Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord’s baptism, but also on our own. For in an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of his body. As Christ enters the water, he makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. And in these waters he acquires gifts to give us, as we shall see below.
Let’s examine this text in three stages:
1. The Fraternity of Baptism – The text says Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”
John is surely puzzled about Jesus requesting baptism. And likely so are we. Why? John’s baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin. But the scriptures are clear, Jesus had no sin.
- For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15 ).
- You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5 ).
So why does Jesus ask for baptism? He will answer this in a moment.
But first let’s consider this dramatic fact: Jesus identifies with sinners, even if he never sinned. As he comes to the riverside he has no ego concerns. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think him a sinner even though he was not. It is a remarkable humiliation he accepts to be found in the company of sinners like us, and even to be seen as one of us. He freely enters the waters and, to any outsider who knew him not, he would simply be numbered among the sinners, which he was not.
Consider how amazing this is. The Scripture says He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). It also says God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).
Jesus ate with sinners to the scandal of many of the religious leaders: -This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Lk 15:2). Jesus was known as a friend of sinners, had pity on the woman caught in adultery, allowed a sinful woman to touch him and anoint his feet. He cast out demons and fought for sinners. He suffered and died for sinners in the way reserved for the worst criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and He was assigned a grave among the wicked (Is 53).
Praise God, Jesus is not ashamed to be found in our presence and to share a brotherhood with us. There is a great shedding of his glory in doing this. Again, Scripture says, [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Phil 1:3)
2. The Fulfillment of Baptism – The text says: Jesus said to [John] in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.
The Fathers of the Church are of varying opinions as exactly what Christ means by fulfilling all righteousness.
- Chromatius links the righteousness to all the sacraments and the salvation they confer: “This is true righteousness, that the Lord and Master should fulfill in himself every sacrament of our salvation. Therefore the Lord did not want to be baptized for his own sake but for ours” (tractate on Matthew 13.2)
- Chrysostom links it to the end and fulfillment of the Old Covenant: He is in effect saying, Since then we have performed all the rest of the commandments, this Baptism alone remains. I have come to do away with the curse that is appointed for the transgression of the Law. So I must therefore fulfill it all and, having delivered you from its condemnation, bringing it to an end. (Homily on Matt 12.1)
- Theodore of Mopsuestia sees Christ to mean that he is perfecting John’s Baptism which was only a symbol of the true Baptism. The Baptism of John…was perfect according to the precept of Law, but it was imperfect in that it did not supply remission of sin but merely made people fit of receiving the perfect one….And Jesus makes this clear saying, ‘For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ (Fragment 13).
From another perspective, the word “righteousness” refers, biblically, to God’s fidelity to his promises. Thus, is this sense, Jesus would mean that his baptism would be the sign of the fulfillment of God’s righteous promise of salvation. God had promised this and God is faithful to his promises. Jesus’ baptism indicates this. How?
St. Maximus of Turin speaks of the Old Testament prefigurement of baptism at the Red sea and then shows how Christ fulfills it:
I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed……But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people….At the time of the Exodus the column…made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism. (de sancta Epiphania 1.3)
So what God promised in the in the Old Testament by way of prefigurement he now fulfils in Christ. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt as the column led them through the waters. But more wonderfully, we are delivered from the slavery to sin as the column of Christ’s body leads us through the waters of baptism. God’s righteousness is his fidelity to his promises. Hence Jesus says, in his baptism and all it signifies (his death and resurrection) he has come to fulfill all righteous and he thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.
3. The Four Gifts of Baptism – The Text says, After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.“
Eph 5:30 says we are members of Christ’s body. Thus when Jesus goes into the water we go with him. And in going there he acquires four gifts on our behalf as this text sets them forth. Lets look at the four gifts he acquires on our behalf:
- Access – the heavens are opened . The heavens and paradise had been closed to us after Original Sin. But now, at Jesus’ baptism, the text says the heavens are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. So, at our baptism, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, (Romans 5:1) It also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17). Hence the heavens are opened also at our own Baptism and we have access to the Father.
- Anointing – the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove – Here too, Jesus acquires the Gift of the Holy Spirit for us. In Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After baptism there is the anointing with chrism which signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults this is Confirmation. But even for infants, there is an anointing at baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
- Acknowledgment – this is my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from his Father for the faith of those who heard, but also to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Since we become members of Christ’s body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism the heavenly Father acknowledged you as his own dear Child. Scripture says: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26)
- Approval – I am well pleased . Jesus had always pleased his Father. But now he acquires this gift for you as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:1-3)
Thus, at his Baptism, Christ acquired these gifts for us so that our own Baptism we could receive them. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. Perhaps you know the exact day. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ is baptized for our sakes, not his own. All these gifts had always been his. Now, in his baptism he fulfills God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It’s alright to say, “Hallelujah!”
25 Replies to “The Bountiful Blessings of Baptism: A Meditation on the Baptism of the Lord.”
I always knew in a superficial way that our Lord’s Baptism was the establishment of the Sacrament of Baptism for us in our Church. It wasn’t until JPII introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary and I began meditating on the Mystery of the of Baptism of the Lord that this event has had so much more importance to me. Whenever meditating on this mystery, it occurs to me is that the earth’s water system is closed. The same water that appeared at the earth’s creation is the same water in use today. It seems to me that at the moment of Jesus’ Baptism somehow all water was sanctified in some way at this moment. The simple act of a drink of water or taking a shower now has so much more significance for me in the light of the Baptism of our Lord.
The other thing that strikes me regarding the Baptism is the Theophany aspect. I’m not sure but I think this is the first revelation or manifestation of the Holy Trinity presented all at one time in one place for us? In light of this Theophany doesn’t Baptism, if we are without sin, make us not only temples of the Holy Spirit but temples of the Holy Trinity?
the first revelation or manifestation of the Holy Trinity presented all at one time in one place for us?
Although rather hidden, there were the “three men” who appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18), whom some say is a manifestation of the Trinity. Before then, the creation account references God (the Creator, i.e. Father), and after He says, “let there be light,” there is light (by the action of the Son, see John 1 and the Creed (“through Him all things were made), and accompanying them is “mighty wind” (the Holy Spirit). Of course, neither of these being manifestations is apparent prior to the coming of Jesus.
At the Annunciation, all three are present — the Father (as represented by the angel Gabriel), the Holy Spirit (by which Mary conceives), and, of course, once she says “let it be done unto me according to thy word,” little tiny Jesus becomes incarnate in her womb. Here too, however, a manifestation of the Trinity is made clear only by hindsight, having the benefit of the later revelation that God is a Trinity.
Of course, whenever God acts, it is the whole of God, i.e. the entire Trinity who acts, so any reference in the Old Testament to “God” doing this or that would necessarily be a revelation or manifestation of the Trinity, even though not apparent.
Thanks for illustrating what I so awkwardly tried to express when I said, ‘presented all at one time in one place for us?’ I should have had the courage to instead say; ‘presented actually and physically,’ even though this doesn’t seem quite right either but is closer to what I meant.
Not allelujah – but HALLELUJAH! I can feel the power of God on this blog. (I’m still going to Mass to get the real thing – lol).
Msgr. Charles Pope-While you are obviously intelligent and committed to theology I cannot help but wonder. Why do you spend so much time/energy writing and publishing your “almost daily” opinions and therefore neglecting Christs suffering children within your own Archdiocese? Sorry, but it seems you have quite an ego that would be better fulfilled as an author rather than a priest to an impoverished parish. In other words, why not allow a priest who’s calling is to service fulfill the needs of your neglected parishioners.
Bill Bennet’s post has no place in a discussion like this. If he is really concerned and is looking for a solution to what he perceives as Msgr. Pope’s negligence in exercising his responsibilites to the needy people in Msgr.Pope’s parish, the right thing to do would have been to address this personally and privately in a letter, telephone call, and/or in person. I am saddened by a post like this because it leads me to make a judgment that a statement done in this manner seeks only to destroy one person’s reputation, and not for building up community and the family of God.
Msgr. Pope, a lot of us think highly of you, and have learned so much from your articles. Writing is a gift, and your giftedness in this area benefits all of us who have been faithfully following your blog. Thank you for sharing your gift with us, and I am sure, it is done with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You have fed us spiritually.
Oh, Bill, I have a feeling our dear Father hardly gets enough sleep so he may write these opinions so that he can reach so many of us this way. I am sure his own flock is well taken care of.
Mr. Bennett apparently has a somewhat materialistic perception of what a priest’s duties and responsibilities are. Perhapse Mr. Bennett would do well to do a little more soul searching. We all have a bad day when we feel a need to vent some frustration about our delusional perspective of life but Monsignor Pope has made most gracious use of his God given time to service and fulfill the needs of his parishoners and Christ’s flock at a level that extends space and time. I have never felt neglected by Monsignor Pope and I am quite sure neither has his immediate parish. It’s not an ego, it’s a talent on loan from God. We would all do well to try and nurture such God given gifts.
Every time a baby is baptized, in my heart I hear the words “This is my beloved son”… because of of Jesus’ baptism. Might the Church ever consider saying these words when babies, children and catechumens are baptized? Beloved — to know and hear it and feel it — is so powerful. This reading brought me to tears in Mass.
@ Bill. I concur with Msgr Pope. Neglected? I’m sure if you are more specific with your concerns Msgr Pope will certainly nott shy away from answering any and all concerns. However, all you seem to be doing is vented. GET SPECIFIC. Secondly, this blog site if you have not noticed is not Msgr Pope’s personal blog. This site is supported by the Archdiocese and Msgr Pope does not speak for himself but for the Church. If we are to have fruitful and open dialogue that leads us ALL to a closer relationship WITH Jesus Christ and each other you may want to ask God for a better way to communicate your concerns that your voice may unite us and not divide. PEACE.
Bill, with all due respect, writing a daily blog is hard work. It takes time and commitment. It may seem like ego to you but Msgr Pope was called to preach the good news and he is doing it faithfully everyday not only to his own parishioners but to everyone in this world. I am enriched in my faith reading Msgr’s daily blog. We should be grateful that someone of intelligence is sharing and evangelizing via a blog ON TOP of doing his daily pastoral duties to the Archdiocese and his own parishioners. Somehow I can’t see that as neglecting.
“almost daily” opinions
Bill, I need to concur with the others, but this jumped out at me. Surely you are aware that the Monsignor rarely writes about his “opinions.” Now and then, maybe — he likes this movie or likes this kind of music — but whenever he writes on matters of the Catholic faith, he is not expressing “opinion.” He is providing instruction and catechesis.
That is what priests do — they teach. They do not teach their own “opinion,” they do not speak of Church “policy” — at least, they should not — rather, they instruct on the truths of the Faith that have been handed down since the beginning of the Church.
As for the time he takes to write these — I doubt that it really takes much more time than it does for preparing a homily. And, if the Monsignor is anything like me, he probably does not reinvent the wheel each posting, but utilizes things he has written before. Indeed, not a few postings seem to be adapted from homilies he has given.
Personally, I think that the modern Church would benefit greatly if more priests posted their homilies on-line. I know that some people like to complain about how awful homilies are these days, but personally, I have heard some really excellent homilies now and then. Unfortunately, with my tiny brain, the specifics of them end up being forgotten fairly quickly. It would be nice if I could have a written version to re-read and reflect upon. (Thankfully, Pope Benedict does have all of his homilies published on-line, and I generally read (or at least skim through) all of them.)
In short, I am sure that, seeing as he has given the entirety of his life to the Bride, the Church, I doubt that any of his parishioners are “neglected.”
Where are Pope Benedict’s Homilies published online? (In English, preferably)
I can’t speak to your condemnation and judgment of Msgr. Pope’s ego as this would require knowledge and insight that God has not granted me, nor do I hope he does. However, regarding your charge that this blog and Msgr. Pope are, ‘neglecting Christs suffering children,’ it occurs to me you may be confusing the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the ministerial priesthood as follows:
1592 The ministerial priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful because it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. The ordained ministers exercise their service for the People of God by teaching (munus docendi), divine worship (munus liturgicum) and pastoral governance (munus regendi).
I’m at a loss, which of these priestly ministries does this blog and Msgr. Pope neglect?
My priest said Baptism is an experience. I thought he was going to go in the direction of “religious experience” but instead he said it was an expression of love between the Father and Son and between God and us.
Thanks to all of you for your kind support. I am not sure who Bill Bennet is or if he has ever met me. I will say that he surely doesn’t know my parish. We are not impoverished in any sense of the word. In fact, I have a very fine parish and a great staff. This is a busy place to be sure but there is great leadership here and thus the Pastor (me) doesn’t have to do everything. I think, as Bender said, the work of producing these blogs is not as lengthy as some might suspect. I usually compose them rather late at night when other duties are over. It’s a better use of my time than many other things I could do in the evening hours before bed. At any rate I am grateful for the fact that you all read and interact on the blog. My own faith is surely strengthened by all of you. I have also been suitably and gently corrected by some of you and find that it helps me to grow and learn. So, God bless you all!
I am one of Msgr Pope’s parishioners and can attest to the fact that he does not neglect or overlook the suffering children of his own parish or diocese. He is aware of and cares greatly for all of us and knows our spiritual and material needs. I know he reaches out to the poor, the lonely, the sick, the addicted, the hungry and homeless. You won’t hear him speak of this in his blogs because he is too humble. I have been a Catholic for over 50 years and have NEVER been in such a remarkable parish. I know that he often writes these blogs late at night and still is up to offer the Mass at 7am. Our parish is always ready to welcome for those seeking a church home- perhaps you are seeking a church home? why don’t you join us?
Mary-your witness is extremely powerful!!!!!
My post was inappropriate, ignorant and quite judgmental regarding Msgr Pope.
I am sincerely sorry and ask forgiveness for any angst I have caused to anyone and particularly to Msgr Pope.
thanks for your apology Bill- Msgr. Pope is dedicated nd holy priest, we are fortunate to have him.
I am serious – why don’t you come to DC, even for a visit, and be with our parish family? I promise you it will be an experince you will never forget. Let me know When you’ll be there and I will meet you personally. I reccomend the 11am Sunday Mass.
Thank you Bill, and also Mary for building the bridge to mutual reconciliation. God Bless you Bill. God Bless you Mary.
Thank you for your beautiful reflection!
I’ve read many reflections on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan over the years. I’d like to share that I’ve always wondered how doing something so seemingly effortless on Jesus’ part resulted in so much Divine favor (as it’s one of the few things I can imagine doing myself). But then I read in Frank Sheed’s account that it probably took place in winter and I think it might have been very cold.
Being a writer myself, I know how I plead to the Lord to make every word and sentence feel like rain to the parched soul.It should be able to break open a person’s heart and let him feel soaked in the love of Jesus.Am only a lay person, so I can well imagine how a priest whose very vocation is to only preach the love of Jesus, would pray when he sits down to write. I still cannot recount a single blog of yours which has not made me cry.When I sit to read, my soul finds itself in the wellspring of Jesus’ love and grace . Be it everyday human issues or matters of deep theological importance or even those where you want to invite people into a debate, all of it is done with great justice and prudence. I can only attribute this to the Holy Spirit. Please continue to use this charism for God’s own people who are scattered around this world. Love and God Bless you Father!!!
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