Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. It marks the end of the liturgical Christmas season and Jesus prepares to enter his public ministry. Today’s feast must also remind us about our own baptism. I once remarked to a well-respected priest, “Though the mass is always full, there are many whose faces are blank, like they wished they were somewhere else”. To which he replied, “What you must admire is that these people keep coming back every week. Why? Because there is untold strength and power in baptism being a sacrament”.
There have always been questions about our obligatory Sunday mass. It should be our free choice; ‘we come when we want’. This pandemic may have given us some answers. Some of us felt a sense of loss when masses were no longer public. After which we embraced online masses with a lot of enthusiasm but after going on for a year, we found we are no longer disciplined. Now, we can go back for mass, but some find it difficult to. Being human, we will always need a push, sometimes even regimented for our own good.
When we are baptised, we embraced our identity as a child of God. In this identity is the adoption of a belief; we believe in the doctrines and the Christian expression of life. This ‘expression’ is our own public ministry. We are missioned to bring Christmas, this presence of God coming amidst human life, into our everyday life with others. In this identity, in our belief, there must be responsibilities. Here in them, our free choice must always cooperate with God’s will.
We are called, obliged to come for Sunday mass for our own good. It is not an attendance list where if we fail, we are chalked off into the fire of everlasting damnation. Each Sunday we enter the mass as equals, regardless of what status we hold in the outside world, reminded by our baptism that we are a child of God. Here we regroup, recalibrate our spirituality that has taken a bashing in our worldly life. We reconcile with one another and with God, listen to the Word of Wisdom, and eat the Body and Blood in the Sacrament to renew our strength, to be recharge and be sent (ite missa est) back into the world.
Sunday mass is a point of return, to re-embrace our baptismal identity, whether after a week or a lifetime. When we drifted away, this is the most identifiable, tangible point of return. Returning Catholics, those who have been away from their faith life, see this as a reference point. What they cannot see and may not know, if it is not pointed out to them, is the undertow in their spiritual identity as a Child of God, a pulling force that in time bring them back home.
I had the privilege to encounter a woman in her 70s, a Catholic who had been away for more than 30 years. Her children were all active in other Christian denominations, one even a pastor. She had been living much of her ‘public ministry’ admirably with her children. She said to me, “It is time to come back”. “Why?” I asked, as she had known and celebrated God in her life. To which she replied, “I was baptised in the Catholic Church, and into her I must return”.
The grace of our baptism; its untold strength and power.
Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord 2022