Is 42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mk 1:7-11
I read this story of two pastors and one priest talking about the problem of cats invading their churches. The Baptist minister said he put the cats in bags and threw them in a nearby river. In spite of that, the cats survived and there were twice as many there the next week.
The Methodist minister said they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creation. So he confided they humanely trapped the cats and set them free many miles outside town. But three days later, the cats were back.
But the Catholic priest bragged that he had the best and most effective solution. He said, “I simply baptized them and I haven’t seen them in church since then!”
This is just a joke but it shows a sad reality that after baptism many of us Christians are never seen in church again. Just like this story of a priest who was celebrating midnight Mass before a jampacked congregation which included numerous new faces, said, “Merry Christmas and Happy Easter!”
The people wondered why he included Easter. After the Mass, the priest explained, “It’s because the next time they will show up in church again will be on Easter.”
This Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is a great feast in the sense that Jesus showed His solidarity and love with us.
Somebody said that the reason why Jesus allows Himself to be baptized, we have to know first what happened before He received His baptism. Before the baptism of Christ, John the Baptist was busy baptizing people who came to him. Our Lord knows this action of John and for Him, those who came to see John the Baptist were moving towards the direction of God the Father. With this conviction, Christ identified Himself with the people in their search for God. In other words, Jesus allows Himself to be baptized too because He wants us to feel that He is one with us in our longing and desire for God. He is baptized not because He is conscious of sin and of the need of repentance, but because He knows that He too must identify Himself with the people movement towards God. This is the grandiose and beauty of Christ’ baptism in letting Himself to be baptized by a simple person like, St. John the Baptist. Christ succeeds in imparting to us that He is interested in our affairs and that He is interested in our way of relating God. Jesus could have easily avoided the baptism of John since He was God but He did not. As God, He could have avoided the baptism of John since He is God but He does not. As God He could have told the people to come to Him for baptism instead to John but this He does not do either.
And not only that, this Baptism of Jesus is important because it reveals two things: first, it reveals who He is that He is God’s own Son. A voice said: “This is My beloved Son. On You My favor rests,” (Mk 1:11). And second, what He will do. This is expressed by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading of this Sunday. His mission as God’s Servant was to bring justice to the nations, open the eyes of the blind, to release captives free (Is 42:1-4, 6-7).
In other words, our own baptism means two things, said Fr. Bel San Luis in his homily. First, it proclaims publicly our new membership of the Church and second, it empowers us to do the good works Jesus did.
But what is baptism? I read a homily also by Fr. In Munachi Ezeogu, CSSP in the internet that according to him in Nigeria the baptism of a child is usually followed by a happy reception where children are sure to eat one thing, rice. As a result, the baptism dress is sometimes referred to as your rice dress. Thinking of baptism easily makes people think of rice. And sometimes when you are talking of the rites of baptism, all they hear is the rice of baptism. Though the connection between baptism and rice is altogether accidental, one can utilize it as a memory aid for the meaning of baptism.
For Fr. Munachi the meaning of baptism can be found in the four letters of the word RICE. RICE is very important for us Filipinos because this is our staple food. Without it, we will die. R stands for Rebirth. In baptism we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit. We are cleansed from original sin and become sons and daughters of God in a special way. I, stands for Initiation. At baptism we are initiated or admitted into full membership in the church, the community of the children of God in the world. C is for Consecration. In baptism we consecrate, dedicate and commit ourselves to seek and to spread the Kingdom of God. We commit ourselves to be servants of God, to do God’s will and serve God with our whole lives. And E is for Empowerment. At baptism the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and empowers us, equips us, gives us the moral strength to say no to evil and to live as God’s children that we have become.
These four effects of baptism can be divided into two categories, the passive effects or what we receive from God the people of God, namely, Rebirth, Initiation and Empowerment and the active effect or what we give to God and the people of God, namely, Commitment and dedication to a cause, to spread the Kingdom of God.
I’m sure that most of us here can still remember their own birthday anniversary, wedding anniversary, engagement anniversary or the day you passed a board exam and many more. How many of you here can accurately remember the day, the month and the year of your own baptism? I will give a round trip ticket to the United States for two if you can tell me in few seconds. I know that you could not, I’m sure of that. I believe 80-90% of those present here could not answer this question immediately because we could not remember right away the day, the month and the year of our baptism. The fact that that most of us could not remember or recall immediately when we were baptized mean that we do not put so much emphasis and importance on our baptism. That is why we do not celebrate our baptismal anniversary as it comes every year. If ever we are celebrating something during the course of the year, the celebration is usually in relation to our birthdays, wedding anniversaries for those who are married and parties for special occasions such as job promotions, passing board exams and many more. There are lots of celebrations in our lives that we long to celebrate with flying colors but oftentimes, baptismal anniversary is not included. We do not even go to church during our baptismal anniversaries. This is how we behave as far as baptism is concerned and such behavior is a sad fact. It is a sad fact because baptism is important to our faith and important in the eyes of God. The importance of baptism is so evident that even our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized.
Are we ready to consecrate and dedicate ourselves wholly to the service of the Kingdom of God just as Jesus does?
See Today’s Readings: Cycle B