Having been a priest for a little over 23 years, from time to time I get a young person coming up to me and saying, “Father, you baptised me many years ago! Do you remember me?” 99.9% of the time I would have no recollection simply because they certainly don’t look the same as the little infant who was brought to Church for baptism. Even though the question does make feel old, there is a nice warm feeling because of the sense of appreciation shown. Often I too wonder what my own baptism was like. I was baptised as an infant by a French missionary priest and it wasn’t an “instagramable” moment because social media never existed. Neither do I have a picture of that moment nor did I ever get a chance to meet the priest who baptised me because he had left to go back to France. The sacrament of baptism, whether received as an infant or adult, is a life-changing moment – “Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1213).

The baptism of Jesus that we celebrate today , is a fitting conclusion to the entire Christmas season. For many people today, the sacrament is often viewed as a ritual cleansing but by Jesus submitting Himself to be baptised by John the Baptist, brings to light the true meaning of this sacrament. The baptism here inaugurates the mission of Jesus – it was the Father’s plan that by sending Jesus into our world, He would identify Himself with sinners, and was going to save us.

Though the baptism of Jesus in not entirely like ours, it marks a new beginning and the fulfilment of an old promise. The coming of the Sprit in the form of the dove as presented by Mark in his gospel, bears a close connection between the Spirit and the dove as found in the creation account where the “Spirit of God” hovered over the waters at creation (Gen 1;2) and also Noah who had sent the dove to hover over the waters of the flood (Genesis 8:10-12). The coming of the dove symbolises a new beginning.

The sacrament of baptism that we celebrate in our Church today must also point to that same new beginning. Though we may not be able to see the “hovering of the dove”, it is a new beginning because we now become members of Christ, [and] are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1213). In other words, baptism is for mission – the mission of the Church.

In Baptism we receive the gift of grace for the first time: God Himself comes to make His home in us. By virtue of this indwelling, we then receive an indelible mark called “character” by which we are “configured to Christ”, meaning that we belong to Him. The pouring of the water is only an external sign but that action marks us out for Christ and His mission.

The baptism of Jesus that we celebrate today also tells us about our own baptism. If Jesus was commissioned at His baptism, so, too, are we. Baptism does not just wash away sin; baptism is not just for our personal salvation. In truth, baptism commissions us with the Spirit to the same mission that Jesus had. To be baptised a Christian is not simply to be saved by Jesus but to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.

What can I do? I would like to invite you this week, to do some research, find out your own baptismal date, and make a note on your calendar along with a reminder to celebrate it in some special way. We often celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions but we rarely celebrate the day God the Father marked us as His own.  In the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth century theologian, “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift” – the day God made us His own for mission.

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (10 Jan 2021)