Sunday, 11 January 2009

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

"Baptism of Christ", c 1568, by Juan Fernandez de Navarrete

When Our Blessed Lord underwent His Baptism in the River Jordan sacred scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit came down on Him 'as a dove', as the Heavens parted and the voice of God the Father thundered from Heaven, "This is My Beloved Son, on whom my favour rests. In Him I am well pleased."

Our parish priest, in his homily today, was explaining the Baptism of Our Lord in terms of every Catholic's Baptism into the life of sanctifying Grace. When God the Son was baptised by St John the Baptist, those present trembled at the voice of God the Almighty Father.

Yet, with us, so many of the actions of the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments, like baptism are invisible. Our priest today told us that Baptism is an 'indelible mark on the soul' which has been adopted, or as he said, 'begotten' by God, who now claims our souls as His own treasure. What appears to be a simple action of the priest baptising a baby (or adult who converts) is holy and that at our Baptism, incredibly and profoundly, astonishingly and majestically, God says that we too are His beloved and His favour rests on us, not as a symbol, not as a mere footnote to the Christian life, but at once, at the behest of the priest, Heaven opens upon us also.

Our human nature, fallen, yet redeemed, has been raised to a new and higher dignity as sons and daughters of God, sharing in the divine life of God. St John the Baptist is the herald of the Christ. Christ, through His Baptism says to us that we too now share in the divine life of the Trinity as well, through our Baptism! For this reason, said our priest, quoting St Paul, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God!"

After Mass I found a copy of Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical to the Church on the Eucharist. Compelling stuff! Click here to enjoy, and here is a beautiful excerpt...

'9. The mission for which Jesus came among us was accomplished in the Paschal Mystery. On the Cross from which he draws all people to himself (cf. Jn 12:32), just before "giving up the Spirit," he utters the words: "it is finished" (Jn 19:30). In the mystery of Christ's obedience unto death, even death on a Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), the new and eternal covenant was brought about. In his crucified flesh, God's freedom and our human freedom met definitively in an inviolable, eternally valid pact. Human sin was also redeemed once for all by God's Son (cf. Heb 7:27; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). As I have said elsewhere, "Christ's death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form." (18)

In the Paschal Mystery, our deliverance from evil and death has taken place. In instituting the Eucharist, Jesus had spoken of the "new and eternal covenant" in the shedding of his blood (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). This, the ultimate purpose of his mission, was clear from the very beginning of his public life. Indeed, when, on the banks of the Jordan, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he cried out: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). It is significant that these same words are repeated at every celebration of Holy Mass, when the priest invites us to approach the altar: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper." Jesus is the true paschal lamb who freely gave himself in sacrifice for us, and thus brought about the new and eternal covenant. The Eucharist contains this radical newness, which is offered to us again at every celebration. (19)'

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