After the Baptism of the Lord

Ordinary Time is when we remember Catholicism’s sacramental nature and the importance it places on nature itself

The Season of Christmas ended with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord—an event to remember as we journey now through Ordinary Time. It is, after all, a feast that stresses how something as basic as water was, and continues to be, a means to mediate the life-giving grace of God.

More on that in a bit. First, it's important to briefly note how the Baptism of the Lord calls to mind the real and, today, polluted River Jordan.

As this study shows, agricultural runoff, water withdrawal, and a myriad of other stressors pollute large portions of this iconic waterway. The river is also a source of conflict, as are most sources of water in many areas of the world.

Yes, even a river as revered as the Jordan is subject to modern stressors.

The good news, of course, is what this observance teaches. And what it promises, especially for those of us eager to care for creation.

Let me explain that with a question: Why would the Son of God, the Word made flesh, need to be baptized? This question has been asked since the days of the early Church. Carl Olson, the editor of Catholic World Report, has written a helpful summary of answers offered by various Church Fathers. It’s a quick read and an insightful one.

Then there are these details in the Church's catechism:

1224 Our Lord voluntarily submitted himself to the baptism of St. John, intended for sinners, in order to "fulfill all righteousness." Jesus' gesture is a manifestation of his self-emptying. The Spirit who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation, and the Father revealed Jesus as his "beloved Son."

1225 In his Passover[,] Christ opened to all men the fountain of Baptism. He had already spoken of his Passion, which he was about to suffer in Jerusalem, as a "Baptism" with which he had to be baptized. The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life. From then on, it is possible "to be born of water and the Spirit" in order to enter the Kingdom of God.

One takeaway I’d stress is this: with his own baptism, Christ baptized baptism—and thus the use of water in that rite. And so down the ages, we, his followers, have been using water to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Water, which brings physical life, now brings spiritual life to the Church as a community and individually to Christians.

This, my friends, is big news.

Ordained by God, each of the Church’s seven sacraments use some form of the created order to help bring about salvation. The Spirit is free to do as He wills, but for perhaps a myriad of reasons, He especially wills to transmit grace through the use of specific realities within creation.

We baptize with water. We offer bread and wine—"the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands"—and receive in return Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. We speak—one human being to another—to confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a conversation that becomes part of a perfect, heavenly offering of mercy. We confirm and anoint with botanical oils. We make holy human procreation in the Sacrament of Marriage. And finally, men give themselves up to Christ to ensure that all this can occur in the lives of real communities.

Sum it all up, and we get this truth: The sacramental nature of the Church makes us pro-creation and pro-life whether we like it or not. It recognizes the goodness of creation, as revealed in the first chapter of Genesis, and thus it encourages us to nurture and protect all creation—relying always on the grace of God, which comes to us providentially through creation itself.

And so as we journey into 2019 and deeper into the liturgical year, let's remain mindful of what Christ did for you, me, and for all souls—as well as for the waters of the Jordan, all water, and all creation—with his great and humble baptism that we celebrated today.

If you like Catholic Ecology,
you’ll love…

A Printer's Choice

The sci-fi novel with a Catholic twist.

A Printer's Choice

Learn more

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.