The Christmas season concludes today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. As narrated in today’s Gospel, God the Father himself attests that he whose birth we have been celebrating is in fact God the Son become man. We have heard this truth announced by angels to shepherds, signified to the Magi by a star and heralded by John the Baptist.
The incongruity of the sinless Son of God receiving a baptism of repentance was not lost on John the Baptist. When Jesus came to be baptized, John said: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Today’s Gospel) Nevertheless Jesus insists upon it “to fulfill all righteousness.” The preface of John the Baptist explains it this way: “And to make holy the flowing waters, he [John] baptized the very author of Baptism.”
Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. The baptism we received is the baptism with the Holy Spirit that John predicted would succeed his baptism of repentance. (Cf. Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16) It is through this baptism that we become God’s children by adoption, “born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” (John 1:13) From this flows our ministry as members of the Body of Christ: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
With the conclusion today of the liturgical season of Christmas, we begin tomorrow the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. This season does not celebrate any particular aspect of the Paschal Mystery as do all the other seasons of the liturgical year. Rather, Ordinary Time is characterized by an ordered reading of the gospels—the meaning behind the name. On weekdays we begin with the gospel of Mark, then Matthew in the summer and Luke in the fall. On Sundays this year we follow the gospel of Matthew, after a transitionary passage from John’s gospel next Sunday. The first readings on weekdays are ordered readings from the other books of the bible, alternating between the books of the Old Testament and the epistles of the New Testament. On Sundays the first readings are from the Old Testament and correspond in some way to the gospel of the day, while the second readings are ordered readings from the epistles of the New Testament with no particular relationship to the first reading or the gospel.
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins this Saturday, January 18, and ends next Saturday, January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. This year’s theme is taken from Acts 28:2, “They Showed Us Unusual Kindness.” Again this year we pray that the scandal of a divided Christendom may be overcome, a stated priority for Pope Francis.
Pray the Rosary this week for the unity of Christians, for an end to legalized abortion and the many other crimes against human life and dignity, for victory over the wildfires in Australia and, as always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.