One of the things Christmas reminds us of us how God loves us so much that He dwells
among us, and shows us precious we are to Him. This weekend, our Christmas Season
comes to an end with the Baptism of the Lord, and once again, as Jesus begins His
ministry at this moment, we again are reminded of how our God is with us always.

While all of us as Catholics are baptized, when we celebrate it as Christians, it gives us
the grace and strength to overcome sin through the virtues of faith, hope and love, and
it incorporates us into the life of the Church. So what’s going on with Jesus then? He
certainly doesn’t need virtues to overcome sin if He has no sin and is God Himself. And
He’s the one who establishes the Church founding it on Peter.

Jesus, through His baptism, is doing His first thing in public – and that is standing by you
and me in line. He’s encouraging us through this act to do what He does – to focus on
repentance and becoming a better person, and taking up our mission too.

Tomorrow starts the season of ordinary time. The color of green is used, as green is
meant to symbolize hope and life. Think spring – the hint of green on the trees in early
spring or seeing that green substance again under the snow reminds us of new life.
Eventually the snow and ice melt away and the landscape comes back to life again.
That also happens from our souls too as spiritual growth happens, and through our
baptism, we can think about our own spiritual growth and how we can help fan the
flames of faith in the greater world.

Our own personal growth is something we’ll focus on a bit more here come March when
we begin the season of Lent, but really it’s not limited to the 40 days of the Lenten
Season. When we are baptized, we are claimed for God. (And certainly unbaptized can
go to heaven; you might remember “limbo” as this kind of perpetual happy state but not
quite heaven that was taught once upon a time. Well there was no real theological basis
for it which is why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI definitively removed it from the Catholic
lexicon). So what is happening is on the one hand, when we say a person is removed
from original sin, think of it as turning someone toward God. It isn’t a personal fault of
anyone (hard to think an infant is capable of sin when we use the term “innocents” to
describe babies). But rather human nature has been wounded, and as humans we are
inclined to sin. Through baptism, a person is turned back toward God and given special
grace and strength. The “effects” of original sin, and temptations to sin, which we call
“concupiscence” though remain. So what do we do about it? Well we don’t presume
baptism punches our ticket to heaven. But we continually look at ways we can grow in
grace and become better people by examining our conscience, going to confession,
receiving Holy Communion, finding time for prayer, and realizing that we are always
works in progress. It’s important to rejoice in the progress we make while always
realizing there’s room for growth, and sometimes sins can crop up again when we least
expect it. That’s nothing to be afraid of because God loves us – but it’s something we
must acknowledge.

Second, we participate in the mission as an evangelist. We believe that Jesus is a
priest, prophet and king. During the baptism rite, the oil of chrism is placed on our
forehead. This symoolizes the Holy Spirit and symoolizes God’s favor and presence.
We are a priest by living a life of prayer; a prophet by talking about who God is; and a
king by leading through example. So this means that daily, our mission will take on
different forms. We pray daily to grow closer to God. We lead a life of example of doing
some things and avoiding others to inspire others as often we are the only Bible a
person ever reads. And we at various moments in our lives talk about what our faith
means to others and why we believe what we do. That’s why growing in holiness but
also our understanding of the faith as life goes on is so important if we are to evangelize
one another.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas Season, but as you put away the tree (assuming
it’s plastic like mine) and the manger, remember that while Christmas invites us to look
back and be reminded every year how much we are loved, the Christian should also be
always looking forward as Jesus does at His baptism. His mission will entail both joy but
also suffering and difficulty – but He will see it through to the end. Our mission can be
tough at times too – turning away from sin and being faithful to the Gospel which we’ll
hear on Ash Wednesday as the ashes are placed on our foreheads is a challenge to
sometimes live out. But it’s something that we can do through the grace God gives us at
our baptism and through His ever presence in our lives, not just as an infant who came
many years ago but as one who is always there for us. Like Jesus, may we focus on our
mission ahead which can ultimately lead us to heaven if we strive to daily welcome
Jesus into our hearts and be a people of hope, to bring God’s love into this world
through our words and actions.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul