The theme of Christ's epiphany - of Jesus inaugurating his divine mission on earth -reaches its fulfillment in the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated this year on Sunday, January 13, 2008. The beautiful antiphon from Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Epiphany (last Sunday) reads:
Each event is accompanied by a theophany, by startling evidence of divine intervention: the star, the water into wine, the voice from heaven and the dove. It is on this feast we witness the baptism of the Lord, the one into whom we ourselves are baptized.
The word "epiphany" means "to show forth". Epiphanies, both large and small, tend to be private events- yet events with great significance for the public. Trying to share the details with another of an epiphany is fraught with complications; the words are never quite right, and even the most sympathetic listener cannot fully bridge the gap between description and being there. Most of us keep our personal experiences of the Holy to ourselves. Who would believe it? And who would really understand? The irony is that epiphanies are made for sharing, even as they are impossible to communicate fully.
The power of God's presence breaking into our everyday experiences is not to be kept to ourselves. Even if no one entirely understands, we have to try. Ultimately, we must be satisfied with having had the epiphany experiences ourselves. But there's always the desire for companionship and relationship.
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is clearly the Servant of the Lord, who has received God's Spirit to provide for the needs of the people. In the baptism scene, Matthew [3:13-17] shows not only the intimate relationship between Father and Son but also the consequences of that relationship. The private believer is a public servant. According to Matthew, when Jesus rises, dripping, from the waters of the Jordan, John has moved on to the next baptism and the crowds are busy with repentance. Jesus alone sees the Spirit descending on wings of light to rest upon his soggy head. He alone hears the well-pleased voice of God calling him Beloved Son. The experience drives him out alone into the desert for 40 days to hone his calling. No wonder that when he returns to begin his ministry, one of his first actions is to call disciples. Enough solitude already! It's time for company!
In receiving the life of the Christ in baptism, we Christians are called upon to sustain the life of the Church. Faith, therefore, implies concern for others. Like the Servant in Sunday’s reading from the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7], we are to replace darkness with light. Like the Servant in Matthew, we are to replace pain with healing. Far from being purely a private gift, faith is a public responsibility.
While I was studying in Rome, I came across a story from the early Church that is very fitting for us on this feast. During the third century, Cyprian of Carthage wrote to his friend Donatus: “It’s a bad world, Donatus, in which we live. But right in the middle of it I have discovered a quiet and holy group of people. They are people who have found a happiness that is a thousand times more joyful than all the pleasures of our sinful lives. These people are despised and persecuted, but it doesn’t matter to them. They are Christians, Donatus, and I am one of them.”
As we remember Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, and our own baptisms, may we, too, stand up and be counted among that number. Let us pray that the grace of our own baptism will help us to be light to others and to the world, and give us the courage to make a difference, to be counted among the friends of Jesus.
“Baptism – mystery and hope of the world to come – is the most beautiful of God's gifts inviting us to become disciples of the Lord. It brings us into intimacy with God, into the life of the Trinity, from this day forward and on into eternity. It is a grace given to the sinner, a grace which purifies us from sin and opens to us a new future. It is a bath which washes and regenerates. It is an anointing which conforms us to Christ, priest, prophet and king. It is an enlightenment which illumines our path and gives it full meaning. ...Dressed in white on the day of our baptism, as we shall be on the last day, we are called to preserve every day its bright splendor and to discover it anew, through forgiveness, prayer and Christian living. Baptism is the sign that God has joined us on our journey, that he makes our existence more beautiful and that he transforms our history into a history of holiness.”–Pope John Paul IIWorld Youth Day 1997, Paris
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation