The feast of the Baptism of the Lord which we will celebrate this Sunday is one of the greatest feast days in the Church's calendar but also one of the least understood. Although Baptism speaks to us of washing or cleansing, in the instance of Our Lord, there was no need for Him to be cleansed of sin. We look at this feast day, instead, as the celebration of the consecration of His human nature for the mission of salvation.
The Lord's Baptism follows the Epiphany; in the former, He was manifest as a "light to the nations," but light does not save souls in and of itself. In the latter, He becomes the effective channel through which all nations may access the Throne of Grace. We can say that this was the "ordination" of Jesus as High Priest of our faith.
The High Priest's humanity was not anointed with the sacred chrism oil made by human hands but rather by the "oil of gladness," i.e., the Holy Spirit, the eternal Sanctifier. This scene is a completely Trinitarian event in which the Father pronounces His deepest delight in the Son while the Holy Spirit descends as a dove to inaugurate the Reign of Peace over all men at that precise moment.
Jesus was thus consecrated for His mission of salvation. Immediately after that, the High Priest went out into the desert to engage in mortal combat with the devil and began to systematically undo his reign of terror over the whole human race. Undoubtedly, the consecration of Christ's humanity made Him heal and preach and cast out demons as signs that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world.
As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord this Sunday, let us reflect on our own consecrations. The blessing of the Holy Spirit comes to each one of us for the first time at our own baptisms when we are anointed with the sacred oil of chrism. In this joyful ceremony, we are not only cleansed from Original Sin but also initiated into Christ's saving mission and given the spiritual gifts of faith, hope and charity to carry it out effectively.
Then, sometime after we reach the age of reason, we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and are consecrated again with the same oil of chrism. The graces that were given to us as little children in Baptism are now able to be personally assimilated, chosen and strengthened in the young person who accepts a new role in this mission, that of being a Soldier of Christ.
As a priest, I received an additional consecration at my ordination and became a living instrument to bring Christ's spiritual life to His people. Through the consecration of my hands, I am given the spiritual power to perform five of the seven sacraments which themselves sanctify, heal and bring souls out of darkness. Thus it is through the channel of God's grace created by a consecration that each of us is able to continue to have access to the Throne of Grace.
How much spiritual wisdom is contained in the Baptism of the Lord! Fundamentally, the Lord Jesus' consecration with the oil of gladness makes all other consecrations possible. On this special feast day, let us rejoice that we are "beloved sons and daughters" of the Father and that we are consecrated for the most important mission of all — salvation. All He requires of us is that we "remain in him as that anointing has taught us" (1 Jn 2:27).