January 7, 2011

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionAs winter begins each year, the Church celebrates three great feasts to joyfully focus on our salvation in Jesus, and also to teach us the meaning of salvation in Jesus.

Christmas was the first of these feasts. Then came the Epiphany of the Lord. This weekend is the third celebration, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Each of these feasts, through its Liturgy of the Word, introduces us to a vital dimension in the identity of Jesus and an important consideration for Christians as they seek to follow the Lord.

Supplying the first reading for this weekend is the Book of Isaiah.

Isaiah writes about a loyal servant of God, a servant who is steadfast in his faithfulness despite enduring the hostilities of others around him and the unhappy twists of his fortune.

This servant is therefore the most perfect servant. Regardless of the injustices surrounding him, and the temptation to forsake God, the servant never falters.

This reading, with three other readings that are quite similar in Isaiah, are called the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.”

They form a major part not only of Scripture, but also of the liturgy as they are used in Holy Week when the faithful concentrate on the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary.

The second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, reveals what life was like in the first generation of Christianity. It verifies the structure of the Church even as this structure exists today.

Peter is central to the Scripture passage. He appears before Cornelius, whose name indicates Roman origins. Peter preaches in the name of Christ, discharging his responsibility as an Apostle, a responsibility given to him by the Lord.

The reading is revealing since it shows that Peter offered salvation not just to Jews, whose heritage Peter shared, but also to pagans, indeed even to the brutal Romans whose military conquest and occupation of the Holy Land had resulted in so much misery, death and despair among Jews.

Peter’s preaching leads to one conclusion. Salvation is in Jesus alone. Jesus came as God’s representative. In God’s love, Jesus went about “doing good works” and healing the sick.

St. Matthew’s Gospel offers the last reading, revealing not only the event of the story of the Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, but also the import of the event for Catholics and for all believers.

Ritual washings, or baptisms, were popular in certain Jewish circles in the first century A.D. so many homes had ceremonial baths.

Archaeologists who excavated the ruins of Masada, the great Jewish fortress high on a mountaintop overlooking the Dead Sea, discovered ceremonial baths in the ruins there.

Being baptized, or bathing in these special pools, symbolizes the yearning of a person to be rid of sin. It was as if sin stained not just the soul, but also the body.

John the Baptist salutes Jesus as God’s anointed.

Then, marvelously and miraculously, God appears and identifies Jesus as the Son of God.

God could be seen and heard. To clarify the message even more, God speaks and gestures in ancient Old Testament words and symbols that no Jew would have misunderstood.


This feast of the Baptism of the Lord reveals to us the Lord’s identity. He is the Son of God, with all the force and mystery contained in this reality.

He is the Savior, rescuing us from eternal death by assuming our sins and by making amends to God for our sinfulness. He is the mediator, uniting us with God.

The Church makes the words of Peter to Cornelius its own, calling us to the Lord as our Savior. The Church also calls us to admit that we are sinners.

We need Jesus to reconcile us with God, our hope and our life. †

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