Benedict on baptism

By Jenny Koch

Connecting Faith and Life 

I’ve made a New Year’s resolution. This year, I am going to celebrate each baptism in my family and make sure to find out when my godson and goddaughter were baptized, making sure to celebrate with them. In order to do so, I’ve been asking my own children what they remember. They are young, so the three main themes include water, sacrament and party. I’ve also decided as we approach the January feasts surrounding the Christmas season, to dedicate some time to reading about this event in “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI. In my discussions and reading, I’ve found some striking parallels. 

Water. It’s been about 15 years since Joseph Ratzinger published his first book as Pope Benedict XVI. Described by Pope Benedict as, “my personal search for the face of the Lord,” the book offers in-depth details of a variety of events in Jesus’ life, beginning with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Water is incredibly important. The Gospel of Luke sets up the event with history, mentioning rulers such as Herod, king of Judea, and Caesar Augustus. Pope Benedict teaches, “It is not a timeless myth. It is an event in history.” Jesus “inaugurated his public ministry by stepping into the place of sinners.” Baptism means “to plunge,” and our own date of baptism was indeed a “rebirth.”

Sacrament. Like all sacraments – visible signs of the invisible – baptism changes us. Pope Benedict describes the sacrament as a “concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever.” The Gospel of Mark is not exaggerating when he tells us, “There went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). The entire country was craving this baptism! Jesus then emerges from the “gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan.” Matthew reports that the confusion was palpable. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented (Matthew 3:14-15). With these words, I have often left church wondering, what does righteousness mean? Pope Benedict makes it clear. “In Jesus’ world, righteousness is man’s answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God’s will, the bearing of the ‘yoke of God’s Kingdom.’” In the sacraments, we are saying “yes” to God’s will for our lives just as Jesus did in the Jordan. 

Party. This event and the ensuing thousands of years of Church history, debate and discussion about when to baptize and where to baptize, have led to today. No matter what you understand or doubt about the historical event, Pope Benedict assures us that, “In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness.” We can be assured after reflecting on the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan that “He is the son of Adam – the Son of Man. Because he is man, all of us belong to him and he to us; in Him, humanity starts anew and reaches its destiny.” What a reason to celebrate! 

In many ways, trying to understand the importance of Jesus’ baptism forces us to also embrace the beautiful “both and” principles of Catholicism. Pope Benedict reminds us, “He is, on one hand, the Wholly Other, but by the same token he can also become a contemporary of us all.” In this year in which Pope Francis has asked us to focus on prayer, I will be praying for us to realize this truth. As we celebrate our baptisms, may we also pray for others to join us in the water. The heavens were “torn open” in the Jordan and this continues with each baptism. Let’s continue to celebrate together. 

Jenny Koch is a local publisher at Decided Excellence Catholic Media. Her family attends Corpus Christi Parish.