I would get excited knowing that Msgr. East would take a handful of water to bless the congregation. He cherished drenching the community with holy water. He would even say, "Don't duck!" I have to say, I miss that ritual, the water flowing and the choir singing "Take me to the Water, to be baptized." Do you miss your faith community's baptism ritual?
Upon further reflection on this baptism ritual, I recall three essential aspects of my calling as a baptized Catholic Christian!
Through my baptism, a sacred door opened for me to be forgiven of my sins. Here I will remind you that baptism does not stop you from sinning. Blessing myself with holy water signifies I belong to this church regardless of my sins or racial background.
Through my baptism, I am burdened. I accepted the tremendous responsibility to be like Jesus: feed the poor, clothe the naked, fight for justice, love the outcast, and many more whose lives are shipwrecked. Baptism does not mean that a Christian's life is a walk in the park; it just means that we will love our neighbor the best way we can by giving life when we walk through the park. We help God's creation to flourish with justice.
Through my baptism, God always welcomes me home. In the Prodigal Son's narrative, a young man left home for a long time, then returned. With a loving father's heart, the father accepted his child back with open arms. We are always, as St. Peter said, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Pt. 2:9). No one can remove me from my status as a "Priest, Prophet and King." I have an indelible mark. God welcomes me always. "From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body" (Gal. 1:17).
For this reason, I rejoice in celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. A day when the sky opened, the dove descended upon Jesus, and God spoke. Here we see a profound image of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can also see that he was ready to accept the burden of cleansing us with righteousness as He knew that he must be the Sacrificial Lamb who takes away the world's sins. This is something that our baptism will not do. Therefore, through Jesus' baptism, we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Old things have passed away; we have the seal of God, the water of eternal life, we are born again, and more.
We are God's beloved through Jesus Christ. Celebrate the gift of baptism by renewing your promise to be a Christian. I am looking forward to returning to Church and touch the holy water font and bless myself again. Even if the baptismal font is dry due to the Pandemic, I want to touch the holy water font.
Lord, I want to be more like Jesus in my heart.
Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS