You are my beloved!

Today, the community of believers in Jesus gathers to remember and celebrate his baptism. There at the Jordan, John clarified his role as precursor of Jesus. The baptism given by John was preparatory for the baptism that Jesus would bring: John's was with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. There at the Jordan, Jesus was identified as "my beloved Son," and from that moment on, he would be the living Word and Wisdom of God. In all his words and in all his works, Jesus would make known to sinners the love and mercy of God.

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Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 55:1-11
Psalm 29
1 John 5:1-9
Mark 1:7-11

In reflecting on Jesus' baptism, we are also invited to reflect on our own.

Most of us remember our birthdays and celebrate them throughout the years. But how many of us celebrate, or even remember, the day of our baptism? Unless we received the sacrament as adults, few of us recall the wondrous events of that day when we, through water and the Holy Spirit, were incorporated into the life of Christ and the church.

In his book Christening: The Making of Christians, Mark Searle has noted that for many years, it was the custom in the Roman church to celebrate the pascha annotinum or the anniversary of baptism (Kevin Mayhew Pub., 1977). It was a sort of "class reunion" for the baptized, their sponsors and the bishop, at which they celebrated the Eucharist together on what might be called their Christian birthday.

The sense of the occasion is well expressed in the opening collect of the Gelasian Sacramentary: "O God, by your providence, the memory of the things that happened remains, while all that we could hope for in the future has been promised. Let the solemn occasion which we recall be permanently effective in our lives, so that we may remain faithful in practice to what we now commemorate."

Perhaps these annual reunions of the baptized will revive, Searle says, if the celebration of Christian initiation ever begins to assume the role in Christian community life that it had in the past. Of course, the annual celebration of Easter, with its renewal of baptismal vows, affords each member of the community a chance to remember and celebrate their belonging to Christ.

In the months between these annual Easter renewals, the community is fed by word and sacrament. Today's first reading sees Deutero-Isaiah issue an invitation in the Lord's name: Come, drink, eat, listen, seek the Lord, turn to God for mercy, forsake evil and turn to God, who is generous in forgiving.

Then, as if to explain how such an invitation can be realized, the prophet assures his listeners that human standards do not apply to God. We finite beings may measure out our care and forgiveness, but God's ways and God's thoughts know no boundaries.

God also reminds us of the potency of the divine Word: No word uttered by God is ineffective. Once spoken, God's word is realized and God's will is done, ever achieving the purpose that God intended.

Centuries after the prophet issued his invitation, God spoke the ultimate Word, Jesus, who became flesh and lived and moved among us. In today's second reading, the Johannine epistolary author invites us to believe this most eloquent Word of God.

Those who are baptized in Jesus' name are also called upon to love and to keep the commandments given us by him. Those commandments are two: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The ancient author also reminds readers that by virtue of our baptism, we are begotten by God; that is, we are God's beloved children. What the voice from heaven said to Jesus at his baptism by John -- "You are my beloved Son" -- God also says to each of us: "You are my Son, my Daughter." Endowed with grace and dignity, we are also holy places where the Spirit of God has come to dwell and to remain.

Given this special status, the baptized are to live lives attuned not to the transient things of life but to the everlasting God. Our belonging to God in baptism precludes any attempt at compartmentalizing our lives. We cannot say things like, "Sunday is for God, but the rest of the week is for business" or pleasure or politics, where religion plays no part. Such dissipation of our interests and energies is not worthy of a child of God.

Rather, through daily prayer and consistent searching for God, we integrate what we profess to believe with the manner in which we live. In all we are and all we do, our baptismal belonging should be clearly evident.

Raymond E. Brown was fond of saying that the day a person is baptized is more important than the day when a person is ordained priest or bishop. And so it is.

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

This story appeared in the Jan 2-15, 2015 print issue under the headline: You are my beloved! .

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