Ok, fine, you can finally start putting your Christmas decorations away, because after today, Christmas is finally over. And thank goodness, because the wreath on my door is turning brown. Today is the feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, when Jesus decided that he’d spent enough time laying around the manger, and it was time to get to work. So he speeds up time so that he’s an adult, and gets baptized by John. Not really, but the event triggers the beginning of his public ministry. The readings from the next few weeks of Ordinary Time will revolve around his public works, how he lives out the stuff that was promised at Christmas. Today his identity is revealed: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” And he is given a mission, which we hear in our first reading: “I the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice. I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring our prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
You might be wondering, did Jesus need to be baptized? Well, he was like us in all things except for sin, so no, not really. Normally when we think of baptism, we think of the holy waters flooding on someone to make them holy, right? Well in this case, those waters, in washing upon him, are themselves made holy. It was through this baptism that Jesus instituted and opened the doors for our own baptism. Baptism is sort of the forgotten sacrament – literally. Does anyone remember their baptism? Does anyone remember their baptismal day (mine is April 14!)? Sometimes baptism becomes the sacrament that we leave behind for the old photographs or yellowed baptism candles. But it really is incredibly important.
Baptism isn’t just an excuse for our parish to start sending you donation envelopes, nor is it something as simple as a welcoming ceremony where you have to start being a good person. The thing is, Christianity isn’t even about being a good person, nor about doing the right thing. Anybody can do that – even someone who doesn’t care about God, even a Cubs fan, can be a good person or do the right thing. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to do this – in fact, thank you for being good people and not hurting each other in the pews! But the thing is, Baptism shows us that Christianity is even more basic than that. It’s about bringing us into the inner life of God. It’s about defining who we are.
Jesus receives his identity today – “You are my beloved son,” but really, that line can be spoken about each of us as well. “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.” God makes us who we are in baptism – he gives us an identity. Sometimes we can think we are the ones who define ourselves. Obviously, we make choices like what we will do, how we will live our lives, and things that people will remember us for. But sometimes we start to define ourselves by our successes and failures. Then we can fall into the misguided pride and arrogance about ourselves – that we don’t need God. Or we can fall into a disdain and hatred of ourselves – that we aren’t worth God’s time. But the things we do aren’t our identity – God decides who we are: beloved sons and daughters of God.
It’s from that identity that we receive our mission in life – to be a light of the nations, a sign of God’s covenant. To open the eyes of the blind, to bring freedom to those captive in their self-loathing. To bring light to those in darkness. That’s the mission of every Christian, not just Jesus himself. Today we have the opportunity to enroll our confirmation candidates, inviting them to begin their commitment to preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation. Confirmation isn’t a coming of age ceremony or anything, but it’s a perfection of what was started way back on the day we were baptized. It’s the time to embrace your faith, and see where it leads you.
This Sunday also kicks off our National Vocations Awareness Week, where we will celebrate and become more aware of the way that God calls us through baptism to become holy. Your vocation is your highway to become a saint! And while on the feast day of the Holy Family a few weeks ago we talked specifically about the vocation to marriage and the family, this week is dedicated specifically to remembering the vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life.
My own story isn’t that special. I didn’t hear voices or see visions or find a secret message in my toast or anything. My vocation to the priesthood is pretty simple: I had loving parents. We went to Mass and my parents cared about my Catholic education. I had the great example of my faithful grandparents. I thought about it as an altar server because I was closer to the action and could see what was going on. I received an invitation from a friend to visit the seminary in high school, then entered the College Seminary, studied there for 4 years, then 4 years of grad school, and pow! Here I am! Sometimes people ask when I knew that I was called to be a priest, and to be honest, it was about a day after my ordination. It was at my first Mass and at my first Confessions that I knew that God had called me here. Sure, I had thought about it a lot before that, and was confident in my discernment, but it was then that I realized that that’s who I am – that’s my identity. It’s not my career as a man who went into the priesthood (because it’s obviously not about the money, but the insurance isn’t bad!). It’s not about what I do, but it’s about who I am. At my very core, I am a priest – and I’m proud of it! It’s from that identity that I do what I do here at All Saints.
Each of us has our own vocations, our pathways to heaven – married couples, people dedicated to the single life, religious brothers and sisters, deacons, and priests. Our vocations aren’t about what we do, but about who we are – who God has called us to be. As we’re celebrating the Baptism of the Lord today, and as we reflect on our own baptismal call to holiness, and how that is lived out in our vocations, then let us bring ourselves back in our hearts to that baptismal font, where the doors of the Church were opened to us, and where God gave us our core identity – “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.” Let us give thanks to God for who he has made us, and commit ourselves today to living that out in service to our brothers and sisters.