Bishop William E. Lori
At the beginning of a new liturgical year, the Church’s liturgy reintroduces John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. During Advent, we hear St. Luke’s Gospel account of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, already advanced in years, is with child. We travel with Mary into the hill country to visit her cousin. At the entrance to Zachariah’s house, Elizabeth greets Mary as “the mother of my Lord,” and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, even as Mary utters her song of praise, the Magnificat, woven together from the strands of God’s Word.
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated at the conclusion of the Christmas season, just after the Epiphany, when Christ was revealed as “a light of the nations”
Elizabeth’s child — John the Baptist — later preaches a baptism of repentance, baptizes Christ, “the giver of baptism,” in the Jordan River, and dies a martyr’s death. Liturgically, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated at the conclusion of the Christmas season, just after the Epiphany, when Christ was revealed as “a light of the nations” (cf. Is 49:6, Epiphany Preface). In fact, the Church’s tradition links the Epiphany, the Baptism of Christ and the wedding feast at Cana as manifestations of the eternal glory of God’s Son.
Perhaps this insight contributed to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s decision to add to the rosary the mysteries of light, which pertain to Jesus’ public ministry, beginning with his baptism and extending to his passion and death. In these events, Christ is shown as “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). As John Paul II put it, “Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus” (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, 21).
In preaching a baptism of repentance, John the Baptist prepared the way for “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Although Jesus had no sins to repent, he came to the Jordan River and asked to be baptized, accepting the full dimensions of human sinfulness in fulfillment of his Father’s saving will. The words of St. Paul come to mind: “He emptied himself, taking the form of slave … and found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7). Here, Jesus revealed the true glory of the God who is love, the God who loves us with an utterly generous and passionate love.
As Jesus descended into the waters of the Jordan, the heavens opened and the Father declared him to be his beloved Son. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, bestowing on him the mission for which he was sent. Thus was Jesus revealed as “the refulgence of the Father’s glory, the very imprint of his being” (Heb 1:3). He was shown, as we pray in the creed, as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” In this mystery of light, we profess Jesus as “the light of the world,” which the darkness could not overcome (cf. Jn 1:15, Jn 8:32).
The newly translated preface for the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, addressed to God the Father, admirably summarizes the radiance of this mystery: “For in the waters of the Jordan you revealed with signs and wonders a new Baptism, so that through the voice that came down from heaven, we might come to believe in your Word dwelling among us, and by the Spirit’s descending in the form of a dove we might know that Christ your Servant has been anointed with the oil of gladness and sent to bring the good news to the poor.”
MARY LEADS US
Scripture does not record the Blessed Virgin Mary’s presence at the Lord’s Baptism, yet we sense her maternal love in all the mysteries of Christ’s life. Meditating on the Lord’s baptism, we seek Mary’s assistance. Even as the Father reveals Jesus as his own Son and the Spirit anoints him as the Christ, so too does Mary, who stored in her heart the mysteries of the kingdom, lead us to a deeper knowledge and love of her son. Having opened her heart fully to the Word of God, Mary teaches us how to listen to Jesus through daily, prayerful reading of Scripture, through ardent participation in the Mass and the sacraments, and through the attentive reception of the Church’s teachings on faith and morals.
Immersed in the mystery of redemption, Mary counsels us, her spiritual children, to deepen our appreciation for the gift of baptism by which we were immersed into the death of Christ so as to rise with him to the newness of life (cf. 2 Cor 5:17). She also leads us to give thanks for this sacrament by which we are reborn to everlasting life and by which we become sons and daughters of the light (cf. Ti 3:5, Eph 5:8). Mary, who carried Christ in her womb, invites us to rediscover the presence of the Word made flesh in our soul. By her prayers, she helps us manifest the presence of Christ within us as we embrace within the Body of Christ our particular vocation of love.
Seeing the baptism of the Lord through the eyes of Mary, we pray that the Father may come to see and love in us what he sees and loves in his beloved Son.