Archbishop Lori’s Homily: The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen

Livestreaming and TV Broadcast
January 10, 2021

Introduction: Unrest at the Capitol 

This week, the violent uprising in Washington, D.C. shocked all of us. People everywhere asked themselves, “How could such a thing happen here?” “Is this the sort of nation we have become?” Sadly, our country is more divided now than at any time since the Civil War. We are right to be anxious about our future. We are right to wonder what has become of our republic. On that day, people were killed and wounded. So too was our democracy wounded. We must not allow it to die.

Surely, every leader, but especially those on the national stage, must be aware that their words and deeds have serious consequences. Theodore Roosevelt famously called the presidency “a bully pulpit” – meaning that the presidency provides the occupant of that office with the opportunity to speak about any issue, in a manner that commands attention. No president must ever use that pulpit, directly or indirectly, to incite blind passion. Rather, we look to our leaders to use the enormous powers of their office to unite our nation, in all its diversity, around its highest ideals, and to help its citizens create a society in which no neighbor is left behind. C. From the start, Christians, even in time of persecution, prayed for civil authorities. St. Paul, for example, writes to Timothy urging that prayers be offered “for kings and those in civil authority.” … If ever we needed to pray for our nation and its healing, now is that moment. For that reason, I have asked that we set aside this coming Friday as a day of prayer. In our Tradition, after all, Friday, the day of the Lord’s death, is a penitential day. It is a good day to pray for justice and peace, and for our civil authorities. It is also a good day to perform some sort of penance, like skipping a meal, and a good day to reconcile with someone with whom we’ve had a falling out. Justice, peace, and civility do not just happen. They begin with us.

Then and Now 

All of which brings us to the Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism. Perhaps you’re wondering how a 2,000-year-old event in the Jordan River relates to with what unfolded this past week in our nation’s capital. Actually, the answer is plenty. For while we rightly condemn senseless violence wherever and whenever it occurs, we Christians must be willing to shoulder our share of responsibility for terrible events, such as last week’s unrest at the Capitol building. Thus, on the one hand, we must be willing to ask if we have contributed in any way to the bitterness and divisiveness that have become hallmarks of our society. On the other hand, we must embrace our responsibility for bringing to society something it cannot possibly attain without the influence of believers. That “something” is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of truth, life, holiness, grace, the Kingdom of justice, love and peace … that Jesus embodied and unleashed in the world by his life, death, and resurrection. To see this, we need to take a second look at what happened in the Jordan River … and also what happened to us on the day we were baptized.

The Baptism of Our Lord Ushers in the Kingdom of God 

As we heard in today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus asked John to baptize him. Despite his objections, John did baptize Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, stood side by side with everyone else who had come to hear John preach and to undergo a baptism of repentance. With the eyes of faith, let us focus on what is happening here. We have just celebrated Christmas, the birth of the Messiah, the Son whom the Father lovingly sent into the world as our Redeemer. We have just celebrated Epiphany, acclaiming Jesus as the light of the world, the light which attracted even the Wise Men from afar. Now, we see Jesus, clothed in the humility of our flesh, going down into the Jordan River as a penitent, sinless but in solidarity with sinners. His descent into the waters and his coming up out of the waters foretells his death and resurrection when, for the sake of us sinners, “He descended into hell and on the third day rose arose from the dead.” In the Lord’s Baptism, we see a stupendous, earth-shattering act of humility, not only on the part of Jesus but also His Father, and the Holy Spirit. As Jesus ascended from the waters, St. Mark tells us, the heavens were torn open as the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus, and the voice was heard, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”‘

Thus was Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I put my spirit; [Isaiah adds:] He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street” . . . perhaps you can see where this is going. Jesus came to bring into this world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and mercy, a Kingdom where the poor, the humble, and the sorrowing reign, where those striving for holiness and peace, even amid persecution, triumph. In this Kingdom, blind passion, shouting, and violence are never the way forward. Such is not the way of truth and love and mercy, for as St. John Paul II taught us, mercy is “love’s second name”.

Our Baptism and the Kingdom of God 

Dear friends, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan is the origin of our Baptism, our Baptism ‘in water and the Holy Spirit’, thru which which our souls are rent asunder, so that the Spirit of the Lord would descend upon us to make of us the adopted and beloved children of the Father, sons and daughters who share in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son and our Savior, Jesus. Embedded in our Baptism, therefore, is a call to holiness – a call to be a disciple of the Lord, to be formed according to the Beatitudes, and to be a living part of the community of faith we call the Church. Embedded also in our Baptism is a call to be agents, protagonists, of God’s Kingdom – not to stand on the sidelines and wring our hands about the sad state of the world – but rather to work actively and persistently to create what successive popes have called “a civilization of truth and love.”

As members of a community of faith that deeply respects the powers of reason, we must work for laws and policies that respect human dignity at every stage of life, as well as laws and policies that truly seek the common good, that foster a genuine spirit of solidarity across the lines that divide us, and respect families, churches, and other local institutions that contribute so much. Yet, even that is not enough. As I mentioned at the outset, we must bring something more. As salt and light, as leaven in society, we are called to bring to our world the truth, the wisdom, and values of the Gospel, the spirit of love and reconciliation characteristic of God’s Kingdom, coupled with a passion, not for vengeance, but for true justice for the oppressed. Also embedded in our Baptism is the imperative to seek God’s Kingdom first, to prefer the Kingdom of God to every ideology and every expression of partisanship. Otherwise, we run the risk of idolizing our politics and marginalizing our God.

If more us, who are disciples of the Lord and members of the Church would personify the values of the Gospel in our own lives, and then bring those same values into the public square, I am confident, that our democracy would not only survive but flourish. So today, let us unite in renewing our baptism calling, standing side by side with our sinless Savior in a spirit of repentance, and asking for the grace to rise above our own sins and failings, that through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, we too might be ‘a light for our nation’ and a source of healing and hope.

May God bless us and keep us always in his love!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.