“The Baptism” (detail) by Pietro Longhi | Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Why is this day so important? Clearly, it is more than just a fancy white gown and a party.”
Almost every year on the upcoming feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Pope Francis encourages Christians to celebrate the day of their baptism:
“The celebration of Jesus’ baptism invites every Christian to remember his or her own baptism. I cannot ask you whether you remember the day of your baptism, because most of you were infants, like me; we were baptized as infants. But I ask you another question: do you know the date of your baptism? Do you know what day you were baptized? Each one think about it. And if you do not know the date or have forgotten it, upon returning home, ask your mom, grandma, uncle, aunt, grandpa, godfather, godmother: what is the date? We must always keep that date in our memory..it is the date of our initial sanctification; it is the date on which the Father gave us the Holy Spirit who encourages us to walk; it is the date of the great forgiveness. Do not forget: what is the date of my baptism?” (Pope Francis, Angelus Address, January 7, 2018)
Why is this day so important? Clearly, it is more than just a fancy white gown and a party. It is more than just a milestone and Church photo op. Through baptism, we become sons and daughters of the living God. The original sin of our parents is washed away, and we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.
After the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, we were separated from God. Adam and Eve lost God’s life in their soul. We are born into that state of unrighteousness. It was impossible for man to do anything to restore that created order, to make things right. We needed Christ to become man. We needed him to transform us back into the people we were created to be. Thus it is fitting that shortly after we celebrate the mystery of Christmas, we celebrate the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus became man to save us, and then he instituted the sacrament of baptism to extend the fruits of the Paschal Mystery to us, to incorporate us into His Body.
God wills all to be saved. What is more, He wants to make everyone partakers of His divine nature. This is an enormous mystery. He wishes to adopt us as his sons and daughters and draw us into his very life. He transforms us – not just giving us the title of son or daughter, but elevating us and making us partakers of his divine nature.
Jesus didn’t need baptism. Rather, he sought out the baptism of John to show us what we were to do. He was not sanctified by the waters of the Jordan; he sanctified the waters. Jesus subjected himself to stand among sinners and to accept a baptism that he did not need. He did it out of love for us, as the beginning of his acceptance “of his mission as God’s suffering Servant.” (CCC 536)
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).
In Baptism, we die with Christ. We enter into the waters to rise up a new creation. This is a day we should celebrate, both liturgically on Sunday’s feast, but also personally, on the anniversary of our own baptism. Spend time in prayer, pondering the mystery of our divine adoption- something we may take for granted. Let us join our voices with John as we marvel, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” (1 John 3:1).