Giotto di Bondone: Baptism of Christ - Wikimedia Commons

Archbishop Follo: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

‘On Sunday of the Baptism of Jesus, the Lord grant us to live in the love on which we have been baptized.’

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Sunday after the Epiphany, January 13, 2019
Roman Rite
Is 42:1-4 6-7; Ps 104; Tt 2:11-14 3:4-7; Lk 3: 15-16.21-22
Ambrosian Rite
Is 55:4-7 Ps 28(29) 1-3a. 3c-4. 3b.9c-10; Eph 2:13-22; Lk 3: 15-16.21-22

  • Another Epiphany

On Christmas Day and on January 6, we have experienced the manifestation (= epiphany) of Jesus to the shepherds and to the Magi who had gone to him. They recognized him and adored him, kneeling in front of him and bringing presents.
I think that the shepherds brought “white gifts” like milk, cheese, wool and maybe a lamb, to give honor to the white Splendor of God. Were these poor gifts? A gift is always of great value if it is made with joy and love. A gift is not measured based on how much we give, but on how much love we put in giving.
The Magi followed this “law of giving” (Mother Theresa of Calcutta) and, by doing so, they demonstrated their respectful love. They donated gold to Baby Jesus because He is the true King of Kings, incense because in Him they recognized the true God, and myrrh because they identified Him as the true Man. Myrrh is an unusual gift for a baby because it was used for the dead. Doing so, they prophesized the destiny of a baby born to give his life for us. From this Baby, we have received the gift of Eternity that we can obtain only through the Cross.
Today’s liturgy celebrates the way in which God himself lives the “law of giving” certifying with his divine testimony the” law of giving” of the shepherds and of the Magi. Here, we can see another Epiphany (=manifestation) of Jesus who is Peace sent, donated and present while for centuries it had been promised, postponed and prophesized. God gives testimony of His peace in the Humanity of Jesus, full of grace and mercy.
Today’s manifestation invites us to contemplate and to live 3 things:

  • Christ’s humility. He is the God made Man who, as a sign of penance and conversion, goes to another man to be baptized. He is the innocent Lamb who humbly carries the sin of the world. With his incarnation as a baby, the Son of God, infinite power and absolute greatness, become a humble weakness. Receiving the baptism, Jesus lowers himself even more: he presents himself almost as a sinner. He enters Jordan’s waters like a public sinner and a penitent. He loves us with infinite love and doesn’t hesitate to descend into the deepest bottom of our poverty, humiliation, and sin.
  • Christ’s” solidarity.” He, who is without sin, joins his sinner brothers and sisters to partake of their sufferings. He brings on himself the punishment of every sin to let mankind be part of His life and of His Holiness. Nothing shows better the divine mercy than the fact that He acquired our own misery. This mercy is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a passionate regenerating love.
  • The “testimony” of God as the Father who opens the sky of His Heart, sends His Spirit sweet as a dove and says:” This is my beloved Son. Listen to His words”. Mankind does not have any reason for unbelieving: God makes himself understandable to all of us and His testimony is truly believable. In the Gospels, we find two episodes in which God recognizes Jesus as His Son: at Baptism and during Transfiguration. John the Baptist and the people who saw Jesus descend in the waters together with the sinners were the witnesses of the Father’s testimony. They saw the sky open, heard the words of the Father and were able to recognize God’s greatness and His supreme humility. Jesus is the humility that goes below anyone to guide everyone to the Father.
  • The entire life of Christ is an epiphany of heaven

At his Baptism on the Jordan River, we can find in seed the entire life of Jesus, who brings heaven to earth. In the same way, at our baptism, we find in seed our Christian life, which is Heaven’s life. Becoming like us, Christ has made us one with him. All human beings live in the Son. To us, sons in the Son, the Father speaks; to us, He donates His Spirit. If the Spirit of God is in us, Heaven is here, open to us and to all. Origen of Alexandria stated:” Seeing the Son and dwelling in us the complaisance of the Father who loves us in the Loved One, we are the Heaven of God”
            Our and Jesus’ Baptism implies a mission of paradise. It is a mission to be carried out with steadiness “he shall bring forth justice to the nations,” and with gentleness a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” A mission that doesn’t use violence, but acts with humble consideration not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.” A mission that gives hope and deliverance to the troubled ones “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement.” It is a universal mission whose limits are “the Earth”, “the nations” and “the faraway islands.” (Prophet Isaiah – Today’s first reading)
The Son of God has entered the world not to remain hidden but to make himself be known and loved, in order to build a new world and to save mankind. Even when we are bad, Christ is good and forgives our viciousness. He doesn’t want to destroy but loves to build. He came to this world to bring, with His almighty and unlimited goodness, Paradise into the world.
For Christ, to save us means to free us from sin and from all the miseries that it generates. It means to bring us in communion with Him and with all the other men so that the neighbor becomes our brother. This is Paradise’s life. It means to make ours the good thief’s words: “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” and to receive Christ’s answer:” Today you will be with me in Paradise” which means: “From now on you will be with me forever”.
Let’s not forget that this salvation doesn’t concern only the end and the afterlife of history. On the contrary, it works inside history and gives meaning to it. Eternal life has started and sprouts on Earth.
The Kingdom of God is a construction site in the heart of men busy building their cities. Christians are not better than other men but they are aware to be redeemed sinners who announce to the world that Jesus is the Lord. Because of their baptism, Christians are called to be the salt that gives flavor to Earth and the light that illuminates the world carrying the joy of Heaven.
The Christian doesn’t run away from the world, but “works” to put it in the hands of God, and to participate with heart and action to the birth of a new world where everyone will have a stable and happy home.

  • A feminine epiphany

Everybody is called to do this job in order to realize the epiphany of God in the world. However, I think that I can say that the consecrated virgins are called to live this epiphany on the basis of their femininity.
At the meeting of the Ordo Virginum on June 2, 1995, Saint John Paul II told them: “Dear Sisters, Mary is your mother, sister, and teacher. Learn from her to do the will of God and to accept his plan of salvation; to guard His world and to compare it with the events of life, to sing His praise for the «great works» in favor of humanity, to share the mystery of suffering, to bring Christ to men and to intercede for those in need. Be with Mary in the wedding room where they celebrate and Christ appears to his disciples as the messianic Bridegroom; be with Mary at the Cross, where Christ gives His life for the Church; stay with her where she received the Spirit, who spreads over as divine Love in the Church, the Bride (John Paul II  Address to the participants in the international conference of Ordo Virginum in the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Rite,  June 2, 1995 #8.)
I think that, in the context of today’s world, the presence of a consecrated virgin as a true woman is very important. Wherever she lives, works, studies, speaks, serves and prays, with her way of life she is a testimony of her marriage to Christ in an existence totally donated to Christ and able to accept him. With the sincere and complete gift of herself, singing his praises and opening her heart to every person up to the point of feeling “body” of the Church, she becomes the epiphany of the Bridegroom.
Patristic reading
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop
Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina, 14-16, 20

PG 36, 350-351, 354, 358-359

The baptism of Christ
Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.
John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly, he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.
The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by you: we should also add, “and for you,” for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.
Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God.
Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received—though not in its fullness—a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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