by Fr. Tommy Lane
I remember during my first year studying theology in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland, (1986-87) one of the professors teaching us about the importance of baptism. The Berlin Wall or Iron Curtain had not yet fallen but I remember the professor saying that President Mikhail Gorbachev had been baptized and our faith tells us his baptism must make a difference. His grandmother had him secretly baptized by a Russian Orthodox priest. His grandmother/mother put an icon of Jesus on the wall in every room in the house. Gorbachev’s father was a staunch Communist and put a picture of Stalin next to each picture of Jesus. Three years later when I was studying in Rome the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th 1989. Then on December 1st 1989 I went to St. Peter’s Square and watched President Gorbachev being driven into the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. The two met and spoke in the Pope’s private library for seventy minutes. That is the power of the Holy Spirit received at baptism. Baptism counts. Baptism makes a difference.
Our Gospel account today of Jesus’ baptism reminds us of our own baptism. Why did Jesus ask John for baptism? Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and Jesus did not need forgiveness. No wonder that in Matthew’s account John objects to giving Jesus baptism, “It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me.” But Jesus insisted on being baptized showing us his humility. All of Jesus’ followers would be baptized and so Jesus too wanted to be baptized to show his unity with all of us. A new family was formed at Pentecost, the Church, and baptism was the means of entering the Church. Jewish children were not baptized, Jewish boys were circumcised 8 days after birth and girls had a naming ceremony but the followers of Jesus would be distinguished by baptism.
What difference does baptism make to us? When Jesus was baptized the Father spoke and said, “You are my Son, the beloved; my favor rests on you.” When we are baptized the Father says over each of us, “You are my son/daughter, my beloved; my favor rests on you.” Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit when he was baptized in the Jordan and we are anointed with the oil of chrism during our baptism and like Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit also. Let us listen to some of the instructions for the newly baptized in Jerusalem in the early Church.
“Now that you have been
baptized into Christ and have put on Christ,
you have become conformed to the
Son of God…since you share in Christ, it is right to call you ‘Christs’ or
anointed ones… You have become ‘Christs’ by receiving the sign of Holy
Spirit…When you emerged from the pool of sacred waters you were anointed in a
manner corresponding to Christ’s anointing. That anointing is the Holy Spirit…
Christ was anointed with...the Holy Spirit…and you have been anointed with
chrism because you have become fellows and sharers of Christ…But be sure not
to regard the chrism merely as ointment…When the Holy Spirit has been invoked
on the holy chrism it is no longer mere or ordinary ointment; it is the gift of
Christ…It is applied to your forehead and organs of sense with a symbolic
meaning; the body is anointed with visible ointment, and the soul is sanctified
by the holy, hidden Spirit.”
Those were beautiful words from the instructions given in the early Church in Jerusalem reminding the newly baptized that after baptism they share deeply in the grace of Jesus. Vatican II in the 1960’s has once again reminded all the faithful that they share in the priesthood of Christ. During baptism when the child is anointed with the oil of chrism part of the prayer for the anointing is, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” Because of our baptism we are all united in Jesus. That is why Paul in his letters makes statements like, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28) While all the baptized share in the priesthood of Christ, only those who are ordained priests in the Sacrament of Holy Orders can administer the sacraments.
So what is your vocation since baptism? Your vocation is to witness Jesus to the world. Because we fail we ask for mercy at the beginning of every Mass. I conclude with some of the instruction to the newly baptized at Jerusalem.
“it is right to call you ‘Christs’ or anointed ones… You have become ‘Christs’ by receiving the sign of Holy Spirit…When you emerged from the pool of sacred waters you were anointed in a manner corresponding to Christ’s anointing.”
More homilies for the First Sunday - The Baptism of Our Lord
Related Homilies: Baptism Changes the Quality of Our Souls Forever 2011