Thursday, January 05, 2017

Baptismal Name: Beloved

By Colleen O’Sullivan

And this is (God’s) testimony:  God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:11-12)

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.  On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.”  (Mark 1:9-11)

Beginning with Beloved
A Blessing

Is there any other word
needs saying,
any other blessing
could compare
with this name,
this knowing?


Comes like a mercy
to the ear that has never
heard it.
Comes like a river
to the body that has never
seen such grace.
Comes holy
to the heart
aching to be new.
Comes healing
to the soul
wanting to begin


Keep saying it
and though it may
sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes
part of you,
how it becomes you,
as if you never
could have known yourself
anything else,
as if you could ever
have been other
than this:


No mention of mandatory census-taking.  No mention of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem.  No manger.  No heavenly hosts proclaiming the news of Jesus’ birth.  Not one adoring shepherd or star-following, gift-bearing visitor from afar.  Instead, Mark begins his Gospel with John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord and with Jesus’ baptism.  The opening of the heavens and God’s affirmation of Jesus as God’s Son is all the epiphany Mark needs.  Jesus is the Father’s Anointed One.  As we read in John’s first letter, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

As I read the Gospel passage for today, I was reminded of the joy of the baptisms I performed in my former life as a pastor.  And also I was reminded of the phone calls I got regularly every few months, always from someone I’d never met because they had no affiliation with the church, and almost always starting out the same way: “I’m calling to see if you’ll do my baby.”  It was as though baptism were a magical rite, requiring nothing of the recipients, parents or godparents.  Just get that splash of water and the piece of paper and you’re good to go.  I always invited these moms to come and talk with me and a few took me up on it, but none committed to being part of the church or bringing their child up in the faith so they would know what their baptism meant.  

That’s sad because baptism is a beautiful sacrament.  Whether you’re an adult or an infant, baptism is grace-filled and life-changing.  Reread Mark’s description of Jesus’ baptism.  He says the heavens were torn open at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.  Once something is torn, it can never be the same again!  When God tears open the heavens and declares us beloved sons or daughters, we are forever changed!  We die to our old selves in the waters of baptism.  Our sins are washed away.  We are reborn of water and the Spirit and wear white to symbolize our new life in Christ.  Then we spend the rest of our lives living out the promises that we made or were made for us in baptism. 

Spend some quiet time today contemplating the meaning of your baptism.  Keep this saying of Anthony de Mello, S.J., before you as you do:  Behold God beholding you… and smiling.  I truly believe God beams with delight every time those baptismal waters are poured over another person, marking us forever as beloved members of God’s family.

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