In this Sunday’s gospel from Matthew, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, who had been performing baptisms for Jews who wished to repent of their sins. At first, John is uncomfortable with the idea of baptizing Jesus, since John had been preaching about the coming of someone greater than he, a person he now recognizes is Jesus. Jesus explains that this is how it must be done, and John concedes, baptizing Jesus in the river. After Jesus is baptized, we are told that “The heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.’ ”
Like many Catholics, I was baptized as an infant and thus do not have any of my own recollections about the occasion. I have the stories, the yellowing photographs, and the white knit dress that I wore to mark my official, sacramental entry into the family of God. But it was in my adolescence that I experienced a culmination of my baptismal experience.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I joined the spiritual team, a group of students who worked with the campus ministers at my Catholic high school to plan school masses, prayer services, and other events that had to do with the spiritual life of the students and the school. In retrospect, I am not quite sure why I joined. Besides going to mass with my family each week, I was not a particularly religious or spiritual person at the time. But I was struggling to fit in, and I guess I thought I should try out any group that would take me in an effort to find a place that helped me feel like myself.
Our sophomore team was in charge of the All Saints’ Day mass for the entire school. One of our responsibilities was walking in the opening procession, helping to lead the school in song. As I walked past row upon row of my sophomore classmates whom I considered the cool ones, my first reaction was mortification. I certainly would never fit in now that I had been seen singing religious songs in front of everyone.
Yet in the next moment, it was as if the heavens opened up. I did not see a dove descend, nor did I hear an actual voice. But I did feel God’s revelation to me, reverberating in my whole being: I was okay as I was (a modern day version of God’s affirmation that Jesus was God’s beloved child, with whom God was well pleased). I realized that I would never fit in, if fitting in meant being one of the “cool” students, and that was okay. It was okay because I already belonged; I belonged as part of the family of God. It was okay because God loved me for exactly who I was.
In baptism, we all become brothers and sisters with Christ. As Christ’s sisters and brothers, we also take on the status as God’s children. So what God says to Jesus at his baptism, God also says to us, all day, every day (even when we wear big pink glasses, clunky braces, and unfashionable uniforms, as I did in high school). God says to us, “You are my beloved child; with you I am pleased.” God is pleased with us not because of how we look, how much money we make, or even how much we care for others through our charity and justice work. God is pleased with us simply because we are who we are: God’s beloved children.
Do you know the story of your baptism? Take some time this week to review the story: find old pictures, ask living relatives about the event, etc.
When in your life have you felt most strongly and profoundly that you are a beloved child of God, with whom God is well pleased? Has there ever been a moment when it felt as if the heavens opened and God was communicating directly with you?