Herb Miller, in her book Actions Speak Louder Than Verb, tells a touching story about 900,000 people who died in the long battle of Leningrad during the Second World War. At one point, the parents and the elders were trying to save the children from both the Nazis and starvation. So they placed them on trucks to cross a frozen lake to safer sanctuaries. Many of the mothers, knowing that they would not see their children anymore, shouted at them as they got on the trucks, “Remember your name. Remember your name.”
To remember one’s name is to remember one’s identity and one’s roots. A name in the Bible stands for the person himself or herself. To remember your name is to remember who you are.
We officially got our names when we were baptized. From the Biblical perspective, giving a child a name is a most sacred activity because the name stands for the identity and the mission of the child in this world. In fact, the name must come from God and parents must discern the name that God intends for the child. But sad to say, we have started to lose the sense of the sacred in naming our children according to the Bible tradition. Giving the most unique, most popular or the most unforgettable name, even without any religious significance, is fast becoming the norm.
When we were baptized, we did not only get our personal names. Aside from being cleansed from the original sin by the pouring of the blessed water, we became adopted children of God, followers of Jesus Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Church. To remember our names means to remember these tags or titles, which must form our identity and mission in the world.
To remember our baptismal names is to remember who we are before the Lord and what we have professed and renounced. At baptism, through our parents and godparents, we made a triple profession of faith in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit with all the articles of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed and a triple renunciation of sin, evil and Satan. These renunciations will enable us to live in the freedom of the children of God, so that sin may have no mastery over us.
The Solemnity today is not only about the Baptism of Jesus; it is also about our own baptism, our own commitment as baptized Christians following the example of Jesus our Lord. His baptism is found in all the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
This year, we use the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Highlighted is the “anointing of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, His royal investiture and His eternal birth in God” (Days of the Lord, 312). There are two remarkable features of the baptism of Jesus in Luke. These are: (1) His theophany or divine manifestation taking place in the midst of a people in search of the Messiah and (2) the link of the theophany of the Messiah to His prayer and not to His baptism.
Luke’s account starts with the people inquiring about John’s identity. The Baptist takes pain to explain that the One coming after him is mightier. As always, John knows his place vis-à-vis the awaited Messiah. John is a good reminder for us to always know our place and role vis-à-vis Jesus and to always point people to Jesus – by our words, deeds and lives. There is only one Messiah and it is the Lord. We are only servants of the Messiah.
John emphasizes that while he baptizes with water only, the One to come “will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire.” John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance, a sign of turning away from sin and turning to God. Jesus’ baptism, while still carrying the aspect of repentance, is, first of all, a baptism of reception of the Holy Spirit, the very life of God who makes us God’s beloved children. This is the reason why John, the herald of the Messiah, points people to Jesus as mightier for He brings an even more powerful baptism.
Luke also highlights that the theophany of the Messiah is tied not to the baptism of Jesus, but to His prayer. In fact, Luke does not give us so many details about the baptism incident. What is more important is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, which takes place after His prayer.
Nil Guillemette tells us that “this is Luke’s way of telling us that Jesus was inspired, inspirited in all His actions, empowered with His heavenly Father’s energies, enabled to always act as a beloved Son fulfilling a beloved Father’s wishes.” (Hearts Burning, 318). With the anointing of Jesus by the Father through the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, his divine Sonship is revealed with the Father’s voice: “You are My beloved Son.”
Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of dove, we also received the gift of the Holy Spirit when we got baptized. And just as the voice of the Father confirmed Jesus as His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased, we too have become God’s beloved children in whom the Heavenly Father is well pleased.
There is a powerful lesson here. Just as Jesus was able to face everything, including the cross, in His life in fulfillment of the Father’s mission because of the Father’s assurance of Him as His beloved Son, we too are able to face anything once we really believe this – that we too are God’s beloved children. We can then face anything with a peaceful and trusting heart. Indeed, we may not know what the future holds for us, but we know Who holds our future. In fact, we know Who holds our past, present and future. And as the great English mystic Julian of Norwich exclaimed, “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”
Luke’s giving importance to prayer in his gospel account is also true to the biblical tradition that “prayer precedes Divine revelation” (Days of the Lord, 311). In fact, in the entire Gospel of Luke, prayer plays an extremely important part in the life and ministry of Jesus and it is always connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lukan Jesus is portrayed very much as a man of prayer and, therefore, filled with the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the disciples were also at prayer when the Holy Spirit came upon them in the form of tongues of fire (Acts 1:14, 2:3).
Luke’s emphasis on prayer provides a very important reminder for us who have been baptized in Christ. Although we have already received the Holy Spirit at baptism, the Spirit’s continued indwelling within us and our identity as beloved children of God can be manifested only when we remain connected to God in prayer. We can only truly reflect Christ and our baptismal identity in the world if we are truly men and women of God, men and women of prayer and of the mission.
Jesus’s public life of proclaiming the Reign of God starts with His baptism by John at the River Jordan, after being anointed by Him with the Holy Spirit and being assured of His divine identity. Anointed by the same Holy Spirit and marked by divine adoption at our own baptism, we are compelled to participate in the same mission and to truly live as God’s beloved children, followers of Jesus, temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Church.
St. Paul in the Second Reading admonishes how we must live our baptismal commitment – to reject anything that turns us away from God and to embrace what strengthens our relationship with Him and with others. This is basically going back to our baptismal profession and renunciation. Christian living is basically baptismal living – living in, with and for God and Christ and denouncing sin, the lure of sin and Satan, the author of sin and darkness.
The Holy Father, in his document Porta Fidei in opening the Year of Faith, talks of faith as a journey of faith that begins with baptism, that lasts a lifetime and that ushers us into the passage through death to eternal life. Through faith, we can address God the Father and share in the fruits of the Resurrection of Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We must profess this Christian and baptismal faith with renewed conviction, celebrate it more intensely especially in the Eucharist, and give witness to it with greater credibility. May this Solemnity of the Baptism of our Lord bring renewal to the practice of our own baptism vows.