Homily for Baptism of the Lord (1st Sun of Ord. Time), Year B

Restored to the Life of Grace through the Water of Baptism

Rdgs: (1st Is 55, 1-11; Ps [Is 12, 2-6]; 2nd 1Jn 5, 1-9; Gos: Mk 1, 7-11)

   This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, del Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

“This sacrament is also called the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one can enter the kingdom of God”(CCC 1215). Today is the 1st Sunday of ordinary time as well as the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This Sunday is like a bridge between two great cities. While it definitively marks the end of Christmas season, it equally marks the beginning of ordinary time of the year, B. Today, the Church reminds us of the fact that Jesus was baptized with water, anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to bring healing, peace, and salvation to all nations. Today’s celebration affords us the opportunity to reflect on why Jesus, though God had to go through the water of baptism. Finally, it also reminds us of the efficacy of our own baptism.

While I was reflecting on the import of today’s celebration, I recalled two short, funny, but interesting stories from jokebuddha.com on baptism. First, once a father was in church with his five year old daughter. They sat in the very front row so that they could properly witness and appreciate the service. During this particular service, the Priest was performing infant baptism. When the girl observed that the priest was saying something and pouring water over a baby’s head, she curiously looked at his father and asked: “Daddy, why is he brainwashing that baby?” Second, before performing a baptism, the priest approached a young man and solemnly said: “Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?” The man replied, “I think so, my wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.” The priest responded, “No, I don’t mean that, I mean, are you prepared spiritually?” Then, the man replied, “Sure! I have got a carton of beer and a case of whiskey.”

Viewed positively, the little girl’s question (though funny), to a great extent makes some sense. This is considering the fact that baptism holistically “washes away Original Sin.” It is actually a kind of “positive brain washing” which wipes out the stains of Original Sin” and restores us completely. On the other hand, like the man who was busy preparing for a party instead of baptism, many of us are yet to comprehend the actual efficacy of baptism. Baptism is not only a sacrament instituted by Jesus it is also, a huge source of grace and blessing. Furthermore, it presents a dynamic experience for those who choose to follow Christ. Baptism is a “very simple Sacrament.” It is “simple” in Form, Matter, character, and even in its administration. However, the fact of its simplicity does not diminish its efficacy. As the priest rightly said, “Baptism is a serious step.” In fact, it is the foundation and most powerful of all other sacraments, because without it other sacraments cannot stand. Its simplicity is what makes it a universal sacrament of grace and life which cleans us of Original Sin and restores us to our original state.

The first reading of this Sunday from the prophet Isaiah is a special and universal invitation to all of us to come to Christ the Living Water who through his own baptism has sanctified our own water of baptism. This living water is Christ in whose name we were baptized. This is a universal invitation because no one is left out.  It is special because it has no barrier. Instead, it is open to all nations, and most especially to those who are truly thirsty. It applies to those who through many worldly entanglements are experiencing dryness; to those who are truly open to the salvation that God offers through his only begotten son Jesus Christ. Hence, it is a call to accept God’s offer of salvation by believing in Jesus Christ the living water.  

In our second reading, John calls our attention to the importance of believing in Jesus Christ. Most importantly he highlighted three entities that bear witness to the sonship of Christ: Water, Blood and Spirit. Every day we are tainted by sin both inwardly and outwardly. In light of this, the water of baptism which Christ brings continues to be efficacious in our lives. Christ continues to wash and regenerate us through the water of baptism, the power of the Holy Spirit and of course, through his precious blood. In the words of Henry Matthew (Bible Commentary): “This water and blood include all that is necessary to our salvation. By the water, our souls are washed and purified for heaven and the habitation of saints in light. By the blood, we are justified, reconciled, and presented righteous to God…The water, as well as the blood, came out of the side of the sacrificed Redeemer. He loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water…” (Eph 5:25-27).

The gospel highlights the core of our celebration today, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Christ had to be baptized in order to make a way for us, in order to purify the water of baptism in which we ourselves were to be bathed. This is because, as the first among his brothers (Rom 8, 29), he always takes the lead in order to show us the way as Rick Founds sang: “…You came from heaven to earth, to show the way; from the earth to the cross, my debt to pay; from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the sky; Lord, I lift your name on high!”  By accepting to be baptized, Christ purified the water in which we are baptized. The baptism of Christ therefore is the stepping stone for our own baptism. He cured the water and gave it the capacity of washing off Original Sin. Today’s celebration then, is a means through which we are reminded of God’s saving help and kindness to us. It reminds us that what Adam and Eve destroyed by Original Sin, which brought us damnation, has been repaired through the water of baptism. 

While Jesus was baptized with water, the Spirit of the Father bore witness or better still, confirmed that he is truly the son of the Father. This is equally what happens to us, not only at baptism, but on a daily basis. As we continue to walk with God and do his will by fulfilling our baptismal promises, the Holy Spirit, equally continues to testify that we are sons and daughters of God. As true Christians and children of God washed in the water of baptism, we must hear the voice of our Father every day in our lives testifying: “this is my beloved son / daughter in whom I am well pleased.” However, this can only be if we persist in fulfilling our promises as Christ did. Therefore, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today, let us renew our own baptism by remembering those promises we made unto the God in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us recommit ourselves to Christ in whose name we were baptized today. Let us cast off the old and Adamic nature corrupted by Original Sin and wear the new life of grace conferred on us by baptism (Eph 4, 20). Finally, with joy let us draw living water from Christ, the well of salvation (Is 2, 3).

Peace be with you!

Maranatha!!

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