Baptism of The Lord
Year C

God shows no partiality

Some of the early Spanish conquistadores came to Latin America not to help the American Indians, but to help themselves. The kings of Spain seriously desired to add the Americas not only to their own kingdoms but to the kingdom of God. But the conquistadores, greedy for gold, enslaved the Indians, claiming that anyhow they were mere animals, quite incapable of understanding and embracing the Christian faith.

Pope Paul III heard about this wildly selfish attitude and realized that it presented a major obstacle to Christ's command, "Teach all nations." So on June 2, 1537 he published an official declaration to the contrary, addressed to all faithful Christians. It is Satan and his satellites, the Pope said, who are encouraging the view that American natives are "dumb brutes created for our service … incapable of receiving the Catholic faith." As chief shepherd of the Church, despite his own unworthiness, he said he was duty-bound to state "that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic faith, but according to our information they desire exceedingly to receive it." He therefore commanded that no American Indian be henceforth deprived of property or liberty.

This bull of Paul III, known as Sublimis Deus, was a pioneer papal denunciation of racism. The future experience of missionaries to the American Indians was to prove him correct. If even today many red men have refused Christianity, many others have shown themselves receptive to it, and capable of real holiness.

The outstanding example, of course, is the Iroquois maiden, Kateri Tekakwitha. Born in central New York State in 1656, converted in 1676, she died near Montreal in 1680 with a reputation of true sanctity among Indians and Whites as well. When John Paul II declared her "Blessed" in 1980, he was confirming not only the words of Paul III but also those of St. Peter in today's second reading: "I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality." (Acts 10:34)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

(Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized on October 21, 2012.)

C249: Last week (Epiphany) we adored a little baby; seven days later (today, Lk 3:15-16, 21-22) we jump to a 30-year old Jesus! Why? What happened in between?

Every one of us would love to know all about those 'hidden years' between the Presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple, and his Baptism in the Jordan. Except for a scene when he was twelve and his parents thought he was "lost," we know nothing about those early years of his private life. Surely this is for a good reason. If the Holy Spirit had wanted us to focus on those years, then the evangelists would have been inspired to record those events in divine salvation history (i.e., the Bible). As it is, however, after the nativity events the Holy Spirit wants us to focus on the public life of Jesus, on his Mission, which begins with his baptism in the Jordan River and ends with the great Holy Week events and the subsequent Ascension.

That first event, his baptism, is important for two reasons. It shows Jesus' humility in fully accepting his human condition. He was totally obedient to God's will, and his heavenly Father affirmed him in his obedience while he was at prayer. This affirmation also clarifies for the world his divine sonship - the first public proclamation of the fact that he was the Messiah. It was an important proclamation, because it meant the period of waiting was over; Messiah was now present among the people.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus' baptism was his full acceptance of his mission (CCC #536). Today we are reminded that our "mission" also began with our baptism, the sacrament of faith (CCC #1236), when we became adopted ("reborn as") sons and daughters of God (CCC #1213). Our mission is to follow Jesus and imitate him, spreading the Good News of his salvific love and "becoming Christ" for others (CCC #899). May we all realize that our heavenly Father is also "well pleased" with us when he finds us at prayer.

You Are My Beloved Son

Throughout the Christmas season we have celebrated the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. Today we close the Christmas season by celebrating the baptism of the Lord. We have seen divinity manifested by his humanity in his birth from a virgin and by the gifts of the Magi. Today we see it manifested in his baptism by John. He, the sinless one, accepts a baptism of repentance, identifying himself with our sinful humanity. But the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon him – as it had on his virgin mother when the Word became flesh – and the voice of God proclaimed "you are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Isaiah tells us that God's word comes down and penetrates deeply into our humanity to produce results. The Word returns to heaven at the Ascension, having done the will of Him who sent Him, paving the way for those who believe to come to the Father.

Almighty God, you proclaimed Jesus to be your beloved Son when the Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him for his mission. Grant that we who have been baptized in his name may share in his ministry and rejoice in being your children thorough Jesus Christ our Lord.