Saturday, June 1, 2013

First Saturday Meditation: The First Luminous Mystery-The Baptism of Jesus

Today, June 1, is the First Saturday of the Month. The First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was first mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima on July 13, 1917. After showing the three children a vision of hell she said, "You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace... I shall come to ask for... the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays..." The First Saturday devotion is as follows:
It consists in going to Confession, receiving Communion, reciting five decades of the Rosary and meditating for a quarter of an hour on the mysteries of the Rosary on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. The Confession may be made during the eight days preceding or following the first Saturday of each month, provided that Holy Communion be received in the state of grace. Should one forget to form the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it may be formed at the next Confession, occasion to go to confession being taken at the first opportunity.
Today I wish to meditate upon the First Luminous Mystery, which is the baptism of our Blessed Lord in the River Jordan by his cousin, John. John and Jesus were born approximately six months apart. When the angel, Gabriel, announced to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of God, he told her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who was past child bearing age, had also miraculously conceived and was now in her sixth month. Mary immediately went to be at Elizabeth's side. Elizabeth was carrying John the Baptist.  The meeting of Elizabeth and her unborn child and Mary and her unborn child involved the three holiest people who have ever lived:  Jesus, because He was God; Mary, the Mother of God who was conceived without sin; and John the Baptist, who was sanctified by Jesus while still in his mother's womb and about whom Jesus said, "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." 

John could easily have followed in the footsteps of his father, Zachariah, and become a priest in the temple, but he eschewed that easy lifestyle and instead started what could be called a "rogue" ministry, going into the wilderness to announce the coming of the Messiah. He had, in effect, started this ministry while still in his mother's womb when he leaped at the presence of the Lord who was in His mother's womb.  Just as an aside, this meeting of the pre-born John and Jesus is surely one of the strongest arguments that can be had against abortion.

Luke 3:1-3 tells us this concerning John's ministry:
 "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Tiberius Caesar reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD, so this was approximately 29 AD. John 3:3 tells us that the role of John the Baptist was described in the prophecy of Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
As a central part of preparing the way of the Lord, John began a ministry of baptism, as he explained: "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  (Matthew 3:3) Like Mary, the mother of Christ, everything John said and did was to point away from himself and to Christ. As John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30) It is no accident that the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist is June 24, a time in the Northern Hemisphere when daylight hours begins to decrease. Six months later, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, daylight hours begin to increase.

John the Baptist had completely separated himself from the established religious leaders of that time, and in fact called them out when they came to see him:  "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"  (Matt. 3:7). John, to use the vernacular, "called 'em as he saw 'em." He showed no fear of anyone or anything but just total dedication to his ministry of preparing the way for the Lord. The people were drawn to him no doubt because of the sincerity and forcefulness with which he preached.

Our Lord, who had kept a low, private profile up to this time, came from Galilee to the River Jordan where John was preaching and baptizing. As soon as John saw his cousin walking towards him, the words poured out of his mouth:
Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

These words are used in the Mass to this very day when the priest holds up the consecrated Host for us to adore and worship.

No one had to tell John who Jesus was. He knew, and he shouted it for all the world to hear. Jesus then asked John to baptize him. John was completely taken aback by this request:  "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  (Matt. 3:14).  Why would Jesus, who was and is the Son of God, completely without sin, need to be baptized? The same question could be asked of His entire life: why did He have to be born as a helpless babe; why did he have to be purified at the temple after being born; why was He subject to the authority of Mary and Joseph; why wasn't he born as an earthly king with all the privileges that come with such earthly rank?

Our Lord did all of this in order to become one with mankind. While losing none of His Divinity, he became as human as we are, and humbled and subjected himself as completely as possible to the human experience. As Hebrews 5:8 tells us, "Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered."  He knows firsthand what it means to be a human being in our fallen world and face the trials and obstacles that we endure. Hebrews 4:15-16 says: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Jesus was also our trailblazer, cutting out and showing the path to Heaven. Jesus received the sacrament of Baptism to show us that this is the path we also must walk. As Jesus said in answer to John's question, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness."  (Matt. 3:15).  Our Lord did not leave us in the dark, trying to figure out on our own the way to salvation. He showed the way by putting Himself literally into each step. As Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."  (John 3:5-6)

We must be born of water, which is baptism, as shown by our Lord. Jesus also showed us what it means to be born of the Spirit when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism, as John the Baptist told us: "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him."  (John 1:32)  We saw something similar to this when, after Jesus ascended to Heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire descended upon Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost.

The concept of baptism did not start with John the Baptist. St. Peter tells us that the Great Flood in the time of Noah was a baptism (I Peter 3:20-21):
. . . to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.
St. Paul tells us that baptism was also seen when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea while escaping from the Egyptians (I Cor. 10:1-2):
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

Baptism is the way in which our sins are washed away and we are made clean before God.  Our Lord subjected Himself to baptism, leaving us with no excuses.  As Jesus said, we must be born of water and the Spirit, and He showed us exactly how it is done.

When Christ came up out of the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and a voice was heard: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:17). The Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - have placed themselves in the Sacrament of Baptism. This is where Our Lord started His ministry, and this is where we start our Christian walk, cleansed from our sins and born of the Spirit.

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