Baptism of the Lord

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Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Readings
Is 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 55:1-11
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 9-10 or Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
Acts 10:34-38 or 1 Jn 5:1-9
Mk 1:7-11

In the chapel of St. Anastasia Church in Newtown Square, PA, there is a very interesting representation of the Way of the Cross. Each of the stations shows only one or two sets of hands. Hands receiving. Hands falling. Hands consoling. Hands nailed. Lifeless hands. It is an interesting way to represent the journey of Christ and shows how powerful the symbol of hands can be. Lend me a hand. Give her a hand. You have to hand it to them. Hands are an integral part of our relational universe.

In the rite of baptism the first part of the ceremony is the reception of the child. Immediately after the godparents are questioned regarding their readiness to help the parents of the child in their duty as Christian parents, the minister of the sacrament invites the parents and godparents to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the child. This small part of the ritual is large in symbolism. The hands of parents, godparents, grandparents as well as friends and family will guide the child in the ways of faith. Grandpop will reach his hand in his pocket to reward his grandchild for a good report card. Aunt Mary will hand the child a card on each of his/her birthdays. Mom’s hand will reach for her child’s before he/she touches a burning stove. Hands will be used to applaud a first step, a special dance or a part in a play. A teacher will show a child how to put his/her hands together in prayer. Hands will be used in the expression of love, reproof, help, learning, discipline and a host of other emotions and expressions. The child may even see a hand clenched as a fist to express a lack of openness and affection.

The prayers of the liturgy today, most especially the opening prayer and the preface, make clear that the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is the beginning of the Lord’s ministry. It is the beginning of Jesus reaching out his hands to heal, to feed, to console and to forgive. There are many times in the ministry of Jesus when he could simply have performed a miracle by word alone; instead, he chose to touch the recipient of his actions so that the person would realize they are loved.

For us as well, baptism is the beginning of our ministry; it is our call to serve, to lend a hand. We are to live our baptismal commitment by becoming involved in our community and making a difference in the lives of others. Our baptism requires us to lend a hand to those in need. Our faith is expressed in what we do. When we put our hand to the plow, we cannot look back. Do your hands provide help and assistance to others? Do we keep our hands in our pockets and never reach out? Are our arms folded with our hands out of view so others can see we are not to be bothered? Our baptism calls us to do otherwise. We are to be handymen (and handywomen) engaged in shaping our world and improving the lives of others.

In these days of the COVID virus we have come to see how much we miss shaking hands and embracing loved ones. So many people have had to spend their last moments alone and isolated – both the lover and the beloved. What wouldn’t one give for just one more embrace, one more hug, one more handshake? There are many among us who need a hand these days because they are unemployed, unfed and unloved. Now is the time to live our baptismal commitment to the full by using our hands to help our brothers and sisters in need.

How many of us have placed the sign of the cross on the forehead of a child as a parent or godparent? What has our example been? How have we used our hands to be teachers of our children in the ways of faith? Let us give all of God’s children a hand.