The Baptism of the Lord

Dear Friends in Christ,

The vast majority of Christians, including almost all Catholics, are baptized when they are infants, and this is most fitting. The sacraments are instruments of God’s grace, and even newborn babies need the grace of God. Moreover, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism,” and for this reason “The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church.” (CCC 1250, 1252). But along with the indisputable benefits of baptizing infants comes a special danger: those who are baptized before the beginning of memory will have no recollection or understanding of the most important day in their lives, and unless the fact and meaning of their Baptism is explained to them as they grow and receive the Gospel with saving faith, then they will not know that they have been born again of water and the Holy Spirit and have been made children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the Kingdom.

Today the Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord Jesus by his kinsman and herald, John the Baptist. Jesus received the Baptism of John not for the forgiveness of sins (because He had none), but in order to transform a religious ritual washing of the Old Covenant into the first sacrament of the New Covenant. The Baptism of Jesus is also the acceptance of His mission as the Father’s suffering servant, and Jesus allows Himself to be numbered among sinners in order to free us from our slavery to sin. In the waters of the Jordan, the Son of Mary is anointed with the Holy Spirit and is thus revealed to be the eternal Son of God and in His sacred humanity to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Finally, by accepting Baptism from John, the Lord Jesus is also accepting and anticipating His own suffering and death. For this reason, each Christian is united to the death of the Lord Jesus through Baptism so that we can live the life of the new creation by grace through faith in Jesus the Christ.

All of this makes our Baptism the single most important event in our entire lives; it is the original sacrament of faith and the beginning of the life of grace. But unless we understand the meaning of this supernatural second birth, we risk misunderstanding the whole of the Christian life. For this reason, parents and godparents have the sacred duty to teach children who are baptized about the day of their Baptism and lead them to mature faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As part of this mission to give the Gospel to all the baptized, I encourage every parishioner to find out when and where and by whom you were baptized. Resolve to keep the anniversary of your Baptism each year as a day of special celebration, and evaluate your relationship with the Lord Jesus in the light of the promises of your Baptism, which we are each asked to renew every year on Easter Sunday. And with St. Paul, I “urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4.1-6)

Father Newman