[Publisher / Editor Rene Q. Bas’ note: The Times publishes this article from and with the permission of Zenit.org (© Innovative Media). I find this, Archbishop Francesco Follo’s Lectio Divina for the Mass for the solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord, hugely illuminating. It makes very clear to us what the lessons and instructions God the Father gives us, who are his children and are the brothers and sisters of Jesus, in the acts involved in John’s public baptism of his cousin Jesus. Archbishop Follo is–among his other functions– the Vatican’s Permanent Observer at UNESCO.]
Roman Rite readings: Is 40,1-5.9-11; Ps 104; Ti 2.11 – 14, from 3.4 to 7; Lk 3,15-16.21-22
Ambrosian Rite readings: Is 55: 4-7; Ps 28; Eph 2.13- 22; Lk 3,15-16. 21-22
(1) Baptism of joy and mercy
With the feast of the Baptism of Jesus the Liturgy this Sunday (Jan. 9 2016) continues the Epiphany (manifestation) of Christ. Prolonging the mystery of the Epiphany in which the Son of God was manifested as a child to the Magi who had come to Bethlehem to worship Him, today we are called to remember the adult Christ who is baptized by John the Baptist. Christ “was baptized, it is true, as a man, but took upon himself the sins as God; not because he needed purification, but so that from the waters themselves he could bring holiness “(St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration, 29, 19-20).
This epiphany of Jesus has as a witness not only John the Baptist, his disciples and those sinners who had gone to receive the baptism of repentance, but also the Holy Trinity: the Father (The Lover) – the voice from on high – reveals in Jesus his only Son (the Beloved) consubstantial with Him, and all is done by virtue of the Holy Spirit (Love), who comes down on the Messiah in the form of a dove.
In fact, while Jesus, after having come out of the water of the Jordan, is praying, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove and the heaven opens, and from above it, is heard the voice of the Father, who says to Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3, 22). This pleasure of God is something deep. I do not think we can reduce it to a kind of convergence of feelings or identity of views. The pleasure of God is just a mirror, an identification of the Father in the Son.
The first “practical” consequence for us is to make ours the prayer, with which the priest begins the Mass of this Sunday:
“Almighty and eternal God, who after his baptism in the Jordan River have declared Christ your beloved Son, while the Holy Spirit was descending on him, grant to your children, born again from the water and the Spirit, to live always in your ‘loving and benevolent joy”. In doing so, the feast of the Baptism of Jesus will be for us not only a moment when we get to listen to his Gospel with joy, but also an invitation to be witnesses of Christ with a life lived in joy, because in the Son we are loved and forgiven children.
(2) Epiphany of the Trinity
According to St. Jerome there are three reasons why Jesus is baptized by John: “The first, because having been born like any other man, he must comply with the law with justice and humility. The second, to demonstrate with his baptism the efficacy of the baptism of John. The third, to show, by sanctifying the waters of Jordan with the descent of the dove, the advent of the Holy Spirit in the washing of the believers” (Comment to Mt 1, 3,13).
But it is important to keep in mind two other lessons to be drawn from this feast. The first is that, by being baptized by John together with sinners, Jesus began to take upon himself the burden of the guilt of all humanity, as the Lamb of God who “takes away” (literally: “who takes upon himself” ) the sin of the world (see Jn 1:29). The second is that, with his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus reveals the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that come down among men, and show that their love is rich in forgiving and recreating mercy.
Therefore, the event of the baptism of Christ is not only the revelation of his divine filiation and his incarnation, but is also the revelation of the Trinity: “The Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Spirit in the dove” (St. Augustine, In Io. Ev. tr. 6, 5). In this regard Chromatius of Aquileia says: “What a great mystery in this heavenly Baptism! The Father is heard from heaven, the Son appears on earth, the Holy Spirit is manifested in the form of a dove: we cannot speak, in fact, of true of Baptism, or of true forgiveness of sins where there is not the truth of the Trinity, nor the remission of sins can be granted if you do not believe in the perfect Trinity (Sermon 34, 1-3).
Here there is a second “practical” consequence: let’s make ours the prayer of St. Hilary of Poitiers: “Preserve undefiled in me this right faith and, to my last breath, grant me also this voice of my conscience, so that I remain faithful to that which I professed in my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit” (De Trinitate, XII, 57, CCL 62 / A, 627). When a person is baptized in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he or she is immersed in God. And this happens to us in being baptized: we come to be inserted in the name of God, so that we belong to this name and his name becomes our name and we too, with our witness — like the three in the Old Testament — can be witnesses of God, a sign of who this God is, a name of this God.” (Benedict XVI, Lectio Divina, July 11, 2012).
(3) Baptism and Consecration
The mission of Christ is summed up in this: [for us]to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, to free us from the slavery of death and “to open ourselves to heaven” that is the access to the true and full life that will be “a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy “(Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 12).
Therefore we could say that it is enough to be baptized to be good Christians and we not need a further consecration as, for example, that of consecrated virgins in the world. In this regard, Pope Francis points out that: “We all are consecrated to Him through baptism. We are all called to offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus and like Jesus, making a generous gift of our lives, in the family, at work, in the service of the Church, in works of mercy. However, this consecration is lived in a special way by the religious, by the monks, by the consecrated lay people, who with the profession of vows belong to God fully and exclusively. This belonging to the Lord allows those who live in an authentic way to offer a special witness to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Totally consecrated to God, they are fully given to the brothers, to bring the light of Christ where there is the most dense darkness and to spread His hope in the discouraged hearts “(February 2, 2014).
If we look at the consecrated Virgins in the world we see that they “are a sign of God in the various areas of life, are a leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, are prophecy of sharing with the poor and little ones. Well understood and lived, the consecrated life appears to us just as it is: a real a gift from God, a gift of God to the Church, a gift of God to his people. Every consecrated person is a gift to the People of God.” (February 2, 2014)
The Church and the world need this witness of the love and mercy of God. The consecrated persons, the religious men and women, are evidence that God is good and merciful. For this reason, Pope Francis has proclaimed a year dedicated to consecrated life. (November 30, 2014 – February, 2nd 2016)
The one who is consecrated, is committed to show and to anticipate in his or her life those attitudes of life and forms of humanity that everyone will live in Paradise. Meanwhile, on this Earth, we need witnesses to show that it is possible to reserve one’s life completely to Christ, so that God may reveal himself and carry out His mission of love and mercy.
Love consecrated in virginity is “to keep the arms open to all without locking them up to embrace only someone” (Brother Roger of Taize). It is to close the arms to get the hands clasped in prayer and to entrust to God the people we love. In fact, virginity is a value when it is a chaste love, which opens to Love and is illuminated by Love. Following the example of the virgins, the families will have their doors and their hearts wide open to love.
[This article continues with Patristic Readings organized by Archbishop Follo. It can be accessed through Zenit.org. at http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/baptism-of-jesus-son-of-god-and-brother-of-us-all)