Baptism of The Lord
Year A

A holy people?

In today's second reading, St. Paul greets the Christians of Corinth as having been called to be a "holy people."

Who is a "holy person?" I am sure we would all answer, one who is substantially without sin. But what is this sin we are to avoid? Today many have such a fuzzy sense of sin that they seem to think they never commit it.

The Scriptures, if we turn to them, won't let us off that easy. The Old Testament gives us the ten commandments with the warning that God will punish gravely serious sins against them. In the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that in the last judgment he will sentence us to heaven or hell on the basis of our demonstrated love (or non-love) of God and neighbor.

Here we are speaking of mortal sins - the serious sins by which we deliberately repudiate the love of God and neighbor. But in addition to mortal sins, there are also venial sins - repudiation of God's will in lesser matters. If we commit mortal sins less frequently, we are still pretty often venial sinners; still not quite "holy people." As St. John writes, "If we say, `We are free of the guilt of sin,' we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:10).

If you want to understand how much God detests even voluntary venial sin, read what Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote about them. This great English convert and theologian was a very sensible and balanced man. Yet he did not hesitate to say that the Church "holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who were upon it to die of starvation in extreme agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse."

Does this statement shock us? If it does, then perhaps our sense of sin has grown weak. Unless we appreciate how any willful act against God's law, venial sin as well as mortal, is an undeserved offense against His love, we are never going to become the "holy people" we are called to be.

-Fr. Robert F. McNamara

Q. 458: Why did Jesus permit John the Baptist to baptize him, since Jesus was sinless and John’s baptism was for ‘repentance’?

We always have to keep in mind that Jesus was fully human, like us in all things except sin. Therefore, as a fully human being, he experienced everything that you and I experience, other than sin. Jesus himself tells us that it was not for the forgiveness of sin, but “to fulfill all righteousness” – in other words, to fulfill the Father’s plan. For this reason, he told John to “allow it for now.”

By submitting to John’s baptism, the humanity of Jesus is being proclaimed, his identification with all humankind – even though he is sinless. Then his divinity is proclaimed by the voice from heaven which identifies him clearly: “This is my Beloved Son. My favor rests on him.” For the first time, we see both the divinity and humanity of Jesus proclaimed to the world. The Incarnation remains a “mystery” – but now the true identity of Jesus is revealed, and we proclaim our belief in that identity every Sunday when we profess our faith in the Creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father."

Jesus was empowered for his public ministry, after this baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him “like a dove.” It is important to note that Jesus waited for this “commissioning” from his Father in heaven, before he embarked upon his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing. There is also a strong message for us in his “waiting.” Each of us must go through the process of discernment (regarding a vocation or a ministry), seeking the Father’s will and blessing, rather than arrogating unto ourselves that which can only be received as Gift from God.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The prophets had announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission; the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism was the sign of fulfillment of those prophecies (CCC #1286). The “yes” of Jesus to this “baptism of death” commenced his public ministry of salvation for all (CCC #536).