Why did Jesus seek baptism by John in the Jordan? Surely Jesus had no need of repentance – even John felt awkward and said, “No, Lord, I should receive your baptism!” Perhaps we can say that when we were baptized we received a blessing but when Jesus was baptized he granted a blessing. That blessing came in the form of a revelation – a revelation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was baptized the voice of the Father said, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” This reminds us that the Father offers His beloved Son for the redemption of the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The Holy Spirit also came upon Jesus like a dove, granting Jesus power to heal, to restore, reconcile, to enlighten and to save. Finally, the mission of the Son is revealed because his immersion in the Jordan is a sign of his immersion into suffering and death. The indication this is true comes from the occasion when the Mother of James and John ask Jesus to place her sons at his right and his left in the Reign of God. Jesus asked if they were prepared to suffer with him and be baptized with the baptism which he will receive. This reveals the meaning of our own baptism – that we are immersed in the death of the Lord that we may rise with him – this is the Paschal Mystery.
The baptism of the Lord invites us to consider the meaning and power of our own baptism. We believe that in baptism and confirmation the Holy Spirit comes upon us just as the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism. This means we are called to holiness – to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Traditionally there are three stages to spiritual growth: purification, illumination, and union with the Lord. With purification we turn from sin and look to the Lord. This is painful because we must be purged from our bad habits to live for the Lord. We must rely on the power of the Lord to transform us as we pray, “Have mercy on me O God, a sinner.” In the next spiritual stage we seek illumination. We are guided by the Scriptures, especially the Gospel. We grow in discipleship which makes us missionaries: Called and Sent; sent to heal, to restore, to reconcile, to illuminate, to bless. Finally, we come to union with the Lord. In this stage we move beyond words and concepts to bask in the presence of the Lord. When we come for regular adoration, we offer ourselves in contemplation. Our minds cannot comprehend the Lord but our hearts can embrace him and we rejoice that we belong to the Lord and the Lord belongs to us.
What are examples of holiness around us? I believe when a person is dedicated to the care of a loved one – that is holiness. Sometimes we see people whose total time and energy is devoted to caring for a spouse or parent who is ill. This kind of generosity is loving God with all our strength and likewise our neighbor. Another sign of holiness is celibacy. Celibacy reminds us that in the Reign of God there is no marriage because our union is with the Lord. How generous for those called to the priesthood and religious life to give up having a family to dedicate themselves to the Lord and the People of God. Another witness to holiness is in those who suffer pain or who grieve. The Lord is present in a special way to those who suffer and those who offer their suffering to the Lord make it redemptive.
At our baptism, like the baptism of Jesus, the Father says, “This is my beloved.” Our growth in holiness, then, is tied to our growing realization that we daughters and sons of God. Perhaps we take this for granted because Muslim people are very devout but they do not believe they are children of God. This is because, while Christians and Muslims are children of Abraham, Muslims trace their lineage through Ishmael – the son of Haggar the slave woman. As Christians, we trace our lineage through Isaac, the son of Sarah, the child of the promise. Thus the beautiful line from the First Letter of John: “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called Children of God – yet that is what we are.” My dear brothers and sisters let us grow in holiness by strengthening our identity as a daughter of son of God.