Over the years, I have had many people ask me a very simple question when we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. That question is: “Why was Jesus baptized? If Jesus is sinless and the Son of God made flesh, why does he need to be baptized?”
The reason why Jesus chooses to be baptized is connected with who Jesus is. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus has become one of us in order to show us the way to salvation and how we are to live in order to be saved. He is baptized, in order to show us that it is through Baptism that we are called to share in the life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit before he begins His public ministry in order to show us that when we are anointed by the Spirit in the Sacraments of Initiation, we too share in His mission. Just as in Baptism the Father declares Jesus to be His beloved Son, so too through our Baptisms the Father claims us to be His beloved sons and daughters. As Jesus took up His ministry after His Baptism and anointing by the Spirit, so too each one of us is given a mission within the Church through our Baptism and anointing at Confirmation.
There is a very powerful theology and image of the Church which describes the relationship between the events of Christ’s life and the call that each of us receives in Baptism and Confirmation. This theology goes back to the Apostle Paul and has the title “The Theology of the Mystical Body of Christ.” The beauty of this theology is that it articulates how we today are called to continue Christ’s work in the world. One of the best examples of this reality is seen in the two-part work of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Written by the Evangelist St. Luke, in the first part, the Gospel of Luke, tells how the Father sent Jesus into the world to reveal God’s salvation and forgiveness of all people. As we hear in today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus was anointed by the Father to take up this mission. In the Acts of the Apostles, after Jesus ascends into Heaven, on Pentecost Sunday, the members of the Church were anointed to continue Christ’s work in the world. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Church continues Christ’s saving work and spreads His mission throughout time and space, bringing His saving message to all people. Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded that just as Christ had a mission from the Father, so too do each of us through Baptism and Confirmation, as members of the Church—the Body of Christ.
Last year, I spoke to you about a pastoral letter that Cardinal Collins had written to discusses the responsibility that each Christian has for the Church because of the gifts that he or she has received from God through Baptism and Confirmation. The word that he used in this letter to describe this responsibility is “Stewardship.” Over the course of the year, as I have discussed this letter with our Vocation and Stewardship Committees, we have come up with a word that we think fits our parish situation a little bit better. That word is “discipleship.” We have chosen this word because when Jesus gave the commission to his disciples to baptize at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, He Himself tells them to baptize in order to make disciples of all nations. The word that Jesus Himself uses is “disciple(ship)” and it speaks of the service that we are called to render to Him as a result of the gift of salvation. Discipleship reminds all of us that because of the gifts that God has given us, we are all called to use these gifts responsibly and with great gratitude to the one who has given them to us. Discipleship calls all of us to recognize that everything that we have is a gift from God. These gifts are ours to enjoy for as long as we enjoy the gift of life. At the end of our lives, we are all going to be called to return everything that we have to God and to give an account of how we have used our gifts. Proper discipleship means using our gifts of time, talent and treasure in a way that recognizes that everything we have is a gift from God and expresses our gratitude for these gifts.
Authentic discipleship invites all of us to ask ourselves what responsibility we have for the life of our parish church. In many parishes there is a small group of people who does everything, and burns out, and a larger group that expects everything to be done by other people. I have seen that on occasion here when people ask me if we can have a certain kind of group in the parish—like for seniors, or parents or a social committee. When I tell them that I would love to have such a group and then ask when can they start to lead it, they are boggled that I will not find someone else to lead the group that they want to see started in their parish. The life of this parish depends upon all of us doing our part to share our time, talent and treasure for its vitality.
The parish Stewardship Committee, which will now be known as our “Discipleship Committee,” with our Pastoral Council has made this call to “discipleship” a pastoral priority for the coming year. With the Pastoral Council and the Discipleship Committee of the parish, I will be working in the future to explore how our own parish community can take this call more seriously. This weekend the “Discipleship Committee” has asked that we participate in something called “Name Tag Sunday” as a way of emphasizing that we are all called by name to belong to this community. Each one of us has a vocation to respond to God’s love for us. We are all responsible for playing our role in what we hope it will become. This Lent, as we all prepare to renew our baptismal promises, there will be speakers before Mass talking about the different ministries here at St. Peter’s. You will be asked to think about how you might get more involved as a disciple by taking up a ministry here at the parish. So, while you are not being asked to sign up for anything today, you are being asked over the course of the coming year to start to think about signing up for something. In the Easter Season, the parish will have a type of “Commitment Sunday” at which you will be invited to embrace a specific ministry to live your call to discipleship more intensely. By our baptisms we are called to some form of discipleship in the Church. Every Christians has a vocation, a call, to be involved as a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus is baptized and anointed by the Spirit for only one reason: to show us how we are to live, and who we are to be as His anointed people. Just as the Father declares Christ to be His beloved Son, so too through baptism and confirmation, we are also raised to become the beloved daughters and sons of the Eternal Father. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we all have a mission because of our Baptisms and because we have been anointed by the Spirit and acknowledged by the Father as His beloved children. The word that best describes the responsibility that is given to each of us as gifted members of the Church is the word that Jesus Himself uses when He sends His disciples out to baptize—we are called to become His “disciples.” Let us pray, that in the coming months and years, we may each embrace the spirit of discipleship that will allow us to bring vitality to our community as we share the gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has given to us to use during our lives.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto