07 January 2012

'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.' The Baptism of the Lord

The Seven Sacraments: Baptism, Nicolas Poussin, painted 1641-42  [Web Gallery of Art]

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is observed in Ireland on Sunday 8 January and in other countries that use English widely on Monday 9 January. The Feast brings an end to the liturgical Season of Christmas.
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Mark 1:7-11 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

 In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, 'Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.'

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.'

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:7-11 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Agus bhíodh Eoin ag seanmóir á rá: “Tá ag teacht i mo dhiaidh an té atá níos treise ná mé, agus ní fiú mé cromadh síos chun iall a chuarán a scaoileadh. Bhaist mise le huisce sibh, ach baistfidh seisean sibh leis an Spiorad Naomh.” Lá de na laethanta sin tháinig Íosa ó Nazarat sa Ghailíl agus fuair baisteadh sa Iordáin ó Eoin. Agus an túisce a tháinig sé aníos as an uisce, chonaic sé na flaithis ag oscailt ó chéile agus an Spiorad mar a bheadh colm ag teacht anuas air. Agus tháinig glór ó na flaithis: “Is tú mo Mhac muirneach; is duit a thug mé gnaoi.”


 14 young women and girls lining up for baptism and confirmation, 28 December 2011

The Irish Examiner carried a story by Gordon Deegan on 29 December, President washed dishes on visits to nuns. Every year during her 14 years in the mainly ceremonial post of president, a job she carried out with distinction and relinquished in November, President Mary McAleese of Ireland went to the Poor Clares monastery in Ennis, County Clare, to make a retreat.

Sister Gabriel, the abbess said, President McAleese has been great. She has been such an inspiration to us. She comes in, no mobile phone, no nothing, she relinquishes everything . . . President McAleese would be washing your dishes and you’re embarrassed, thinking ‘The President of Ireland is washing my dishes!’

In a way this was the only place she was Mary McAleese. She wasn’t the president, she could just be Mary and feed her own inner life to recharge herself for her duties. She is just so ordinary, so real - that is why the world took to her.

This story reminded me of one aspect of the Baptism of Jesus. He lined up anonymously with sinners in order to be baptized by John the Baptist, his cousin. The others in the line would not have known who he was. They would have presumed that he was a sinner like them. They had no idea he was God who had become Man, the Messiah they had all been waiting for.

I’m not suggesting that the Poor Clares in Ennis are noted for their sinfulness, though they are sinners like the rest of us. But the Irish President joined them every year, unknown to anyone apart from the nuns and her own family, to join them in prayer seven times a day, to join them in the silence broken only by for story-telling during recreation in the evening.

Very few of the paintings of the baptism of Jesus I looked at show him as one of a crowd of penitents. Poussin’s painting does to some extent. Can there be anything more extraordinary than God who is Love and who became Man allowing himself to be considered a sinner as he lined up for baptism, a foreshadowing of his death on Calvary, condemned as a criminal?

'I baptise you in the name of the Father . . .'

On 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, I had the joy of baptising and confirming 14 young women and girls at Holy Family Home in Bacolod City. Nine others joined them in making their First Holy Communion. Although none of us heard any voice from heaven, the reality is that God the Father said to each of those being baptised what he said to Jesus at his baptism, You are my daughter, my beloved; my favour rests on you.

First Holy Communion

The webpage of the Poor Clares in Ennis is here. The excellent website of the Poor Clares in Galway, just over an hour by road from Ennis, is here. It’s well worth exploring, especially to learn the stories of some of the nuns there.

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