Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
(I Sunday in Ordinary Time)
12 January 2020
In the later years of his life, St. John Henry Newman wrote about the growing liberalism in Catholicism – and in religion in general. By this he meant the understanding of religion as a private opinion rather than a public dogma. It is a religion reduced to a moral sentiment. In other words, many people attend Mass, or other churches because it makes them feel good – it is all about being nice… and when it stops feeling good they stop…
In the Gospel today Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Why? What does this signify, what does it mean? A lot … Jesus does not need a baptism of repentance or any sort of baptism – He has no sins. Two things come to mind: First, as a human being, His desire is to be totally and completely united to us – to the suffering humanity He created. Second, as God, He sanctifies – makes sacred – the waters of baptism for all ages. His baptism is thus a gesture of unity and holiness.
His baptism – and the meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism as such – teaches us something extremely important about Christianity … In a recent reflection, Bishop Robert Barron makes a very significant point about the nature of baptism. He wrote:
“One of the earliest descriptions of Baptism is … ‘the door to the spiritual life.’ To grasp the full meaning of this is to understand something really decisive about Christianity. For Christianity is not primarily about “becoming a good person” or “doing the right thing” … Let’s face it: anyone … can be any of those things. To be a Christian is to be grafted on to Christ and hence drawn into the very dynamics of the inner life of God. We become a member of his Mystical Body, sharing in his relationship to the Father.”
For example, think about when you go swimming … when you get into a pool, lake, etc … you immerse yourself in the water – you get drenched. Water doesn’t just cover your body, when you come out of the water it seeps into you … it gets into your pours … the water enters you and becomes a part of you. Christianity – via the Sacrament of Baptism – isn’t just about being nice it is about being immersed into the very life of the Son of God! To be a Catholic is to stake our lives in the Truth, Goodness, Beauty and Splendor of our God … it is to seek an everlasting friendship with Him – to reduce this to a mere sentimental morality or to just being nice reduces faith to something that is the creation of my own mind… a self-made religion. Catholicism is so much more … It is a formation of being – to be formed into the likeness of the Son of God … This has implications for our lives … to confess our sins, to give of ourselves in charity – even when it hurts and when we don’t want to … to rise to the level of virtue – in habits that form us in truth and goodness and love… To be a Catholic then means not to settle for the mediocrity of being nice … it means living, really living, as the men and women we have been created to be – identified in heart, mind, body and soul with the Son of God – united to Him in everything.