Baptism of the Lord at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Is 55:1-11; 1 Jn 5:1-9; Mk 1:7-11   

During a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked the crowd a question. He said, “Who knows the date of their baptism? Raise your hand!”  Only a few could raise their hands. He continued, “Allow me to give a piece of advice. Search for the date of your baptism, that beautiful date, … that happy date, … because it is a feast day, … a day for celebration.”  Three wonderful things happen at baptism. First, our sins are washed away; second, we become partakers of God’s divine nature; and third, we make a commitment to renounce sin and Satan, with all his works and empty promises.

You celebrate your birthday, but your baptism is a greater reason for celebration. How much greater? Imagine the difference between inheriting the whole earth on the day you were born, compared to inheriting all the planets and stars in all galaxies of the whole universe on the day you were baptized. Because baptism makes us sharers in God’s own nature there’s no gift that can compare with that. Possessing the entire universe would be a grain of sand compared to sharing in God’s infinite divine life, to do what God can do. That is our destiny, our great hope, our cause for joy and celebration!

On Christmas we celebrated the birthday of Jesus. Today we celebrate his baptism. But why was Jesus baptized?  He didn’t need the first grace of baptism, to be washed clean from sins, because he had no sins.  He didn’t need the second grace of baptism, to become a partaker in God’s nature because he was already God.  But Jesus did share in the third grace of baptism, he made a commitment to overthrow Satan by giving up his life to save us.  When Jesus was buried in the waters of the Jordan River it was a sign of his commitment to die for us, even by crucifixion; and when he rose from the waters it was a sign of his promise to raise us up with him in the resurrection to eternal divine life.

The German poet and novelist, Johann Goethe, dramatizes the importance of commitments in his story about Faust, a medieval magician who commits his soul to the devil in exchange for power, youth and romance. The devil says to Faust, “If you commit your life to me, I’ll be your servant and your slave.”  Faust replies, “And in return what do you ask of me?”  Satan says, “… if beyond we meet again, you shall do the same for me.”  Faust agrees, saying, “It is from this earth spring all my joys. When I must take leave of them, come what may, it is of no concern. I will it.”  The devil responds, “These are splendid words!”  Then Satan makes Faust successful and rejuvenates his aging body.  He meets a young, beautiful girl name Gretchen whom he seduces and she bears a child.  In shame and great distress Gretchen panics and drowns the infant.  In the drama’s final scene, she and Faust are in a dungeon where she is waiting to be executed for her crime.  Suddenly Satan rises up to claim both of them.  In terror she cries out to heaven, “Save me, Father.”  The devil declares, “She is condemned,” but a voice from above says, “She is saved.”  Rebuffed, Satan turns to Faust saying, “You! Come with me” and takes him away. Too late Faust realizes the folly of committing himself to the devil for the sake of present enjoyments at the cost of future eternal misery.

In our baptismal vows we make a commitment to Christ by renouncing Satan and sin for the sake of eternal happiness even at the cost of present sufferings.

Johann Goethe dramatized the fate of those who bargain away their souls by sinful commitments. He also tells about the happiness of those who are faithful to their baptismal vows.  He writes, “Until one is committed to a task or inspiration, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.   One elementary truth … is this: the moment you definitely commit yourself, then Providence moves in.  All sorts of things happen to help you that would never otherwise have occurred, unless you are committed to act.  A whole stream of events issues from that decision, which you could not have dreamed would come your way. Begin.  Boldness has power in it.  Begin now.”

Pope Francis ended his address saying: “Don’t forget your homework for today, the date of your Baptism. You know the date of your birth, know also the date of your Baptism, because it’s a feast day!”  It’s good to celebrate your birthday.  It’s even better to celebrate the day of your baptism with thanksgiving.