12 January 2009

The Baptism of the Lord

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.
The depths of the waters are not man’s natural habitat. He cannot breathe there; and if there for too long he will struggle and fight for his natural life. Saint Gregory Nazianzen explains that: “John baptizes, Jesus comes to him perhaps to sanctify the Baptist, but certainly to bury the whole of the old Adam in the water” (Oratio XXXIX, In Sancta Lumina). The man of sin, the man of eternal death is buried in the depths of the waters by the God Who became Man to restore man to his dignity, to his destiny of eternal life, his Paradise. In this natural struggle below the surface of the waters, man gets a glimpse at the possibility of death, he enters a state of panic, he stares at his own weakness, his own helplessness. The words of Jesus now echo in his heart and soul: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And when those words of our Lord are realized to be truer than true, the words of the psalmist come to the forefront: “Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord” (Psalm 129 [130]:1). For in the depths of the waters man cannot speak, but God hears the cries of the heart and soul, He hears man’s fearful silence.

Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui.
In baptism man is freed from his inevitable doom and pulled from the depths of the waters by Jesus Christ through His minister; he rises from the depths with Christ. And it is then that he meets the Most Blessed Trinity: Christ Who saved him from eternal death by pulling him out of the depths to a new life, a life that is eternal; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove unseen by human eyes, but present nevertheless, Who descends upon him who has been saved and seals him as God’s very own; and finally the Voice of the Father, undetected by human ears, but nevertheless speaking those mysterious, incomprehensible words: “This is My beloved” (Matthew 3:17). It is perhaps foretold by the psalmist: "The Voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty has thundered, the Lord is upon many waters. The Voice of the Lord is in power; the Voice of the Lord in magnificence" (Psalm 28 [29]:3-4). As unfathomable as those words are, let them speak within you every time you reflect on your own baptism, every time you witness a baptism, every time you try to understand your own royal dignity. It is no easier for the psalmist to grasp our filial relationship with our God as he writes: “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You visit him? You have made him a little less than the angels, You have crowned him with glory and honor; and have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-8). In the Old Testament, there is a story of a baby which perhaps points us to that day of our own glorious baptism. That baby the world would come to know as Moses. As he was floating down the river in a basket he was seen by Pharaoh’s daughter. She took the baby and as the Scripture continues: “She adopted him for a son and called him Moses, saying, ‘Because I took him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:10).

Torrentem pertransivit anima nostra.
Christ has saved us, He has defeated the enemy. And for a final reflection on baptism I turn once again to the wisdom of the psalmist: “Our soul has passed through a torrent; perhaps our soul had passed through water insupportable. Blessed be the Lord Who has not given us to be a prey to their teeth. Our soul has been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken and we are delivered. Our help is in the Name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 123 [124]:5-8).