Father Terry writes:
I remember once seeing in the newspaper a photograph of Korean children doing physical exercises in the snow. They were shirtless, despite the freezing cold. The caption said that their parents paid for them to do this course in order to give them mental and physical stamina. In suburban London we would worry at such dangerous exposure to the winter cold. But it is thought-provoking. As children grow up they will have to overcome obstacles and rise to challenges, and parents sometimes worry about how their children will cope with life. Initiation ceremonies around the world often hint at this need for courage in our daily living. You find it in our baptism ceremony, when the priest anoints the child on the chest and says, ‘We anoint you in the name of Christ our Saviour. May he strengthen you with his power, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.’
Those words remind us that we need strength for our daily living, including our life of faith. Remember this when we think about the baptism of Jesus. He did not need baptism for cleansing from sin. But baptism was a public act. Indeed, our gospel today tells us that ‘a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people’ (Lk 3.15). In baptism he accepted his role as Messiah. Shouldering this responsibility would expose him to public gaze. Baptism for Jesus was an initiation into his life in the public arena, in which he would be mocked, dogged by spies and involved in controversy. His healing and wisdom would be in such demand that he and his followers would sometimes have no privacy and no time to eat. Ultimately, it would lead to the cross. His baptism leads to public ministry which will ask for courage, resoluteness, resilience. Entering water shows his commitment to the task. The affirming voice from above strengthens him for this.
For us, too, our baptism was an initiation. We are reborn to be his people in the world, to be witnesses to the love of God made visible in Christ, and to the love of neighbour that Christ taught and practiced himself. This is our calling. It will demand courage and commitment from us, just as Christ’s calling demanded courage and commitment from him.
We in our turn will need stamina to resist sarcasm and cynicism about Christianity. Stamina to persevere through the shocks of life, drawing strength from Christ himself to overcome adversity. Will-power to resist whatever is wrong, and discernment to see the difference between good and evil. Our initiation in baptism calls on us to have the courage necessary for this life of faith lived visibly in the world around us.