The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Tit 2:11-14, 9-11; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22) “Holy Water: Use It!” PDF Version
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C (2019): Tit 2:11-14, 9-11; Lk 3:15-16; 21-22
If the primary and quintessential purpose of baptism is to forgive sins, first and foremost Original Sin which every single human being inherited from Adam and Eve when they first brought sin into the universe, and for those who are baptized after infancy and receive forgiveness for all personal sins they have committed up until the day of their baptism, then why did Jesus Christ undergo baptism?
We are told repeatable in the Holy Scriptures that Jesus never committed the slightest sin, and though He endured the wages of sin which is death upon the Cross, He died not out of punishment for His sins but to be the unblemished lamb who though sinless would die out of love and mercy for sinners.
So if Jesus did not require baptism for the sake of personal forgiveness and salvation, why did He enter the waters of the Jordan and very publicly undergo baptism? St. Paul wrote to St. Titus declaring that “according to His mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” Christ Jesus richly poured out mercy upon the world so that we can become heirs to eternal life. In order for us to know this gift of salvation, Christ needed to provide the Church with the proper means to forgive sins. And what Our Lord choose was among the simplest elements on earth: Water and Words infused with salvific power.
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, water would forever be changed. Its molecular composition would remain the same, H20 remained H20 after Jesus was baptized, but it was now given a spiritual power to wash clean that vile spiritual and bodily reality we call sin. As the waters of the Jordan touched His Sacred Flesh, water was transformed and endowed with the power to bring about salvation.
St. Hippolytus, who died in the 2ndCentury AD, described the wonder of Jesus’ baptism in the following words:
“ That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement. To think of the infinite river that gladdens the City of God being bathed in a poor little stream of the eternal; the unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all men being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world! He who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of His presence, He who is incomprehensible to the angels and hidden from the sight of man, came to be baptized because it was His will. And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: ‘This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’”[i]
On that day of days, the Flesh of Jesus Christ baptized the very river that baptized Him and assured that until the end of this known world, the Church would be able to pour water upon the bodies of countless men and women, from tiny infants to those on their death beds, and hear a priest declare them to be baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, making certain that the Holy Trinity would enter their lives and assure that salvation would rest upon those new beloved children of our Heavenly Father and of our Mother, the Church.
And so as strange as this might sound, today’s feast of Our Lord’s baptism should be a day we thank God for the gift of water! How blessed are we in this part of the world to have clean water in abundance and so we should thank the Lord for such as we consider how many around the world are denied this most basic of human rights and that we do what we can to preserve this precious resource!
This may also stir us to consider supporting those around the world who require clean water for their survival as this surely a most noble Christian form of charity that brings blessings to many in need.
But I would like to suggest that today’s feast is a chance for us as Catholics to rediscover the practice of using holy water in our daily Christians lives. Many of us are accustomed to bless ourselves with holy water as we enter into a church. This should be for us much more than a ritual practice learned in childhood but a chance to pause and remember the day we where washed clean in the waters of baptism, for many of us when we were too young to know that this day of salvation took place.
As we place holy water upon our bodies in the sign of the Cross, which is also a sign of the Most Holy Trinity being alive and active in our hearts, we are affirmed in our identity of being God’s beloved sons and daughters, and reminded how we all need to be washed clean again and again of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
But to bless oneself with Holy Water is also important in our daily spiritual battles with the forces of darkness, be they the Devil, the temptations of this world and the weakness of our flesh to give into sin. Holy Water, made holy first by Christ in the River Jordan, and continually made holy through the blessing of a priest, is a great defence against those temptations that lead us to sin.
Because Satan hates Holy Water! This is why St. Teresa of Avila, who was given the mystical sight of actually being able to see demons in her presence, would routinely sprinkle Holy Water in her monastic cell to keep the Evil One away! I assure you that St. Teresa was of sound mind and practice when she did so as she discovered that through the use of Holy Water she was given a powerful means to do battle with the powers of evil, while also being reminded of her own baptism and the gift of being a beloved daughter of God and member of the Holy Church of Christ.
To use Holy Water is not akin of using magic or superstitiously thinking merely keeping Holy Water in our homes will keep away all evil, danger and harm! Rather, when it is used in faith, we know that it contains the blessing of Christ and His Church and that in its presence the Evil One will turn away in terror for Satan knows he has no claim over those who rejoice in their baptisms and in those households that seek to belong to God and not the powers and principalities of this world.
So like the saints of old, let us know the great benefit of using Holy Water. You are always welcome to bring a jug of water to Mass with you that I will happily bless, free of charge (though donations to the new shrine are always accepted) or to stop by the parish office to get some Holy Water as we keep a large metal container of it at all times.
Let us also thank the Lord today for His willingness to be baptized for our sakes, to make holy the waters of every baptismal font around the world and forever provide us with the way to begin living as saints as we journey onward to the Heavenly Jerusalem.
[i]From a sermon on the Epiphany attributed to Saint Hippolytus.