Pope Francis baptizes an infant in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 12. The pope baptized 32 children during the celebration on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (Jan 12, 2014) See story to come.



BY: Rev. Fr. Utazi Prince Marie Benignus


HOMILY: Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; or Isaiah 55: 1-11; Psalm 29: 1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10; or Isaiah 12: 2-6; Acts 10: 34-38 or 1 John 5: 1-9; Mark 1: 7-11

I pray for you: May you live out your mission of sharing in the ministry of Jesus and of proclaiming the Good News of God’s love for others. Amen.

Just as Bishop Donald J Hying would say in his homily: “We Christians reflect upon and celebrate the baptism of Jesus in significant ways: liturgically, at the conclusion of the Christmas season; devotionally, as the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary; and theologically, as the scriptural prism for the meaning of Christian baptism”.

We are reminded as we recall our own Baptism, that like Jesus, we are being sent out on a mission of proclaiming the Good News of the God’s love for others. This is our calling and our mission. We must make known to others the message of Jesus and the salvation He brought us through His death and resurrection. We, as sons and daughters of God, must share the Gospel with others by “doing good” and allowing them to experience the grace that comes in and through Jesus. The readings today proclaim that Jesus is publicly beginning His role as the Servant of God and that God reveals to the people that Jesus is the “beloved Son in Whom Abba-Father is pleased.”

The reading from Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 is part of the “Suffering Servant” prophecies. In it, the prophet shares God’s words of being pleased with the Servant Whom God has chosen as the One in whom God’s Spirit dwells. Isaiah reveals that God will send One Who will be true servant of God. This servant will be made known and manifested by God’s Spirit dwelling in Him. Today’s section of Isaiah proclaims that this Servant will be marked by His humble way of acting; yet, though He is humble, He will perform mighty deeds. The Servant will be manifested as a light to the people and will bring freedom and healing to those in need. Isaiah 42 is an encouragement for people who feel oppression and lack hope. God speaks to them and reassures them that their period of oppression is over and they should rejoice for God will send one who will prepare the way so that the Lord can come to the overwhelmed people and take care of them, since the earthly shepherds have failed to protect, care, and lead the people.
The reading from Isaiah 55: 1-11 presents the Lord God inviting those who desire a closer relationship with Him to forsake their past ways of sin and seek Him. The first Responsorial (Psalm 29) is another hymn of praise of God for manifesting the Divine favor and awesome display of power over the waters. In the other optional Responsorial (Isaiah 12: 2-6), we hear that water of the springs of salvation will cause us to rejoice. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter proclaims the truth of Jesus’ ministry, starting with His Baptism by John the Baptist, His healing and ministry to the people, and the ultimate Shalom brought through His life and death and resurrection. The optional Second Reading is 1 John 5: 1-9. This reading dwells on the theme of the Trinity and that theme flows through the passage: The Holy Spirit who testifies to Jesus’ being the Son of God and the Spirit Who is present at the Jesus’ Baptism which we will hear the Gospel today; the testimony of God the Father on Jesus’ behalf, who speaks favorably of Jesus in the Gospel today; the role of Jesus, bringing eternal life which is the life of the Triune God, to those who believe. Today’s Gospel passage begins with Mark’s words of John the Baptist proclaiming that John is not the Messiah, but only a servant of the One Who is coming. Jesus comes to John and is baptized by John. The Epiphany of Jesus as the Servant of God is revealed as the Holy Spirit appears as a dove and God speaks the words, “You are my beloved, with You I am well pleased.”

Today, Jesus is officially and publicly being sent out on His mission – to proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation in and through what Jesus will say and do, including His death and resurrection. God is acknowledging in the sight of the people that Jesus is the Son of God Who is to bring the message of salvation to the people. Then, our Baptism, in contrast to Jesus’ baptism, is the beginning of our life as adopted children of God. We are welcomed into the family of God. Our baptism signifies both death and new life. One’s old (sinful) life is put to death, and a new (graced, blessed, and God-like) life is given.

John the Baptist baptized Jews before Christ came on the scene. Where did he come by the practice of baptism? The liturgical use of water was common in the Jewish world. The Law of Moses required ablutions (washings) on the part of priests following certain sacrifices and on certain individuals who were unclean because of an infectious disease (Num. 19:1-22; Lev 14,15, 16:24-28). The natural method of cleansing the body by washing and bathing in water was always customary in Israel. The washing of their clothes was an important means of sanctification imposed on the Israelites even before the law was given at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:10). The use of water for cleansing was used symbolically as well in such passages as Ezekiel 36:25 where God says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities . . .” We do not believe that the practice of baptism for the remission of sins as taught in the New Testament was based in any way on the Old Testament, however the Old Testament washings with or in water that were for the purpose of physical cleansing can be seen as a type or shadow of New Testament baptism, which is for the purpose of spiritual cleansing (1 Peter 3:21).

Toward the beginning of the Christian era, the Jews adopted (as a custom unrelated to Divine guidance) the custom of baptizing proselytes seven days after their circumcision. A series of specific interrogations made it possible to judge the real intentions of the candidate who wished to adopt the Jewish religion. After submitting to these interrogations, he was circumcised and later baptized before witnesses. In the baptism, he was immersed naked in a pool of flowing water; when he rose from the pool, he was a true son of Israel. After their baptism, new converts were allowed access to the sacrifices in the Temple.

When John the Baptist came on the scene in the first century Jewish world, his teaching included the necessity of baptism. The people of his day were familiar with the act or practice of baptism as just discussed. However, John’s baptism was not based on or authorized by the Jewish law or pagan religious customs and traditions. John was called to preach by God, armed only with the Word of God (Luke 3:2). Jesus tells us that the baptism that John taught was from heaven, not from men (Matt 21:25). When John preached a baptism for the remission of sins, the people heard and obeyed. They submitted to the baptism that had been authorized by God. It was the first time in human history in which a person had the opportunity to be baptized for the remission of his sins, pagan and Jewish religious customs, notwithstanding.

Though today the word BAPTISM generally evokes thoughts of identifying with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, it is worth knowing that baptism did not begin with Christians. For years before Christ, the Jews had used baptism in ritual cleansing ceremonies of Gentile proselytes. John the Baptist took baptism and applied it to the Jews themselves. It was not just the Gentiles who needed cleansing. Many believed John’s message and were baptized by him (Matthew 3:5-6). The baptisms John performed had a specific purpose.

In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist mentions the purpose of his baptisms: “I baptize you with water for repentance.” Paul affirms this in Acts 19:4: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” John’s baptism had to do with repentance. It was a symbolic representation of changing one’s mind and going towards a new direction. “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:6). Being baptized by John demonstrated a recognition of one’s sin, a desire for spiritual cleansing, and a commitment to follow God’s law in anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival. There were some, like the Pharisees, who came to the Jordan to observe John’s ministry but who had no desire to step into the water themselves. John rebuked them sternly: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance’” (Matthew 3:7-8). Even the religious leaders needed to repent of their sin, although they saw no need of it.

John the Baptist provided a baptism that served as a sign of repentance, but Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5). So why did John baptize Jesus? At first, even John the Baptist sought to dismiss Jesus’ request for baptism. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). John recognized Jesus was the spotless Lamb of God (John 1:29) who did not need to be baptized to show His repentance. He then consented after Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
*Several factors explain why the perfect Son of God chose to be baptized*. *First*, Jesus sought to make a clear connection with John the Baptist. John was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3) who served as the Elijah who was to come. As the one to announce the Messiah, it was fitting for him to dedicate Jesus for His public ministry. *Second*, Jesus’ baptism connected the humanity of Jesus with the rest of humanity. Though He was without sin, He took on the form of a man and identified with human experiences. This even included His experience of being baptized, a practice He would later command of all His followers (Matthew 28:18-20). *Third*, Jesus’ baptism provided an example He expected other believers to follow. In Matthew 28:18-20, we read, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus began His public ministry with baptism; He ended His public ministry with a command for His followers to baptize others. *Fourth*, the baptism of Jesus provided the first explicit mention in the New Testament involving all three members of the Triune God. Matthew 3:16-17 says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” Jesus, the Spirit, and the voice of God the Father all appear at one time, revealing the uniqueness of each Person of the Trinity while affirming their essential unity.

*In summary*, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist included enormous theological significance. It affirmed Jesus as the Messiah, whom John spoke of, revealed the humanity of Jesus, provided an example for others, and displayed a beautiful picture of the Triune God among the earliest followers of Jesus. Through His baptism, Jesus identity as the Father’s beloved son was revealed (Matt. 3:17). Through His baptism, Jesus identified himself with sinners though he did not sin. Through His Baptism, the mission of Jesus Christ was clearly defined.

As we talk of Jesus’ baptism, we talk of our own baptism. Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, and it has powerful and long-lasting effects. It changes the spiritual character of a person forever, and the mark of transformation is so permanent that it is indelible; it can never be erased. What follows is a concise list of nine of the most important effects and benefits of the sacrament of baptism as noted by Father Michael Van Sloun.
*The gateway sacrament* Baptism is the first of the sacraments. It is the beginning and the foundation of the Christian life of faith, and it provides access to the other sacraments.
*Sacramental grace* The grace of baptism is a rebirth in Christ, opens a channel of blessing from God to the believer, grants a share of God’s divine life, delivers spiritual energy and power, provides nourishment and enables growth in virtue and holiness.
*The gift of the Holy Spirit* The Holy Spirit comes to a person through baptism. The Holy Spirit is the ongoing indwelling presence of God, which makes the person a temple of the Holy Spirit and assures the constant companionship of God for the entire duration of the journey of life. The Holy Spirit offers inspiration, enlightenment and guidance, as well as the courage, strength and motivation to live according to God’s ways.
*A child of God* Baptism makes a person an adopted son or daughter of God. Baptism consecrates a person to God. God owns the baptized person, and the person belongs to God. With this realization there is an ever-growing deep longing to know, love, obey and serve God.
*Church membership* Baptism grants admission into the body of Christ, the Church, the army of light, a spiritual family in which the other members become one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. It establishes a bond of fellowship with the community of believers and full partnership with the communion of saints of the living. The pilgrimage to God is not to be walked alone, but with the help and companionship of other disciples.
*Spiritual status* The baptized person is elevated as priest, prophet and king: a person who prays alone and worships with the Church, praying both for one’s self and on behalf of others; lives a good and holy life and calls others to greater holiness; and enjoys royal status before God, and who honors God as supreme, submits to God’s authority and obeys God’s law and will.
*Forgiveness* Baptism is a spiritual cleansing. All sins, both original sin and personal sin, are washed away and forgiven, and purified. The person is in the state of grace. Liberation from sin gives the freedom and fosters the desire to conform one’s life to Jesus and his gospel.
*Apostolic zeal* Baptism makes a person a laborer in Christ’s vineyard and a minister of the Church, one who proclaims the gospel to others in deed and word; gives strong and bold witness; assists in liturgical roles; teaches and shares the faith; serves one’s neighbors, particularly the poor and disadvantaged; is a good steward of time, talent and treasure; seeks, speaks and defends the truth; works for justice and peace; and upholds the common good.
*Salvation* Baptism clothes a person with immortality, gives a person a share in the redemption that Christ won on the Cross, and makes salvation, eternal life and everlasting glory with God in heaven possible. It unites a person to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul explained that those who are baptized in Christ are baptized into his death (Rom 6:3), and that, “If we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Rom 6:5).

John prepared the way for Christ by calling people to acknowledge their sin and their need for salvation. His baptism was a purification ceremony meant to ready the peoples’ hearts to receive their Savior. Jesus was baptized by John, not because He needed to repent, but in order to obey the new command God laid upon His people through the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17). Unlike Jesus, I am not without sin. So my baptism is one of repentance. Repentance is to be a daily activity (1 John 1:8-9). Thus, I am called again to turn from sin and seek the Lord’s face. Also I have to spend time praying for an unrepentant friend or family member that he or she may turn to Jesus.

*PRAYER* Renew me daily oh Lord in your constant goodness, let me acknowledge my sins and make a turn towards you, each day of my life in Jesus name, Amen.


©️ Rev. Fr. Utazi Prince Marie Benignus


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