Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: the official end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. Some people wonder why Jesus had to be baptized. After all, he was conceived without sin. But notice what happens immediately after his baptism: the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord and God the Father declares that Jesus is his beloved son. Jesus modeled for us why we need to be baptized.
We usually think of baptism as removing original sin, and that is correct; however, we often forget the second part which occurs in the explanatory rites following the immersion or infusion with the water. The priest or deacon “seals” the baptism with sacred chrism. This olive oil mixed with balsam was consecrated by the bishop at the Chrism Mass and represents Christ. The chrism is smeared on the crown of the baby’s head reminding the baptized (and those witnessing the baptism) that he/she has been made “a priest, a prophet, and a king” in the likeness of Christ. The Holy Spirit has been given to him/her and they are marked as a child of God forever. In other words, they are a beloved son or daughter of God made in the image of Christ himself. At baptism, we are regenerated into a new creation. We are literally “born again” of water and the Spirit. We are incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church.
Baptism is the easy part, as Jesus knew so well. The more difficult part is living up to our baptism. For Jesus, baptism meant the beginning of his public ministry. As we know, Jesus’ ministry was not easy and in the end he was put to death. However, he persevered and although tempted to throw in the towel, he lived up to his baptism as the beloved Son of God. So too in our lives: as we grow in grace and wisdom, hopefully we also deepen our commitment to our baptismal promises. As we mature as human beings, we should also mature as Christians. When we’re tempted to do something that is not Christ-like, by God’s grace we remain on the road to holiness. As we all know, sometimes we do fail and commit sinful acts. Yet because we are children of God, the possibility of forgiveness is offered to us.
As we begin to celebrate Ordinary Time, may we continue to deepen our commitment to our baptism. May each of us strive to really live as Christ for one another. May we never forget that each one of us is a child of God and although we are flawed and sometimes commit sin, we are still loved. As we grow as Christians, may God continue to strengthen our resolve to become better than we are. May our prayer this Ordinary Time be that of the words of the prophet Isaiah: God has appointed me “as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captivesfrom prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.”