Kuwait City, 10-12.1.2014.
Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajič
During this brief Christmas liturgical period we have celebrated the Nativity of the Lord, his Epiphany or manifestation to the world and today the season ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
Since we do not have much recorded on the childhood of Jesus, we cannot know for certain what he did and the circumstances of his youth. What we know for sure according to the Gospel accounts, is that he began his ministry by being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. It appears strange that Jesus would accept baptism from John since we know that he was without sin and therefore being God, had no need of baptism. However, his baptism had several meanings for him and his ministry, which also provide a powerful message for our lives.
For Jesus, baptism was four things. First of all, it was the moment of decision. Jesus spent his childhood with his family in Nazareth and now came to the point in his life when he had to leave home to accomplish a special mission. John the Baptist’s preaching was Jesus’ introduction to his vocation. Jesus at 30 years of age began his active mission of preaching, teaching and healing.
Each of us at some time in our lives has to make important decisions. These may be decisions on education, work, marriage, life vocation or career, where to live and so on. Sometimes we may be worried about these decisions and what consequences they may have for us, so we may tend to drift and put off important choices. Today the difficulty is even more accentuated due to the existence of many choices. Some call this “over-choice” which can leave us confused and reluctant to make firm decisions in our lives. Drifting, avoiding duties and constant searching, often leads to wasted time and eventually to a useless life. There comes a time when we have to make ‘a leap of faith’ and decide for ourselves.
Jesus’ baptism was a moment of recognition. We can oftentimes identify ourselves with certain movements, such as the human rights movements, democracy movements, movements for peace and justice, etc. We do this not so much for ourselves but for the good of others. At the moment of his baptism, Jesus was identifying himself with his mission. He was one could say, enrolling himself and joining God’s forces as a volunteer for the Father’s work. Today, while contemplating the baptism of the Lord, we can look at our own lives and ask ourselves, what does my being baptised mean for me? Do I recognize and identify myself as a son or daughter of God? Am I happy and proud to be a Christian, to belong to Christ and be a member of the Catholic Church? Does my life reflect my faith so that all the choices I make and my behaviour also show that I am truly a follower of Christ?
The third thing Jesus’ baptism meant was a moment of approval. Jesus’ approval came from his Father in a voice: You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Once Jesus made the choice, he was immediately acknowledged by his heavenly Father. God approved of his decision because his intention was to fulfill the will of his Father. We also need approval when we set out on big tasks for we can never really be sure whether we have made any right decision unless we experience some kind of support. Our approval also comes from our heavenly Father every time we search for and try to fulfill his will in our lives. God responds to us through grace. He gives us the inner conviction of faith, the certainty of his presence and love. You are my Son, today I have begotten you are words that are spoken to us as well. God’s love towards us is that of a Father towards his children. Today he who is our life begets us, hence every new day is a new beginning with God.
The final moment is the moment of empowerment. Jesus received the Holy Spirit at the moment of baptism which came upon him in the form of a dove. The dove symbolizes gentleness and purity. Jesus’ conquest is the victory of gentleness and love over all the evil and darkness of sin. The same is true in our lives. When we make our commitment to God we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which empowers us to accomplish the will of the Father.
This is a moment to renew our baptismal commitments. When we were baptized we did not know what was going on. Our parents took upon themselves the duty to raise us in the faith. Now as adult believers we are somewhat in the same position Jesus was at his baptism. We are constantly being confronted by our decision to follow Christ, to identify ourselves with him and his mission of love. The first two aspects of deciding for and identifying with God depend on us entirely. We have to make the choice whether or not to follow the Lord. If we decide to follow him then we must seriously take into consideration his requests which can be demanding and which may also include sufferings and hardships, crosses and pain, but which will eventually lead us to eternal life.
Living our baptism means making the decision every morning when we wake and start our day to be and remain a Christian, a follower of Christ, a son or daughter of God. Through our baptism we have been incorporated into Christ, his mystical Body which is the Church. We have become Christ-like, meaning that there is a new potential Christ in each of us, just waiting to be born. Our lives therefore take upon new purpose when we realize through faith that God is in us through the Holy Spirit and he is sending us forward to live as his beloved children and witnesses in the world. The joy of our common vocation as Christians is that God is with us, who has sanctified us through baptism and who is also counting on us.