“The Baptism of the Lord”
- · Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- · Joke of the Day
- · Today’s Gospel Reading
- · Gospel Reflection
- · Reflection Prayer
Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:
Postures and Gestures at Mass: Catholic Calisthenics
So, why all the exercising at Mass: genuflect, kneel, sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, stand, bow, kneel, sit, stand, and finally, genuflect? Wow, I’m tired just writing the sentence! Well, in the celebration of Mass we are to raise our hearts, thoughts and voices to God. Being creatures composed of “body” as well as “spirit”, our “prayers” are not confined to solely our thoughts, hearts and voices; it is also expressed by our bodies as well. When our bodies participate in praying – – we truly and fully pray with our “whole person” – – as the embodied spirits God created us to be. This engagement of our whole being in prayer helps us to pray with greater attention
During Mass we assume different postures: standing, kneeling, sitting, and make a variety of gestures. These postures and gestures are far from being merely ceremonial in nature. They truly have profound meaning, and can certainly enhance our personal participation in Mass. In fact, these actions ARE the way in which we engage our entire self, body and soul, in the prayer that we know as “Mass”. Each posture underlines and reinforces the meaning of the action in which we are taking part during that specific moment in our worship.
Standing is a sign of respect and honor, so we stand as the celebrant who represents Christ enters and leaves the assembly. This posture, from the earliest days of the Church, has been understood as the stance of those who are risen with Christ and seek the things that are above. When we stand for prayer we assume our full stature before God, not in pride, but in humble gratitude for the marvelous thing God has done in creating and redeeming each one of us. By Baptism we have been given a share in the life of God, and the posture of standing is an acknowledgment of this wonderful gift. We stand for the Gospel, the pinnacle of revelation, the words and deeds of the Lord, and the bishops of the United States have chosen standing as the posture to be observed in this country for the reception of Communion, the sacrament which unites us in the most profound way possible with Christ who, now gloriously risen from the dead, is the cause of our salvation.
The posture of kneeling signified penance in the early Church: the awareness of sin casts us to the ground! So thoroughly was kneeling identified with penance that the early Christians were forbidden to kneel on Sundays and during the Easter Season when the prevailing spirit of the liturgy was that of joy and thanksgiving. In the Middle Ages kneeling came to signify the homage of a vassal to his lord, and more recently this posture has come to signify adoration. It is for this reason that the bishops of this country have chosen the posture of kneeling for the entire Eucharistic Prayer.
Sitting is the posture of listening and meditation, so the congregation sits for the pre-Gospel readings and may also sit for the period of meditation following Communion.
Gestures too involve our bodies in prayer. The most familiar of these is the Sign of the Cross with which we begin Mass and with which, in the form of a blessing, the Mass concludes. Because it was by his death on the cross that Christ redeemed humankind, we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips and hearts at the beginning of the Gospel. But there are other gestures that intensify our prayer at Mass. During the Confiteor the action of striking our breasts at the words through my own fault can strengthen my awareness that my sin is my fault.
In the Creed we are invited to bow at the words which commemorate the Incarnation: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. This gesture signifies our profound respect and gratitude to Christ who, though God, did not hesitate to come among us as a human being, sharing our human condition in order to save us from sin and restore us to friendship with God. This gratitude is expressed with even greater solemnity on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord and on Christmas when we genuflect at these words.
The Our Father is followed by the Exchange of Peace, the gesture through which we express a prayerful greeting of peace, that we are at peace, not enmity, with others. This exchange is symbolic. The persons near me with whom I share the peace signify for me, as I do for them, the broader community of the Church and all humankind.
Finally, with the new General Instruction for the Roman Mass (GIRM), we are asked to make a sign of reverence, to be determined by the bishops of each country or region, before receiving Communion standing. The bishops of this country have determined that the sign which we will give before Communion is to be a bow, a gesture through which we express our reverence and give honor to Christ who comes to us as our spiritual food.
In addition to serving as a vehicle for the prayer of beings composed of body and spirit, the postures and gestures in which we engage at Mass have another very important function. The Church sees in these common postures and gestures both a symbol of the unity of those who have come together to worship AND a means of fostering that unity. We are not free to change these postures to suit our own individual piety, for the Church makes it clear that our unity of posture and gesture is an expression of our participation in the one Body formed by the baptized with Christ, our head. When we stand, kneel, sit, bow and sign ourselves in common action, we given unambiguous witness that we are indeed the Body of Christ, united in heart, mind and spirit.
Today’s reflection: Jesus is baptized by John. What is the difference between John’s and Jesus’ Baptisms?
(NAB Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) 15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, saying, l “I am baptizing you with water, but 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. 21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Today we celebrate the “Feast of the Baptism of the Lord”. In today’s the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism, we hear “John the Baptist” address, and correct the confusion of the people who thought that he might be the “Messiah”. In his response, John contrasts the baptism that he performs with that of the Baptism which Jesus inaugurates – – with water AND the Holy Spirit. The type of Baptism that John performed during his ministry mission was not yet a full Christian Baptism. Instead, it was the preliminary foundation for the Christian Baptism of, through, and in Jesus Christ – – through which OUR sins are forgiven AND the gift of the Holy Spirit are received.
The baptism of Jesus is reported in each of the three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke (but not in John’s). Noticeably, the three Synoptic Gospels report the same event is quite rare and revelational.
Both Mark and Luke report the story from Jesus’ perspective, with “the voice from heaven” addressed to Him. However, Matthew’s Gospel has instead “the voice from heaven” speaking to everyone. Also, in Luke, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus during His time of “prayer” – – after His “baptism”. Through His Gospel today, you will notice Luke shows Jesus to be a person of prayer who withdraws regularly from the crowds AND His disciples as well, in order to pray to His heavenly Father privately. Jesus goes on to teach His follows “HOW” to pray.
“Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah” (Luke 3:15).
And so, John knew their questions, and he responded to their inquiries by saying:
“I am baptizing you with water, but 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).
Luke even reiterates John the Baptist’s response in his other book, “The Acts of the Apostles”:
“John heralded his [Jesus’] coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet’” (Acts 13:24-25).
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).
Well, John is stating that he only gives a “baptism with water” representing repentance. Jesus, however, will “baptize with the Holy Spirit AND with fire”. From the point of view of the early [1st Century] Catholic-Christian Community, the “Holy Spirit and fire” was understood as a representation of the “fire” poured out from the Holy Spirit in the desert, in the Temple, and finally, in the upper room at the time of Pentecost (the Jewish remembrance of the “fire” and brimstone on Mt. Sinai):
“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:1–4).
There are two core symbolisms in these four verses from the above passage from Acts (Acts 2:1-4); I’ll comment on both. I’ll start with “fire”. “Fire” in biblical times was associated with God and with His action in the world AND , His personal presence in the lives of His people during their exodus, and during His enduring personal presence in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies) of the Temple. God sometimes manifested His presence by use of “fire”, such as in the burning bush which was not consumed when God spoke to Moses (cf., Exodus 3:2).
The figure of “fire” was also used to represent His holiness (cf., Deuteronomy 4:24), His protective presence (cf., 2 Kings 6:17), God’s glory (cf., Ezekiel 1:4, 13), His wrath against sin (cf., Isaiah 66:15-16), and His righteous judgment (cf., Zechariah 13:9),.
So, writers of the New Testament books were inspired by the Holy Spirit to use “fire” to represent the actions of the Holy Spirit – – Himself (cf., Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:3). God’s “fire” both purifies and cleanses; and it inspires a reverent fear of God – – and a reverence for His “Word”.
The second core symbol is the “strong driving wind”. The sound of the “strong driving wind” heralded a “new action of God” in His history of, and plan for, the salvation of all the human race. The “tongues as of fire” symbolizes the presence of God initiating again – – renewing – – His covenant on Mount Sinai:
“Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke, because the LORD had come down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (Exodus 19:18).
At Pentecost, the “Holy Spirit” acts upon the Apostles, preparing them to “proclaim” the NEW covenant, with its unique gift from the Holy Spirit, “to speak in different tongues”. This gift of “speaking in tongues” is a grace of ecstatic prayer – – in praise of God. This gift of the Holy Spirit is appreciated (cf., in Acts 2:6, 11) through a speaking in foreign languages, and thus symbolizing the worldwide mission of the Catholic Church.
However, as part of John the Baptist’s preaching, the “Holy Spirit and fire”, he is relating them to their Jewish Scripture references about their “purifying” and “refining” natures:
“I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27);
“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand firm when he appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the Levites, Refining them like gold or silver, that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness” (Malichi 3:2–3).
So, as a quick summary of the differences and representations between John the Baptist’s and Jesus Christ’s Baptism’s is that the “water baptism” of John the Baptist will be followed by either an “immersion” of the repentant in the “cleansing power” of the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) – – OR, an “immersion” of the “unrepentant” in the devastating fiery wrath of God at their final judgment.
Today’s event in Luke’s Gospel focuses on the heavenly message identifying Jesus as God the Father’s “Son” – – AND, through a reference by “Isaiah”, as being the “Servant of Yahweh”:
“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; He shall bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).
Three other passages have also popularly been called “Servant of the Lord” verses (cf., Matthew 49:1–7; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12). Ultimately however, the description of the “mission” of the “servant” has been applied ONLY to Jesus Christ:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:18–21).
I can’t help but think of the Passion narratives when thinking of Jesus as the “sent” “Servant”. Jesus proclaimed the “Word”; He never was contentious or cried out; He was struck many times with reeds; and He brought justice into our world. WOW!! With all this (plus many other connecting verses from Holy Scripture), who can deny the divine “Servant-hood” of the man, Jesus Christ!!
Through the life-giving “baptism with water and the Holy Spirit”, Jesus has been, and is still creating a NEW people of God, both Jew AND Gentile alike. In doing so, Jesus identifies Himself with the people of Israel by submitting to John’s “baptism of repentance” AND in His bearing, on their behalf, and OURS, the burden of God’s decisive judgment:
“He [John the Baptist] went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins …After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened” (Luke 3:3, 21).
In His humble submission to John’s “baptism”, we see a foreshadowing of the “baptism” found in His gruesomely bloody death upon the Holy Cross of Redemptive Salvation. Jesus’ “baptism” signifies His acceptance to, and the beginning of, His earthly mission as God’s “suffering Servant”. Jesus allowed Himself to be numbered among sinners, and to die as one, without being one!! Jesus submitted Himself entirely to His Father’s will of redeeming His human creatures, Jews and Gentiles alike. Out of love, Jesus consented to this “baptism” of death – – “baptism” by “fire” – – for the remission of OUR sins. So, please realize, understand, and know the JOY of trust and submission Jesus had to His heavenly Father, God, even to that of a known death in His name, a Martyrdom of Salvation.
At the Jordan River, in the desert of Sinai, in the wilderness of Judea, “Israel’s” Sonship with God is to be renewed through Jesus’ “baptism”. And, the “descent of the “Holy Spirit” on Jesus Christ anoints Him for His public ministry:
“The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD … Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations … The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners … in their every affliction. It was not an envoy or a messenger, but his presence that saved them. Because of his love and pity the LORD redeemed them, Lifting them up and carrying them all the days of old” (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1; 63:9).
Luke regularly presents Jesus “at prayer” during important points in His public ministry:
- · Here, in today’s reading, at His baptism;
- · Jesus’ choosing of the Twelve (cf., Luke 6:12);
- · Before asking His disciples “Who do the people say that I am?”, and “Who do you say that I am?”(cf., Luke 9:18);
- · On the Mountain of the Transfiguration (cf., Luke 9:28);
- · When teaching His disciples to pray (cf., Luke 11:1);
- · During the Last Supper (cf., Luke 22:32);
- · In the garden on the Mount of Olives (cf., Luke 22:41); and finally,
- · On the Holy Cross of Redemption and Salvation (cf., Luke 23:46).
A uniqueness found in Luke’s Gospel, and not in any other Gospel, is Jesus praying immediately following His Baptism:
“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21).
Jesus’ actions and prayers are answered in a unique, intimate, very personal – – AND often times PUBLIC – – ways:
“Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22)
The Father proclaimed His entire delight in His “Son”, speaking audibly for all present to hear. The Holy Spirit was also present as He “anointed” Jesus for His public ministry beginning on that day – – as He rose from the waters of the Jordan River.
Jesus’ Greek brethren publically were aware of a previous declaration of God, through David, concerning not only David himself, but also of the future “King of the Jews”, revealed as God’s “Servant Son”, today “begotten” by God the Father:
“I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:7).
God the Father acknowledges Jesus as His divinely unique Son, the object of His love. His expressing of His delight in, approval of, Jesus Christ is the assurance that He, Jesus, will fulfill His messianic mission of redemption and salvation – – for ALL people – – Jew and Gentile alike!!
“The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22).
The “dove” is a symbol of the NEW creation in the flood, talked about in Genesis, and well-known in Jesus’ community of “Israel”:
“He [Noah] released a dove, to see if the waters had lessened on the earth” (Genesis 8:8);
“Out of Egypt they shall come trembling, like birds, like doves, from the land of Assyria; And I will resettle them in their homes, oracle of the LORD” (Hosea 11:11).
The “baptism” of Jesus is considered a “manifestation” of God in Jesus HIMSELF – – another “epiphany.” Today, on this last day of the Christmas Season, our Gospel reveals to us Jesus’ true relationship to God the Father. The “son” (little “s”) of Mary and Joseph is also God’s OWN “Son” (big “S”)!!
Jesus came to give us the “fire” of His Spirit so that we may radiate the JOY and truth of His Gospel to a world desperately needing God’s light and truth. His “Word” has power to change and transform our lives, making us “flaming lights” pointing others to Jesus Christ. We are called to follow Jesus in His public ministry of teaching, healing, and loving. We are also called to oppose unjust and violent powers in the world today. Like John the Baptist, we too are called to give testimony to the light and truth of Jesus Christ in all of our endeavors. Let Jesus Christ’s power, grace, and love burn brightly in your life! Ask Him to “fill” – – “fulfill” – – you with His Holy Spirit. As we follow Jesus into the Catholic Church’s Season of “Ordinary Time”, identify what needs to be “filled” – – “fulfilled” – – in your life, and in others. Amen; Amen!! (“Selahi”, which means “Take breath, relax, rejoice, and saver what you just read – – the truth.)
In today’s Gospel, notice that all three “persons” of the Holy Trinity are manifested: God the Father in the voice, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and Jesus the Son in the one being “Baptized” and “Anointed” for His unique public ministry.
Luke is communicating to us the crucial information about the true identity of Jesus Christ. In verses following today’s reading, Luke lists the genealogy of Jesus, tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to the first person of creation, Adam, who is also identified as the “son of God” (cf., Luke 3:23-38). We – – the children of Adam and Eve – – are again made children of God – – made NEW – – through Jesus’ Baptism.
Examine Jesus’ humility in today’s Gospel reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to forge this same attitude of humility in your own heart. As you do so, “heaven will open” for you as well. The Lord Jesus Christ is always ready to renew and refashion each of us through His Holy Spirit, AND also to anoint us for OUR special and unique mission – – as His ambassadors. The Lord wants His love and truth to shine through us so that others may see the goodness and truth of God’s message of Redemptive Salvation. Ask Jesus Christ to “fill” you with His Holy Spirit, allowing YOU to radiate the JOY of His Gospel to ALL those around you.
Every person has a unique identity which is defined by their behaviors, attitudes, and expectations governing their daily lives and existence. Each aspect of our identity is influenced by our personal history; each expression is unique within him/her self. In today’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus’ behavior, attitudes, and expectations were governed by His identity as God’s beloved Son. In our personal “Baptism”, we were made from above, were made true, and are made children of this very same heavenly Father. So, your individual identity – – as a living member of the “family of God”, and as a “brother or sister” of Jesus – – also shapes your own daily life and existence. Think about this! Selahi!!
Identify some of the expectations and behaviors that govern your life by answering the following question: “What are some of the things that make your life unique?” Once you know the answer, once it is revealed to you, celebrate these things about your life. How does this identity as a member of the family of God govern and shape your life? Conclude today’s reflection with a prayer that we ALL will remain faithful to our baptismal identity as children of God and as brothers or sisters of Jesus Christ. Amen!!
Who art in Heaven,
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.