Baptism of the Lord (A)
January 12, 2020
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

 

Baptism of the Lord (A)

 

 

Collect

Almighty ever-living God,
who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Proper Chants

(Chants for the Catholic liturgy are unavailable for this feast.  The following are from the Orthofox liturgy for the feast of Theophany)

 

"When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, and called Thee His beloved Son! And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!"

 

 

"The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Alleluia."

 

 

On this day thou hast appeared to the whole world, and Thy light, O Sovereign Lord, is signed on us who sing Thy praise and chant with knowledge: Thou hast now come, Thou hast appeared, O Thou light unapproachable.

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Second Reading Acts 10:34-38

And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Gospel Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him;  and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

 Reflection Questions:

  1. How do you feel the Lord has taken you by the hand and kept you?
  2. How do you understand God’s having no partiality?
  3. How do you imagine God being well-pleased with you at this time?

Catena Nova

Then you were led to the holy pool of baptism, just as Christ, was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb that had been prepared beforehand. Each one of you was questioned in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You professed the saving faith and three times you were immersed in the water and three times emerged. This symbolized Christ’s burial for three days. By this action, you died and were born. The saving water was your tomb and at the same time a womb.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

Although as Son of God he needed neither cleansing nor purifying, yet on a particular day at a determined time when he was thirty years old he underwent the rite of baptism, that unique mystery by which alone we receive salvation. By undergoing baptism he consecrated it, and by that consecration he bestowed as a heavenly gift on all believers the holiness which baptism confers. (St. Odilo of Cluny)

While John did indeed baptize our Lord and Saviour, in a deeper sense he was baptized by Christ, for Christ sanctified the waters, John was sanctified by them; Christ bestowed grace, John received it; John laid aside his sins, Christ forgave them. The reason? John was a man, Christ was God. For it is God’s prerogative to forgive sins, as it is written: Who can forgive sins, except God alone? This is why John says to Christ: I ought to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? For John needed baptism, since he could not be without sin; Christ, however, did not need a baptism, since he had committed no sin. (St. Chromatius of Aquileia)

For the Divine Power, looking into human hearts, mercifully takes from them the crimes of their unbelief by the washing of baptism, and throws those crimes out of their Way, Which is Christ; for in Christ there is no death, but life through pure confession and washing away of sins. Through Him each of them is clothed in the purity of salvation, and through Him the brightness of the blessed inheritance, from which the first human being was expelled, is opened to them. And each of the faithful is admonished by words of truth that they should lay aside the old ways of iniquity and accept the new gift of grace for salvation….And the children who have passed through the womb of the image [of Ecclesia] walk in the splendor that surrounds her; which means that they, who through the font of sacred baptism have the Church as their happy mother, should remain in and keep to the divine law by which their mother is illuminated and adorned. (St. Hildegard of Bingen)

The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God. (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

The reason Our Lord was baptized was because it was part of the whole process of emptying, of humiliation, of the Incarnation. How could He be poor with us, if He did not in some way conform to our poverty? How could He come among sinful men and women to redeem them, if He did not also reveal the necessity of being purged from sin? There was no need of Our Blessed Mother to submit to the rite of purification, as there was no need of Our Lord to submit to the rite of Baptism by John. He had no need personally of having sins remitted, but He assumed a nature which was related to sinful humanity. Though He was without sin, He appeared to all people as a sinner, as He did on the cross. That was why He walked into the Jordan with all the rest of the sinners to demand the baptism of penance “in remission of sins.” (Ven. Fulton J. Sheen)

Once you have grace, you are free. Without it, you cannot help doing the things you know you should not do, and that you know you don’t really want to do. But once you have grace, you are free. When you are baptized, there is no power in existence that can force you to commit a sin — nothing that will be able to drive you to it against your own conscience. And if you merely will it, you will be free forever, because the strength will be given you, as much as you need, and as often as you ask, and as soon as you ask, and generally long before you ask for it, too. (Thomas Merton)

 Homily

BAPTISM OF THE LORD (A)

                                                                                    Readings: Is. 42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mt. 3:13-17

No Company for Misery

            I’m sure Victor Hugo’s immortal novel Les Miserables is familiar to most people.  If you haven’t read it, perhaps you saw the stage version or the (far less worthy) movie.   It’s a story of sin and redemption, of the contrast between justice and mercy, law and grace.  It opens in a dark, dank and dismal French prison where the hero, Jean Valjean, has been imprisoned nineteen years for the “terrible” crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry child.  He is about to be paroled, but under one condition: he must forever carry a document with him showing he’s an ex-convict.  This yellow paper makes him an outcast to society and his freedom a sham.

            One day Jean went begging at the door of a bishop’s palace.  The bishop welcomed Jean to his table and offered him lodging for the night.  But the desperate Jean--who can no longer make a decent living--makes off during the night with two silver candlesticks from the bishop’s home.  He’s soon caught by the story’s villain, by the name of Javert, who was Jean’s former prison guard.  And Javert would like nothing more than to see Valjean returned to prison.  But, lo and behold, the bishop, in an act of extraordinary kindness, pretends he had given Jean the candlesticks, and thus spares him a return to the dungeon.

            Now after this incredible show of mercy, Jean decides he has to hide his true identity in order to survive, so he tears the parole paper up, and starts his life over.  He becomes a great success, a wealthy man of influence, who gradually learns to treat others with the same compassion shown him by the bishop.  Yet, he is still a man on the run, in violation of the terms of his parole and his past always on the verge of catching up with him.  Javert, his sworn enemy, fanatically pursues Valjean from place to place, intent on having justice and the law served -- no matter the change that has taken place in his former charge.

            By now, you’re no doubt wondering why in the world I’m telling you this story!  Well, Valjean and Javert in a way embody something about today’s feast of our Lord’s baptism.  For the exchange between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth is like the struggle between Hugo’s characters. John came preaching repentance, a fearsome figure, the last of the fiery prophets.  Indeed, the Baptist is a model of the righteous person who fulfilled the Law of Moses to the letter: indeed, he fulfilled all righteousness. But then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him (G).  And John protests. 

            For if John was a model of righteousness, surely the Nazarene was all the more so.  Something had told the Baptist: This is the servant whom God upholds, the chosen one with whom God is pleased (cf. I).  So why should Jesus submit to a baptism of repentance by John?  If in fact this is the long-awaited Messiah, who will establish justice on the earth, for whose teaching the coastlands will wait (cf. I)?  It seems clear that John needs to be baptized by Jesus and not the other way around.  Yet Jesus is coming to him (cf. G).  Why?

            The answer’s not clear.  Jesus speaks mysteriously: Allow it now, he says, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness (G). That was all John needed to hear: the magic word “righteousness”.  So he allowed it.  But the mystery remains: the mystery of a righteous man who appears in the form of a sinner, taking the sinner’s part.  A man whose career begins where John’s ends.  A man who is the opposite of John.  For John cried out in the desert, while Jesus comes not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street (I).  John appeared and preached in ways to make one tremble, while Jesus does not break a bruised reed, nor quench a smoldering wick (cf. I).  John came neither eating nor drinking, but Jesus came doing both.  John hightailed it to the desert to live apart from sinners, while Jesus sits in their company, enters their homes, and is known as their friend.  John died in prison for speaking out against the immorality of a king, while Jesus is executed as a breaker of the Law.  What does this contrast mean?

            Well, for one thing it meant a new age had dawned on the earth the day Jesus appeared before John.  It meant the time for justice was past and an era of mercy come.  It meant the burden of the Law had been lifted as the age of the Spirit descended.  It meant the reign of sin was ending and redemption was at hand.  For a great exchange happened at the Jordan River: Justice yielded to mercy, law gave in to grace, innocence took the place of the guilty.  From now on, the usual priorities would be reversed: the least shall be the greatest and the greatest, least.

            So if we were to rewrite Hugo’s story in light of this exchange Javert must allow Valjean to go free: the convict has been touched, less by the hands of a bishop, as by Jesus of Nazareth [who] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil (II).  Javert must also give up his claim on justice and his trust in law since the only One among us not to know sin has become sin for our sake.  Javert must also cease his boasting and along with him all who rely on their own righteous­ness, realizing all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.

            This is akin to the great exchange we celebrate at Christmas and sung in the Liturgy: O wondrous exchange: the Creator of humankind, taking upon him a living body, vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin and, without seed, becoming a man, hath made us partakers of his Divinity (Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, Vespers Antiphon).  An exchange that continues in the Mystery we are gathered here to celebrate: bread for Body, wine for Blood as we are transformed into the likeness of One who takes away the sins of the world, a light for the nations, [come] to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confine­ment, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness (I).  The same Christ our Lord, to whom be glory, forever and ever.  Amen.

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