by Father James Rodriguez
IN SPANISH, THERE is a unique feature that, in modern English, is implicit: the formal “you.”
In English, whether addressing a king or a servant, the same word, “you,” is used. In Spanish, however, when addressing an elder or someone in authority, the informal “tu” that you would use with a friend, can come across as disrespectful because the word “usted” or “vos” (depending on your country of origin) denotes a greater dignity and deference.
At Mass, we use the word “you” without much thinking about it. In the new translation of the liturgy, we no longer say “And also with you,” but “And with your spirit.” This change points to the great dignity conferred on men by ordination.
One of the responses that has not changed comes just before Communion, when the priest breaks the host over the paten and begins, “Lamb of God…,” and all join in with the rest of the acclamation, “…you take away the sins of the world.” We repeat this three times, speaking not to the priest but the living Sacrifice, the One in and through Whom the priest speaks. We are speaking to God, and in English or Spanish, we call Him, informally, you.
Through the voice of the prophet Isaiah, God used this very word and addressed anyone willing to take seriously these words of prophecy. In one sense, they anticipate today’s feast in which God identifies Jesus as the “beloved Son.” This has implications for all baptized people, because in baptism we become members of the Body of Christ, and this makes all the difference in the world. In baptism, God has “called you for the victory of justice, [and] grasped you by the hand; I formed you and set you as a covenant for the people…” (Isaiah 42: 6). For us, intimacy with God and our mission as Christians are inseparable, and this intimacy is at the heart of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
The God who so many people still think is distant and ambiguous comes to be among us. The Holy Child wrapped first in swaddling clothes is now a man, wrapped in the waters of the Earth, in our humanity. It is this water, long a symbol of chaos, destruction and the untamed, that is finally calmed at His voice. It is this water that He will change into a wine of gladness, freeing us from the bland existence of slavery to sin.
Note here how the mysteries of the Epiphany (celebrated last Sunday), the baptism and the first sign at the wedding feast at Cana are linked liturgically, as a sort of triduum of revelation. God appears in our own flesh, transforms it from within and feeds us with It. Because Jesus has taken on our humanity, we can speak to Him as our brother, calling Him, “you,” a word so small yet containing in itself a person’s very identity. Now we can look God in the eye whenever we look at the heart of Jesus, in all the tabernacles of the world. Now we can praise, adore and love Him with grateful affection, even until the end of time. The King has come, and He has wrapped Himself in us.
Jesus shows us a humble God, submitting to us, coming among us as a defenseless child, bathing in the river like everyone else, and yet sanctifying those waters by His presence. Most of us were baptized as children, with hearts that were perhaps more trusting than they are now. It is to these hearts that He comes and makes a dwelling place for Himself, freeing us who were “oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). The gifts of our own baptism continue to unfurl and grow when we trust in Him.
Sometimes, this trust is difficult. We are afraid of where the Lord will lead us. We fear the parts of our life that, like a stormy sea, are dangerous and wild. It is often precisely there, where we need Him the most, that He wants to lead us. Our past hurts, our grudges, our illnesses and addictions are things we would rather not think about, yet those things are the waters in our lives that need His healing presence. Today’s Gospel turns on a simple sentence: “Then he allowed him” (Matthew 3:14).
When John humbly trusts Jesus despite the mystery of this moment, everything changes, the heavens are opened, the Spirit of God descends like a dove and Jesus, like us at our own baptism, is claimed as a Son. He is not simply a friend of God or a servant. He is not simply a good teacher, or one prophet among many. He is the Son of God, and in His Sonship, we become sons.[hr] NB: There is an option as to which passages may be used before the Gospel. I have chosen to reflect on the first option. I recommend that in your own prayer you also read the second option of readings.[hr]
Readings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7 or Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
Psalm 29: 1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 or Psalm 104: 1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Acts 10: 34-38 or Titus 2: 11-14; 3: 4-7
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
Father James Rodriguez, parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood, Long Island City, was ordained to the priesthood in 2008.
Young Adult Lenten Bible Study Program with Father Rodriguez
In honor of the Year of Faith, join Father James Rodriguez in breaking open the Scriptures during the season of Lent at a Young Adult Lenten Bible Study Program, sponsored by the diocesan Office of Faith Formation through funding from the Catholic Foundation of Brooklyn and Queens. Sessions are scheduled for March 6, 13, 20 and 27, 7:30-9 p.m., at St. John’s Prep, Astoria. Bring a Bible. There is no fee, but everyone is encouraged to register by Feb. 25 by contacting Paul Morisi at email@example.com.