My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism in the river Jordan, and we also remember and celebrate our own baptism.
Jesus is baptized today to help us understand what our own baptism means. St. John the Baptist baptized with water for repentance. The baptism that Jesus instituted — our baptism — is a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
So Jesus is baptized to tell us who we are. To tell us what it means to be Catholics, to be Christians.
And the first reflection that we have to make is that this is our true identity, my dear brothers and sisters — to understand that our faith in Jesus Christ should be what defines who we are.
And no doubt it is a challenge for all of us because the world tends to give us its own definitions. The world tends to define us by our occupation, or by our status or our function in society.
The prophet Isaiah tell us, in today’s first reading, that the Lord comes to bring prisoners out of the dark dungeon.
And I was thinking that he’s really talking about the walls of selfishness that sometimes we build around ourselves. As we know, we can get all locked up inside ourselves, worrying about everything, totally focused only on our own plans, our own needs, our own cares.
But in Baptism, our Lord comes to break us out, to set us free. The prophet also says today: “I have grasped you by the hand.” And that he comes to “open the eyes of the blind.”
So my dear brothers and sisters, we always need to remember that before all else, we belong to Jesus. Before all else we are God’s children — his creation.
And understanding that, we feel the need to reach out to God. We need to take his hand and let him lift us up and lead us into the light. We really need to put our lives in his hands.
This is also the meaning of the beautiful moment in the Gospel today — when the heavens are opened, and the Spirit of God comes down like a dove, and there is a voice like thunder speaking, as we just heard in the reading of the Gospel:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is who we are, my dear brothers and sisters. This our true identity. Adopted by the Father’s voice — we become beloved sons and daughters of God. So God claims us for his own when we were baptized.
So now, we can understand how the day of our baptism is the most important day of our lives. Because it makes us a new creation. As I said, God wants us to know that we are his beloved sons and daughters. That we are pleasing to him just the way we are.
Of course, God wants us to keep getting better. He wants us to keep growing in holiness and in love.
But just, if we stop for a moment and really ask for the grace to always remember that we are beloved sons and daughters of God! And that is our identity — who we are.
That will give us a lot of joy and peace, understanding that.
But also, we feel the urgency and the need to live in that love. To trust in God’s love. And as we all know, a way to do it — to really trust in God and understand the importance of our vocation — we need to grow in the knowledge and imitate of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We need to know his life and try to imitate him as much as we can. So the point: that reading the Gospels makes a huge difference in our lives.
Because when we read and hear the scenes from his life as we read the Gospels, we need to picture ourselves in those scenes. In his humanity, Jesus lived for you and for me. What we see in his life should be like a mirror for us.
You know this past week, a number of bishops from Southern California were making a retreat. We make a retreat every year at the beginning of the new year. And I was reflecting on the beautiful, powerful image of the Trinity in today’s Gospel.
In our Gospel today, we have such a powerful image of the Trinity. We hear the Father speaking, we see the Spirt descending like a dove, and we see the Son receiving the Father’s love, and rising up out of the water to begin his mission in the world.
And in this scene, Jesus is showing us the beautiful reality that we now share in the very life of God. God is dwelling within us. Again, this should give us such joy, such peace.
And then we can reflect on how in baptism, the Father sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts and so we can live in his presence always, as his children.2 Now, with the eyes of faith, we can see God working in every earthly reality — in people, in events, in everything that happens to us. We can live our whole life in his holy presence.
And remember, Jesus is the mirror. He is the one we want to be. And what we see him doing, we should be doing.
In the second reading of today’s Mass, in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that:
[Jesus] went about doing good and healing …
for God was with him.
So my dear brothers and sisters, baptism gives us a mission. We share now in the life and mission of Jesus. Like Jesus we need to do good for other people, we need to be healers. Because we know that we have the presence of God in our lives and we want to share that with the people around us.
We are called to share this new life that God has given us with every person, we are called to help others see the presence of God in their lives.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, this week let us try to live with a new awareness that we are God’s children, and that he loves us with such a tender and gentle love.
Let’s try to keep in mind, in every moment, that in everything we do, God is with us! We are walking with the Son, guided by the Spirit, and we share in his mission of serving the Father and his beautiful plan for our salvation.
So as we begin this new year, may the Blessed Virgin Mary help us always to know our true identity as children of God and followers of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!