Baptism of the Lord
January 11, 2015
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
It has always seemed unfair to me that each of us gets to experience only one of the two typical ways in which we enter the church as Catholics: as infants (or small children) or as adults through the Rite of Christian Initiation.
As infants, we are unaware of our call to Christianity, brought into God’s family by the grace and faith of our families, raised in the hope of knowing God. We do not know life before or without faith. If we join the church later, we have walked through life without the church and know distinctly the difference between the life we had and the one we choose. Both are graced, but I am often unsatisfied with my own graced path. I want to know them both. Experience tells me I am not alone in this longing.
God wrote timelessness into our souls. When I think about this, I can only imagine that our longing for eternity is meant to draw us to him. Then he sets us in time, where we can glimpse and taste God, but not possess God. We are promised only that our life, whatever it holds, can be enough to find him.
These readings for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord point to two dynamics of the mystery of our life in God: God’s desire for us and the way we are changed by God. This is perhaps most clear in the first reading, where Isaiah’s prophecy prefigures baptism. The prophet gives an image of the one who follows, whose life is a gift for others, a gentle but powerful source of God’s justice for the world. This one has been called and gifted by God who works through the one and the many he has created.
When Jesus is baptized, John knows that their roles are reversed, and Jesus encourages him to do his part in God’s plan, to serve his Master by baptizing the one who gives us baptism. So John baptizes Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, a powerful sign and effective source of the grace that flows through him in the three years that follow. Jesus’ life is transformed by the baptism and the heavens break open and the Spirit descends. And the words break from heaven: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The second reading is from Acts, the preaching of Peter to new converts. This is the story, he says, of Jesus of Nazareth, who was sent to Israel and to the world, and it began with his baptism, which gave him the spirit of healing and righteousness. In the section that follows the reading in the lectionary, Peter goes on to say that this baptism led to the crucifixion and resurrection, a death and new life that all the baptized are offered through Jesus. Don’t you want this baptism, Peter asks?
I want it. I want it all over again. I want desperately to remember it. I want to ask for it for myself, be transformed by it, bear witness to my own conversions, and to hear God’s voice. Joining the church as an adult gives a palpable sense of God’s desire for us, and leads us to changed lives. Infant baptism changes our lives and we grow into our understanding of God’s desire and call. It is vitally important for us as Catholic Christians, in a world that is no longer culturally Christian, to be able to articulate that we have been found by Jesus and changed by him. It does not matter if we were baptized as infants or as adults, we have had a share in both dynamics of salvation: we have been called and we have been changed by him.
Before I knew that I was called, before I had words for it, I knew a life transformed. (This is not to say that my family or faith was perfected in childhood, but merely to acknowledge that I grew up in a family that knew God and tried to live out of that knowledge.) We practiced forgiveness and generosity. We lived sacrifice and a liturgy of life informed by faith. My life was not instantaneously changed by a conversation, experience or vision. It was gradually and daily refined by living faithfully the conversions offered moment by moment.
Over many years, I have come to recognize his voice, breaking from heaven over and over again since my baptism, saying to me over and over again: “This is my daughter, my Beloved.” It was in the affirmation of my parents and teachers and friends. It was in the peace that followed a difficult decision. I heard it when I surrendered to his care in the midst of depression, and it echoes when I apologize to my children, take them up in my arms and promise that we can start again at loving each other.
This baptism of Jesus’ has led to mine, and yours, and it will lead us both to the cross and the resurrection by his grace. The children and the adults of this world are still desperately in need of this same baptism, this knowing that God has chosen them and this being transformed into his people.
We do not get to live every possible path to grace, and sometimes the stories of others seems so much more exciting than ours. But someone needs the story of your baptism and your life of grace. When they ask, can you tell it? Will you share that story with gratitude to the One who gave it to you? Perrault is the director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Saskatoon. She is co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating. She and her husband, Marc, are the parents of three young children.
Perrault is the director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Saskatoon. She is co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating. She and her husband, Marc, are the parents of three young children.