Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17
Little Johnny’s Mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing church” with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!” Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”
Dear friends! The Baptism of the Lord is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.
Today my focus of preaching is not on the baptism of Jesus but on the baptism that we have received. Before performing a baptism, the priest approached the young father and said solemnly, “Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?” “I think so,” the man replied. “My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.” “I don’t mean that,” the priest responded. “I mean, are you prepared spiritually?” “Oh, sure,” came the reply. “I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.” And this is the way some our parents and godparents prepare these days.
We need to remember always just as the Heavenly Father said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on him” when Jesus was baptized, the Father said over us when we were baptized, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter.” On the day we were baptized we were changed forever. Imagine, you and I became a son or daughter of God on the day we were baptized, enjoying a new and beautiful relationship with our Father; We don’t think enough about our baptism, this most important event in our lives. If we reflected more on who we are since baptism how different we would be, how differently we would live.
The Sacrament of Baptism emphasizes this new relationship with our Father. The older rite of Baptism until Vatican II emphasized washing away original sin more. That is still part of the sacrament but now the sacrament emphasizes becoming a child of God and a member of the Church. That is why after baptism we have four more explanatory rites which explain for us this new relationship with God. If you listen to the prayers accompanying these four signs (explanatory rites) they tell us about our new relationship with God.
Firstly the child is anointed with the oil of chrism. This is the holy oil used by the bishop to anoint us on the forehead during Confirmation and to anoint the hands of a priest during his Ordination. Part of the prayer for the anointing during baptism is, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
Secondly the white garment is put on the child. Part of the prayer accompanying putting on the white garment is, “…you have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity”.
Thirdly a lighted candle is given to the parents, a symbol of receiving the light of Christ. Part of the prayer accompanying this is, “This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ.”
Fourthly the ears and mouth of the child are blessed (see Mark 7:31-37) because they will hear the Word of God and the child will profess his/her faith.
Being baptized as children would make no sense and have no meaning if as we grew up we didn’t put our baptism into effect, if we didn’t live like people who have been baptized into the Catholic Church. Our baptism when we were children would have been a nonsense if we did not decide for ourselves as we grew up that the decision made for us by our parents was in fact what we ourselves also wanted for ourselves.
Every sacrament has a lasting effect, our baptism was not just a magic formula recited over us by the priest to wash off original sin and give us a chance of getting to heaven. Baptism is like Ordination and marriage, it is something to be lived every day. Let us never forget that.