Most of us have been baptized, if not as infants, then as little children. But what does baptism mean?
We know that baptism brings forgiveness of sins and makes us citizens of the kingdom of God. In chapter 3 of St. Matthew’s gospel, we hear about the preaching of St. John the Baptist and how he was baptizing sinners (hence, John the Baptist). Jesus comes to St. John at the Jordan River and demands to be baptized. There is a strange puzzle here: if baptism is about forgiveness of sins, why does the sinless eternal Son need baptism? The challenge here is to remember what the Church teaches us about Sacred Scripture. The bible has to be understood as a whole, not verse by verse (CCC 101ff).
We really don’t know much about the life of Christ. The focus of the gospels is His three years of public ministry beginning when He is thirty. That ministry, ending with His suffering, sacrifice on the cross, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, are His mission, His message. That mission began with His baptism. Jesus is baptized, comes up from the river, and goes into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and struggle with evil. Next, he goes to the synagogue at Nazareth and reads the prophecy of Isaiah, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1 – 2).
The Eternal Son takes on our human condition because He has a mission. That mission is to offer us forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God (CCC 457). He chose to begin that mission by His baptism for two reasons. First, as the Church has always taught, the baptism of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit sanctifies water for the sacrament of baptism (CCC 536). We are reconciled to God by our baptism, but only by the power of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. There is, however, another really important message here. The gospel narrative shows that the baptism of Christ is the beginning of His mission. We are Christians by our baptism. We are made members of the body of Christ. We have a mission to bring Christ into the world.
That mission began with our baptism, was strengthened by our confirmation, and renewed every time we receive Christ, at Mass, in Holy Communion. God has a plan for each and every one of us. We should prayerfully ask God every day, “what is the plan for today?”, but we need to remember that we witness for Christ primarily by our lives. Our friends and family should know we are Catholic – if not, something is wrong. They hear what we say and see what we do. Central to our mission, that began with our baptism, is to live lives of solid Christian ethics.
Living the life that God calls us to is not easy. We need to remember that, by our baptism, we are members of the family of God.
Family life has wonderful benefits, but also important responsibilities. Healthy family life means presence and communication. We need God’s help in our lives. We must go to Mass on Sunday because Christ becomes present, in Mass, in the Eucharist. Mass is a privileged encounter with God. If we want God’s help in our lives, we have to ask for it.
We have friends and family that we care about and talk to every day. If we want God in our lives, we need to talk to Him every day in prayer. We need especially to pray as families. We need to gather as families and take just a few minutes to ask for God’s help and guidance.
As human beings, we have a built-in need for purpose. That purpose is the plan God has for us, the mission we began on the day of our baptism. That mission is the fullness of life God offers.