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Monday January 9, 2012
Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord

Giotto's Baptism of Our Lord

And so ends the Christmas Season.  Again with the crazy calendar!  OK, one more time…  Normally, this feast is celebrated on a Sunday and serves concurrently as the final Sunday of the Christmas Season and the First Sunday of Ordinary Time (sort of, but that’s another story).  When Epiphany is celebrated on a Sunday AND that Sunday falls on January 8th, the Church, in an effort not to extend Christmas too long, simply moves the Baptism to the next day and then Ordinary Time begins on a Tuesday.  Confused?  Trust me, I promise it’s much easier from here on.  We’re pretty safe until Ash Wednesday.

At mass this morning the priest posed this statement.  “You might wonder, as I do, why someone without sin would need baptism.  The simple answer is that we don’t know.  But more than anything it shows that Christ went through everything we go through and He did it first.”  Hmm…  Well, Fr., OK, if you like.  Can you tell I’m not really buyin’?  Let me propose another way.

While there is a certain truth to what that priest said, it isn’t the whole story.  Yes, Our Blessed Lord did do many things to show the depths of His love for us.  He became one of us — TRUE God and TRUE man as our creed proclaims.  He was hungry, He slept, He ate, He rested.  He was tempted by the devil; but He resisted.  Ultimately, in His death He teaches us that we need not fear death because He rose from the grave and will raise us too.  This is most comforting to the dying.  I often meditate on His suffering when I am afflicted with physical pain (as I am much of the time).  Surely on His walk to Calvary, Christ’s back hurt far worse than what I suffer now.  He was there and IS there with me.  So, yes, he was baptized and so we should be too.  But the baptism of the Jews had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin.  That would have been an abomination to them.  It was a ritualistic washing, a cleansing with religious overtones.  This explains why John was baptizing.

But Jesus’ baptism is about much more.  As much as anything, from a literary standpoint, it serves to bring Jesus and John together.  Coincidentally, this story is where John begins to fade from view and marks the true beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  As Jesus approaches the Jordan John make the observation:

I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

And when our Lord emerges from the water, we get a beautiful moment of luminosity — light shed on the mystery.  “Who is this Jesus?” the people must have been wondering. “Is He the Christ of God?” they may have asked themselves.  As water drips from his sacred head…

…he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Baptism of the Lord is the day we celebrate this moment.

On a side note, the liturgical calendar is designed for us to be able to walk through the life of Christ, start to finish, in the span of the year.  We begin in Advent with an understanding that, above all else, Christ will come again.  This is our focus.  Then we apply that understanding to the commemoration of His first coming, celebrating His birthday.  Throw in a feast honoring the Virgin Mother (Jan. 1) and the celebration of the Three Kings and then BAM! we’re already at his baptism which occurred when He was 30 years-old!  I think, if nothing else, this, too, is a revelation of the humanity of Christ hidden in the story of our year.  The Gospel is largely silent on His life from Epiphany to the Baptism.  We even call this the “hidden years at Nazareth”.  But think about it.  It’s silent because He was busy doing the mundane things that any human does.  He grew up.  He studied Torah.  He learned a trade.

Still it does have a tendency to feel like “wasn’t he just born last week and now he’s a grown man?”  Oh well, I don’t write the calendar, folks.  And that’s a good thing because I’d probably have Christmas go a whole lot longer…

Gospel excerpted from Mk. 1:7-11.