January 9, 2023 –
The Baptism of the Lord
Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased ….
The word “Trinity” does not appear even once in the New Testament. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the New Testament doesn’t teach us a lot about the Trinity. Today’s Gospel Reading is a case in point.
In St. Matthew the Evangelist’s description of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus, all three Persons of the Trinity reveal Themselves. God the Father reveals Himself only by speech. We know that He’s the Father because He identifies Himself in terms of His relationship with His Son, declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God the Holy Spirit also reveals Himself in terms of His relationship with God the Son. After Jesus’ baptism, “the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.” We might wonder what St. Matthew means by describing the Holy Spirit’s descent as being “like a dove”. The first quality suggested by this metaphor is gentleness, a quality that through the Holy Spirit’s descent is related to Jesus.
In today’s Gospel Reading, St. John the Baptist alludes to the fact that Jesus does not need to be baptized. In fact, Jesus no more needed to be baptized than He needed to descend from Heaven to earth. He did both for the same reason: “for us men and for our salvation”, as we profess in the Creed.
The whole of today’s feast, reveals to us the gifts that the Christian receives through the Sacrament of Baptism. Simply put, all of these gifts are shares in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. Yet some of them could be described as negative; others, positive. That is to say, the gifts that God gives in Baptism both destroy and build [see CCC 1262].
The former are more simple and, in a sense, less important. When a human sinner is baptized, all sin within that person is destroyed: both the Original Sin that is inherited, and any actual sins committed by that individual.
But that washing away of moral and spiritual dirt is only a preparation. God has something even greater in store for the baptized Christian: in fact, a new creation [see CCC 1265].
The relationships that we see the Father and the Holy Spirit sharing with the Son in today’s Gospel Reading are also shared with the Christian through baptism. God the Father adopts the Christian as His own child “in Christ”. Likewise, the Holy Spirit bestows His fruits and gifts upon the baptized “in Christ”.
More specifically, the Catechism notes three key ways, among others, in which God builds up the Christian through Baptism. The first is “sanctifying grace, the grace of justification”, which enables the Christian “to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues” [CCC 1266].
The second is membership in the Mystical Body of Christ: the Church. As one member of Christ’s Body, the Christian shares in Jesus’ priestly, prophetic and kingly missions. The Catechism specifically notes that “Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers” [CCC 1268], expanding upon St. Peter’s exhortation: “like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” [1 Pt 2:5].
Unfortunately, this “common priesthood”, sometimes called the “baptismal priesthood”, is one of the most misunderstood gifts in the Church today. Some promote clericalism by encouraging laypersons to act as clerics, instead of giving due honor to the “spiritual sacrifices” proper to the baptismal priesthood: self-sacrifice in the family’s home, in the business’ boardroom, on the factory’s floor, and in the public square.
The third key gift of Baptism is that the Holy Spirit through Baptism marks the Christian with the “seal of the Lord” [CCC 1274]. This seal marks the Christian as irrevocably being destined for God in Heaven. Of course, this mark is a mark of the Christian’s destiny, not of her salvation. The Gospel does not teach that the Christian who is once saved is always saved, or who is once baptized is always saved. Salvation depends upon perseverance “in Christ”: both living and dying “in Christ”. The Catechism attests that no “sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation” [CCC 1272].
The Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River reveals to man the loving relationships that God the Son shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. At His Baptism, Jesus did not receive but revealed. He revealed who He is in relation to the other divine Persons of the Trinity. In this, He revealed the inheritance that’s destined for each baptized Christian who lives and dies “in Christ”.