The baptism of the Lord is a type of a second Epiphany. Last Sunday, we celebrated the Epiphany of the Lord – an event that took place nearly 30 years before the events of our Lord’s baptism. In this second epiphany or manifestation, Our Lord’s identity as the Son of God is made known through the voice of God the Father and the appearance of the Holy Spirit in bodily form like a dove.
We should marvel at the fact that Our Lord choose to be baptized even though He had no need of it. It’s not as if Our Lord suffered from the effects of original sin. In His humanity He was perfect and so He had no need to be cleansed and regenerated in the waters of baptism. So, we ask, “Why did Our Lord chose to be baptized?” St. Maximus of Turin, writing in the late fourth century tells us that Christ was baptized, not to be made holy by the waters of baptism, but rather to make holy the waters of baptism and to purify these waters with His body so that all who would be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be cleansed of original sin and be made adopted sons and daughters of the most high God. In doing so, Christ elevated baptism to the dignity of a sacrament.
As profound as this may be, it is not enough for us simply to admire the events of the baptism of the Lord. The event has serious, relevant and very practical implications for us as well. Baptism is the first and most necessary sacrament for salvation. At the moment of baptism, the baptized person is washed free of original sin, the sin inherited by all human beings due to the fall of Adam and Eve as recorded in the Book of Genesis.
There are other significant effects of baptism. First, the soul is infused with sanctifying grace – a stable and enduring grace that makes us adopted children of the Father and allows for the indwelling of the Trinity in our souls. Second, the soul experiences an infusion of the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These are called theological virtues because they are the virtues most oriented toward God. So, before any individual can authentically say, “I believe in God,” or, “I trust in God,” or, “I love God,” they must first receive the capacity to do so. That capacity comes through the infusion of these three theological virtues at baptism. Third, every baptized person receives the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. These gifts are given in a potential state, waiting to be actualized. That is why parents undertake an immense responsibility when their child is baptized – they are charged with drawing out the gifts and the theological virtues that God has infused into that child’s soul, like a sculptor who sees the statue in the block of stone but needs to chip away at it to pull out the statue in potency waiting within. In sum, every grace that any person would need in order to become a saint is received at baptism.
As we marvel at the events surrounding our Lord’s baptism, let us recommit ourselves to actualizing our own baptismal dignity, given to us through the Holy Spirit — the Lord and giver of life.