The Jordan River is not a spectacular scene worthy of a movie set. It doesn’t have extraordinarily blue water nor is it surrounded by fantastic rock formations, flora or fauna. It’s really just a river. (Click for today’s photos.)
And yet, God chose it for His own baptism, and for the initiation of the Sacrament of Baptism. It was at the River Jordan that the Holy Trinity was first revealed to the world (see Luke 3:21-22).
Everyone is loved by God. That’s without question. So what’s the big deal with baptism? Isn’t it some sort of sign that the person is a “child of God”? Isn’t everyone a child of God? What happened to me when I was baptized? Why be baptized in the first place?
Walking through the wilderness today, after having visited the site of John the Baptist’s birth, I tried to imagine John in the flesh. I’ve always heard him described as the ‘wild man’ prophet, Jesus’ cousin (see Luke 1). So this wild man was “crying out” a message of repentence and baptism for the forgiveness of sins – what a remarkable individual. Only the Spirit of God could compel someone to live such a radically simple lifestyle, totally dependent upon God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers the questions above. Baptism is “the seal of eternal life” (CCC #1274) and “constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn” (CCC #1271). Beyond that, baptism is where God graces us with the theological virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and empowers us to live a moral life (CCC #1266). This is why we are baptized, with Jesus setting the example for us. He gives us a glimpse of the life that we can have, both here and in Heaven, through baptism. By this public sign and sacrament, persons become united to God and the faithful in a new and powerful way.
Of course, the sacraments are mysteries. If anyone knew this best, it must have been St. John the Baptist. He relentlessly sought God in his life and for others’ lives. He unashamedly proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. Still, he knew that Jesus – his own cousin – was beyond his understanding:
…One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)
Today we renewed our baptismal vows at the site where Jesus was baptized. How often do you think about the significance of your baptism? Do you realize that it has changed you forever? Are you lead by the Holy Spirit like St. John the Baptist? In what ways? What habits do you have which do not proclaim the coming of Jesus?
Ask the Holy Spirit to renew the gifts that God gave you at your baptism. While you’re at it, ask St. John to pray for your fervor and commitment to Christ.