Sunday, January 13, 2013

Signing on the Dotted Line

Homily from the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord - Year C

If you’ve ever entered into a contract, you know that the gesture which “seals the deal” and finalizes the terms of the contract is affixing your signature; “signing on the dotted line.”

We can look at baptism as a kind of “signing on the dotted line.”  In the Gospels, we’re told that John the Baptist went around “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  

So the people came to John the Baptist, they acknowledged themselves as sinners, and, in doing so, expressed repentance and their desire to have their sins forgiven by God.  And by kneeling down in the Jordan River and permitting John to pour water over their heads, they proverbially “signed their names on the dotted line” agreeing to enter into a life of conversion and to turn away from sin.

So why on earth would Jesus “sign on the dotted line” through baptism?  Jesus, of course, is without sin.  He has no need for baptism.  So why does he do it?  Why does he kneel down in the Jordan River and permit John to pour the waters of baptism over his head?

Jesus “signs on the dotted line” not for his sake, but for ours.  Jesus allows himself to be baptized not because he has to be cleansed of sin, but because we do.

Pope Benedict XVI puts it in these words in volume one of his three volume series, “Jesus of Nazareth.”:  “Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan.”

Baptism is offered for the forgiveness of sins.  So, Jesus begins his public ministry, with baptism because his entire life and his death will be offered for the forgiveness of our sins.  Here, at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, we see him already anticipating his death on the Cross.

After all, Jesus often referred to his suffering and death as a “baptism.”  When James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom of Heaven he asks them, “can you... be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38)  Meaning, “Will you be able to suffer and die as I will?”  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, anticipating his passion says, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” (Lk 12:50)

By being baptized, Jesus is “signing on the dotted line” in a contract with his Father.  Through his baptism, Jesus is saying to the Father: “I will give my life for them.  So that, just as you Father call me your beloved son, so they may also become your beloved sons and daughters.”

When you and I were baptized, we “signed on the dotted line.”  Meaning that we become disciples, faithful followers, of the one who “signed on the dotted line” for us for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation.  Or, as Pope Benedict says, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus’ Baptism.  It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him.  The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go to the place of Jesus’ baptism; to the Jordan River in the Holy Land?  To even walk into those same waters where Jesus himself walked?  Where he lowered himself with the burden of our sins upon his shoulders?

Actually, that’s precisely one of the recommendations we’re given by the Church in this “Year of Faith.”  The Vatican recommends going on a religious pilgrimage this year.  Perhaps to the Holy Land, or to Rome, or to one of the Marian Shrines such as Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe.

Now, obviously it won’t be possible for all of us to make a pilgrimage for all of us, or even many of us, to one of these suggested sites.  However, I would like to suggest all of us, who are able, to go on a more attainable religious pilgrimage: sometime during this “Year of Faith” let’s go, if we are able, to the place where we were baptized.

Font where Bl. Pope John Paul II
was baptized.
Blessed Pope John Paul II did this several times.  He went there in 1966, when he was Archbishop of the Diocese of Krakow.  He visited again on the 50th anniversary of his baptism when he was a Cardinal.  And again in 1979, when he visited there as Pope.  And each time, he kissed the baptismal font.

Let’s go on pilgrimage to, and pray at, the exact spot where we were washed of Original Sin.  Let’s go to the place where we reborn into new life as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.  Let’s go to the place where we were made living temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  This year, let’s go to the place where we “signed on the dotted line.”

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