January 9, 2011

“He Must Increase, I Must Decrease”

Giotto, The Baptism of the Lord, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This brings to an end the blissful season of Christmas. The Church recalls Our Lord’s second manifestation or epiphany—the first is the adoration of Jesus by the Magi, and the third is the changing water into wine at Cana of Galilee—which occurred just when He was baptized by John, the Precursor, in the Jordan River. Here is a little bit of help—from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf—to understand the underlying meaning of what we celebrate today:

John the Baptist helped us into our Advent preparation for Christmas by reminding us to straighten the paths of our lives for the coming of the Lord. We fittingly meet the Baptist again at the end of the Christmas season. He announced the coming of the Messiah and now he points us to the Messiah. This was when the Baptist told his disciples to follow Jesus, saying “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

In His baptism by John, Christ foreshadows what He would do later: He descends into the waters of the Jordan (death and the tomb) and rises out of them again (resurrection).
Christ had no need of John’s baptism. Being perfect and sinless Jesus had nothing to repent. Instead, His submission to baptism shows all humanity the way to our salvation. Christ’s baptism reveals how we must die and rise to our sins in the sacrament He instituted at the Jordan. By receiving John’s baptism the Lord was solemnly revealed to be divine by the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and He sanctified the waters for our baptisms. Baptism in the starting point of all saving and actual graces we receive as Christians. Baptism confers on us an indelible character, almost like a branding mark of Christ’s Lordship in and over us. This is the foundation of our spiritual lives. Christ’s humility orients us in the right direction for our lives as baptized Christians.

He must increase, we must decrease.

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