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This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. For all of us, our own journey of faith began at our baptism. With the pouring of the water and the words of the priest, we became a new creation at that very moment, when our souls were given the gift of divine life from God. At that moment, the Holy Spirit was given to us, to be our constant companion all through life and to guide us in the ways of the Gospel.
The word ‘Baptise’ comes from a Greek word (baptizein) which means to immerse or submerge in water. Water is a powerful symbol, for it represents cleansing and purification. John the Baptist used the waters of the River Jordan for this purpose, as he offered a baptism of repentance. Large crowds would have flocked to him where they would confess their sins and re-emerge from the water with a clean conscience. Jesus affirms John’s ministry by choosing to be baptised himself by the prophet. Yet we may wonder why he chose this because as the divine Son of God incarnate, he was completely without sin. Why was it necessary?
Firstly, by doing so, Jesus was highlighting the importance of baptism for us, as the ‘gateway’ sacrament for us to receive divine life. Secondly, Pope Benedict XVI says that while Jesus had no sins of his own to be washed away, he took upon himself all our sins, those of the whole world, as he stepped into the river Jordan: ‘Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my Beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection.’ At that moment, then, Jesus transforms baptism into something far more powerful. John’s baptism was merely a sign of the true baptism that Jesus would inaugurate, where the Holy Spirit is given to us, and where the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection are applied to us. Jesus would command his disciples to baptise in the name of the Blessed Trinity, so that all of us might have true life in his name; the very life we need to spend eternity with him.