Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. This brings to an end the season of Christmas. The Church recalls Our Lord's second manifestation or epiphany which occurred on the occasion of His baptism in the Jordan. Jesus descended into the River to sanctify its waters and to give them the power to beget sons of God. The event takes on the importance of a second creation in which the entire Trinity intervenes.
In the Eastern Church this feast is called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan God appeared in three persons. The baptism of John was a sort of sacramental preparatory for the Baptism of Christ. It moved men to sentiments of repentance and induced them to confess their sins. Christ did not need the baptism of John. Although He appeared in the "substance of our flesh" and was recognized "outwardly like unto ourselves", He was absolutely sinless and impeccable. He conferred upon the water the power of the true Baptism which would remove all the sins of the world: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sin of the world".
Many of the incidents which accompanied Christ's baptism are symbolical of what happened at our Baptism. At Christ's baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him; at our Baptism the Trinity took its abode in our soul. At His baptism Christ was proclaimed the "Beloved Son" of the Father; at our Baptism we become the adopted sons of God. At Christ's baptism the heavens were opened; at our Baptism heaven was opened to us. At His baptism Jesus prayed; after our Baptism we must pray to avoid actual sin.
- Right Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas
Customs on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
In the Ukraine the faithful gather in the front of the church where a cross of ice is placed. Since there are no rivers near churches, a tub is filled with water and is placed in front of the ice cross. During special and very unique services the water is blessed and brought home. This is taken in before breakfast is eaten. The remains are kept during the year to keep the home safe from fire, lightening and sickness.
The priest visits his parishioners to bless their homes with the holy water that the New Year may be one of cooperation with the gift of God; His Son and the participation in the Life He has come to lead us in toward Salvation. The evening meal is very much a repeat of the Holy Supper except that there are no restrictions on meat and dairy products. It starts with Kutia, which has been saved from Christmas Eve.
True Greatness Is to Make Oneself Small
The presence of John the Baptist accompanied us through the season of Advent and we met him again on our liturgical and spiritual journey on the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. The figure of the Baptist is mysterious and captivating. He was the Precursor of Christ, not only two thousand years ago but in a sense also in our day. He is the friend of the Bridegroom. The voice, which makes us hear the Word which introduces us to the mystery of the redemption, who helps us to respond to the call to conversion, with humility and love. He helps us understand that the human person, every person in front of the Lord Jesus stands before the greatest mystery of our existence: the Mystery of the Man God!
We cannot stand before Jesus as if he were not what he is: God from God, true God from true God! Only a person who has a relationship of humility with the Lord is able to receive the faith which illuminates the mind and warms the heart. Atheism is the product of human pride which renders man unable to believe because he is closed to the truth, to humility.
Truth-humility cannot be separated! John the Baptist is the herald of truth because he is the herald of humility and vice versa. His words are fire which desires to burn any remnant of pride deposited in the hearts of his disciples, who are disarmed in front of the figure of Jesus, his apostolic success, his truly surprising manner of announcing the Kingdom of God: a Messiah whom they had imagined differently.
The Gospel speaks of this “crisis” of the disciples of the Baptist, which we might call “crisis of humility ”, because it touches this fundamental disposition of the human soul before the mystery of God who reveals himself in Jesus. The Gospel says: “so they went to John and said, 'Rabbi, the man who was with you on the far side of the Jordan, the man to whom you bore witness, is baptizing now, and everyone is going to him.' John replied: 'No one can have anything except what is given him from heaven. 'You yourselves can bear me out. I said, "I am not the Christ; I am the one who has been sent to go in front of him." 'It is the bridegroom who has the bride; and yet the bridegroom's friend, who stands there and listens to him, is filled with joy at the bridegroom's voice. This is the joy I feel, and it is complete. He must grow greater, I must grow less.’”(Jn 3, 26-31).
These are among the strongest words and most moving testimony with regard to the identity of Christ, his priceless greatness compared with our littleness.
The fact that this warning was addressed by the Baptist to his disciples who were prepared to welcome the Messiah makes us realize the insidious nature of the temptation to enter into “crisis of humility”: refusing to recognize that “everything is grace”, that God's gifts do not belong to us, that “'No one can have anything except what is given him from heaven”…
How often the disciple thinks he is the teacher; the servant the master. John the Baptist knew well that the original sin was pride, a desire to possess the gifts of God separating them from their origin and identity as gifts, starting with freedom! How dangerous it is for the believer to forget the nothing he is and everything that God is. That original temptation is ever ready to arise in our soul. How good it is for us to say now and then, “you alone Lord are everything!” Right at the beginning of the spiritual journey of Catherine of Sienna, the Lord said: “do you know daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things, you will be happy. You are not, and I am who is. If you hold this knowledge in your soul the enemy will not be able to mislead you, you will be safe from all his threats; you will never accept to do any thing contrary to my commandments and you will have no difficulty in obtaining abundant grave, truth and light” (Raimondo da Capua, La vita di S. Caterina da Siena, I, X, 92, ed. Cantagalli).
Although with different words, John the Baptist offered his disciples the same teaching: “He must grow greater, I must grow less”; in order to make way for the Everything He is, we who are nothing must forget ourselves. This is the extraordinary dynamic of the conversion announced by the Baptist and repeated by Jesus: lose oneself in order to find God, become little in order to be great, be the least in order to become the first in the Kingdom of Heaven!
The path of humility teaches us to see God's gifts in ourselves and in others, a sign of the goodness He pours into the hearts of his creatures. Those who follow the example of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist, will be open to joyous testimony of God's gifts and remove from their soul all trace of jealously and rivalry, envy and ambition, because they will understand that the only true greatness lies in allowing to grow in their soul not self, but the only True Great One. God! And of this, Mary is the greatest example.
— Mgr. Luciano Alimandi, Ave Maria, Agenzia Fides
Liturgy of the Hours.......Baptism of the Lord
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