January 10, 2015

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, January 11, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


There are at least four major scenes in the Bible involving water.

At the very beginning of creation, even before God utters the words, “Let there be light!” we find the Spirit of God hovering over the waters.

In Noah’s time water became a great flood. It marked the end of vice and a new beginning of virtue. It was also then that the dove became a significant symbol of peace.

In the book of Exodus the descendants of Abraham passed dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea. The time of slavery was over. A new time of freedom had begun.

All four Gospels mention the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. This marked the end of Jesus’ private life and the beginning of his public ministry. Again, we find the Holy Spirit present at the event.

Jesus’ appearance on the public scene can hardly be called a “grand entrance.” No one in the crowd, except maybe John the Baptist, seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. It’s all over in three verses. And yet it is one of the most important moments in the Gospels.

Water continues to have special meaning. In baptism it marks a new creation, a beginning of virtue, and liberation from the enslaving power of sin. It isn’t just the water, of course, but also and especially the Holy Spirit as work through the water. At the end of the blessing of baptismal water, the priest prays to the Father in these words:

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image
and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.
May the power of the Holy Spirit,
O Lord, we pray,
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise again to life with him.”

All churches have water at the entrance of the church. People dip their finger in it and make the Sign of the Cross as they enter and leave. We call it Holy Water, but ideally it is Baptismal Water, blessed with the same prayer as at the Easter Vigil, which I have quoted in part above.

It’s purpose is precisely to remind us of our baptism. When you sign yourself with baptismal water as you enter or leave the Church, remember: you came here as a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Body of Christ, a member of the community of believers. And you leave, hopefully, as a more committed disciple, more intimately attached to the Body of Christ, more deeply connected to the community of believers.

The gesture of signing yourself with baptismal water is not to be taken lightly. Baptism includes certain commitments, imposes certain expectations. In the rite of baptism, the celebrant says at one point to the one being baptized: “I claim you for Christ.”

Christ has a claim on you, because you were baptized in his name. 

But don’t forget: because you were baptized in his name, you have a claim on Christ!

1 comment :

marie said...

HI Father Rene, Yes indeed, it goes both ways. The priest claims us for Christ and at the same time we receive an active "right to Christ"
Other thoughts come of our infant Baptism compared to the lowering of the paralytic through the roof for healing by his friends(godparents)