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The Baptism of the Lord [B]

Reading Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7
Gospel Mark 1:7-11

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The great British layman G. K. Chesterton once wrote a poem of only 28 words on the topic of gratitude for the gift of life. It’s titled simply “Evening”, and runs like this: “Here dies another day / During which I have had eyes, ears, hands / And the great world round me; / And with tomorrow begins another. / Why am I allowed two?”

At the heart of this poem is the virtue of gratitude. We need to cultivate this virtue in our lives, both on the natural and supernatural levels. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good day for cultivating gratitude for the graces that flow from the One who descended into the waters of the Jordan so that our sins might be washed away.

In fact, there are four gifts that were given, or four changes that happened to you at the moment that you were baptized. For each of these, each Christian needs to express gratitude to God. The first change was a washing away of something negative: all of your sins, both Original Sin and any personal sins. But this cleansing was simply preparatory for the other three changes: that is, the gifts that positively strengthened you. These three are inter-twined.

At the moment of your baptism, God made you His own child by infusing you with the divine virtues of faith, hope, and love. At the same time, you were incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Any time that a person becomes God’s child, it’s as one member of the Body of Christ. So in this sense, Baptism united you not only to God, but also to all the other members of the Church. This new life of Baptism is about gaining not just a spiritual Father, but an entire spiritual family!

Yet at the same time that God made you His child, and also a brother or sister to all His children, God marked your soul with an indelible seal. This seal makes clear to us that God’s choice is irrevocable. He will never divorce us, so to speak. Any of us can choose to wander as far away from God as we wish, but God—like the father of the Prodigal Son—never ceases to wait patiently and lovingly. The seal of Baptism reminds you that you are just as much God’s child after you sin as you were at the moment of your baptism. Whenever we go to Confession, then, we need to express to God our gratitude for Him being willing to welcome us with open arms, like our Savior on the Cross.