by Father James Rodriguez
Last week, the readings illustrated God’s never-ending work of bringing light into darkness. Today, we look to a different element born at creation — water.
Genesis tells us that as He was forming the earth, His spirit hovered over the waters and separated them from the land, creating a perfectly balanced ecosystem in which life could thrive, a life He Himself would exhale into it.
With His own hands, the Lord would mold the world and its inhabitants until His crowning achievement would bring satisfaction to His Sacred Heart: “It is very good.” This same achievement would break that same heart, and yet hope would prevail. Time and again, water would wash this world clean.
Under Noah’s Ark, the waters would carry the righteous. Under the staff of Moses, the Red Sea would make a path for the chosen. Under the pierced feet of the Savior, water and blood would baptize the Gentile.
Isaiah continues to call us to a deeper understanding of this suffering savior. He describes the call that belongs not only to Jesus, but to all who would take His name in baptism, calling ourselves Christian thereafter. Isaiah speaks of God’s predilection: “my servant whom I uphold … with whom I am pleased” before going on to portray a gentle teacher and liberator.
In Jesus, we enjoy all of these things. He is the teacher of the greatest lessons — how to live and love in a hostile world, far removed from the original innocence enjoyed by our first parents before the fall. He is gentle, and yet ardent, and so He can both heal us and break our chains.
The peace promised by Jesus is the hallmark of His kingdom. This is not peace as the world defines it, in which people merely tolerate one another in the absence of war. The peace of the kingdom of God is a radical harmony among His creatures, united in love and singing praise of His name.
Peter knew well this purifying power of God. In the Acts of the Apostles, we are treated to the preaching of this man who suffered greatly the purifying fire of repentance. Peter denied the Lord in His hour of agony, and agonized over his cowardice until that sunny Sunday morning, when the Lord spoke peace to him and the others.
The same spirit that calmed the chaotic waters at the beginning now healed and repaired Peter’s heart, inspiring him to testify “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power … for God was with him.”
What follows is beautifully echoed in our liturgy of Holy Saturday night. At the Easter Vigil, the paschal candle, freshly lit from the newly blessed fire, represents the resurgence of the light of the resurrected Christ. It is dipped into the newly blessed water that is to be used for the sanctification of souls and objects.
The creative Word of God is immersed in His creation, “thus it is fitting … to fulfill all righteousness.” As at every baptism, whether we hear it or not, God says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Creator is once again moved by the work of His hands, having wrought something greater than Genesis in Jesus. The New Adam liberates His creation in the truest love the world has ever known, and you and I get to witness that at every Mass.
The Word of God can calm our interior chaos and bring us peace. It can burn away our fear and, at once, refresh us with living water. Let us come to this great river, thirsty as we are, and drink of the waters that are never exhausted. Come, let us adore Him.
Readings for the the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29: 1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Acts 10: 34-38
Matthew 3: 13-17
Father Rodriguez is the administrator of Saint Rose of Lima in Rockaway Beach.