(Fr. deLadurantaye is diocesan secretary for religious education and sacred liturgy. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Coming into the world as a baby in the manger of Bethlehem, the Christ Child fulfilled the prophecies of long ago; prophecies that spoke of a savior for His people. On the Feast of the Epiphany, the three wise men find the Christ Child and recognize in Him a light for the entire world. Their gifts acknowledge that He is a King of David's line, that He is divine, and that He will one day die in order to redeem a sinful humanity. Now, at His baptism, Jesus begins His public life with the revelation of Himself as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.
The baptism of Jesus is on His part the acceptance and inauguration of His mission as God's Suffering Servant. Though sinless, He allows Himself to be seen in solidarity with sinners. Already He anticipates the “baptism” of His death on the cross. Already, Jesus submits Himself entirely to the Father's will: out of love He consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. The coming of the Spirit upon Jesus prefigures the moment when Christ will pour out the Holy Spirit into the hearts of all believers, giving them the gift of new life.
As we reflect on the meaning of the Lord's baptism, it is good also to consider what our own baptism signifies. Most of us probably were baptized as infants; we were too young to remember this moment or to recognize its importance. In celebrating the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, then, we are able to come to a deeper appreciation of the role that baptism plays in our spiritual journey.
Through this sacrament, we have been joined to Christ Jesus, who in His own baptism anticipates His death and resurrection. As those who bear the name of Christ, we also have entered into this mystery: we pass through the waters of baptism with the Lord in order to rise with Him. Through baptism, we have been reborn of water and the Holy Spirit so as to become children of God, beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. This gift of new life and a new dignity means that our sins have been forgiven, both original sin and (for those baptized as adults) any personal sins. Moreover, baptism enables us to believe in God, to hope in Him and to love Him. It gives us the power to live and act according to the direction of the Holy Spirit, and incorporates us into the Church, so that we truly share in the priesthood of Christ, as well as in His prophetic and royal mission. Our entire supernatural life has its root in the sacrament of baptism.
As Christ's baptism marked the beginning of His public life, so too our baptism marks the beginning of our public witness to Jesus. As members of His Body, we are called to reflect in our words and actions the Lord's own charity, compassion and generous self-giving. Awareness of the baptismal graces we have received and fidelity to our baptismal promises will help us grow closer to Christ and become more like Him in this life so that we might rise with Him to glory in the life to come. As St. Gregory Nazianzen said so well, “Let us be buried with Christ by Baptism to rise with Him; let us go down with Him to be raised with Him; and let us rise with Him to be glorified with Him.”