Debra Black explains how our Catholic baptismal ritual is an echo of the Baptism of the Lord.
“The cloud was a figure standing for the grace of the Spirit. For just as the cloud covered the Israelites and protected them from the Egyptians, so the Spirit’s grace shields us from the wiles of the devil. Likewise, just as the crossing of the sea protected them from their enemies and gave them real freedom, so baptism protects us from our enemies. That was how the Israelites came to live under the law of Moses. This is how we, in baptism, are clothed with the Spirit of adoption and inherit the covenants and confessions made in accordance with the commands of Christ” (Gennadius of Constantinople, Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church)
Although we are still in the Christmas season, traditionally today (and formally last Sunday) we celebrate Jesus’ baptism. It’s odd since we won’t celebrate His presentation to the temple (as a baby) until February 2, and this weekend He’s a 30-year-old man getting baptized! However, our readings that lead to this feast day have prepared us with illuminations of Christ’s divinity.
It is just a short passage in our Gospel, yet Jesus’ Baptism is amazing. Just as Joshua had led people across the Jordan river and into the promised land, Jesus entered the Jordan River and re-entered into the Promised Land. The Spirit of God went over the waters in Genesis, parted the Red Sea for Moses and the waters for Noah. Now God pronounces Jesus’ divinity and then anoints His humanity with His Spirit as the true Messiah. At that moment, then, the entire Trinity is present and participating in the act.
This is why a valid Christian Baptism must be performed with water and in the name of all three persons of the Trinity: because God did it that way. Jesus reiterates this:
"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." (Matthew 28:19)
Our Catholic Baptism was instituted by God Himself.
Since Jesus by nature is the likeness of the Father, God can refer to Him as Son. The baptized are literally grafted into His spiritual body, becoming the Father’s adopted children. Being a member of the body of Christ isn’t a metaphor. It is a metaphysical reality. God lowered Himself to take on human habit which He then elevated to Divinity in His Ascension into Heaven. He really is the bridge between creature and Creator.
When Jesus entered the Jordan River, His presence sanctified those waters, making them holy. Now working in persona Christi, the priest exorcises and blesses the baptismal water, making it holy. Just as the waters cleansed the earth in Noah’s time, baptismal water cleanses the soul. Original sin is removed, healed, exorcised. But sin’s effects—our weaknesses—remain leaving us with disposition to poor choices and even personal sin. To prevent this, we are called to live “as is fitting among saints” (Ephesians 5:3).
The early Church was one of converts. The apostles and initial disciples of Jesus were the ‘church’, mostly converted Jews. Thereafter, entire households converted and were baptized, babies and children as well. The Roman Catholic Church continues to baptize babies and bring them into this covenant at the earliest age possible. Why? To mark their soul for Christ so it is set apart and in this covenant. This is what holy means: set apart.
Baptism is necessary. Through Baptism, we are spiritually grafted into Christ’s body, and the Holy Spirit flows through all of us, His members. We can then move beyond our natural powers of being really good people and, by God’s perfecting Gifts, be set apart. If we aspire to virtue, His Grace will give it supernatural qualities beyond our abilities. Our baptism gives us this facility.
As baptized disciples, we “must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ, and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace. The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this duty” (Lumen Gentium 36). Through our Baptism we not only have ‘the principal role’ in this on behalf of all of creation but also the duty. It is through performing our daily tasks within the circumstances of our everyday lives that we will increase in holiness (41) and “a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society” (40). The world needs this today.
In everything that God has done for us
Since the creation,
He sought rest for Himself in us,
And rest for us in Him. (Baldwin of Forde)
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
About the Author
Debra Black is a spiritual director, perpetual member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, international educator, and businesswoman. Her public service roles have spanned city commissioner, pregnancy clinic board of directors, youth and college ministry, public citizen activism, and homeless street ministry. Her writings can be found at TheFaceOfGraceProject.com, including her latest books, The Life Confession: A Discovery of God’s Mercy and Love and Kick Butt: The Quick Guide to Spiritual Warfare.