Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C.
I just turned thirty recently, which has given me the opportunity to reflect on the many, many, MANY years of my life. And in doing so, I’ve realized I’ve spent a lot of time living in the basement. I don’t mean that literally, of course—that would be weird. But I like to think of my life as having an upstairs and a downstairs. The upstairs is where I live life, the downstairs—the basement—is where I question life. I think all of us are like this: we all have an upstairs and a downstairs. And some of us spend more time upstairs, just living life, and some of us spend more time downstairs in the basement, questioning everything we think and say and do. But regardless of how much time we spend in the basement, most of us know what’s down there. Most of us spend a lot of time in the basement during our teenage years when we’re questioning everything. Some of us never leave the basement after our teenage years, but even those of us who do often find ourselves back down there during critical moments in our lives: when we first get married, when we lose a job, when we receive an unexpected diagnosis, or when we go through a midlife crisis. When we go down into the basement of our lives, we find ourselves confronted with four basic questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? What am I supposed to do? And why am I unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we’re all trying to answer these four basic questions. And whether we realize it or not, our answers are in how we live our lives. How we live our lives reveals our basic understanding of who we think we are, where we think we belong, what we think our purpose is, and what we think will make us happy. And although we all live our lives differently, there is a correct answer to these questions. One of the great tragedies in life—or rather, the only great tragedy in life—is not to answer them correctly. This is the great test of life, and it’s not the kind of test where there are no incorrect answers. There is a correct answer, and the answer, of course, is Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ we find our deepest identity. Who am I? I am a son or daughter of God. In Jesus Christ, we also find our most secure sense of belonging. Where do I belong? I belong with Christ, both now on earth and later on in heaven. And because of that, I belong with all those who also belong with Christ—that is, with the Church. I have a community that spans space and time. In Jesus Christ, we also find our truest purpose. What am I supposed to do? I’m supposed to become like Christ, which means to become a saint. And I have everything I need to become a saint in the Sacraments, in Scripture, in prayer, in the teaching of the Church, and in the lives of the saints. Lastly, in Jesus Christ, we find our most perfect happiness. Why am I unhappy? Ultimately, because I am not yet perfectly united to Christ. The more united to Christ I am on earth, the happier I’ll be—not in the superficial sense of happiness, which is on display in the world, but in the lasting sense of happiness which is on display in the lives of the saints. And if I become a saint, and make it to heaven, then I will be perfectly happy because I will be perfectly united to Christ.
Jesus Christ is the answer to our most fundamental questions. And while it often takes our entire lives to discover this truth, this truth is first revealed at our baptism. And we see it revealed at Jesus’ own baptism. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” At our baptism, we receive our deepest identity as beloved son or daughter of God. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. At our baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon us and dwells in our souls. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and to all those who are already united to Christ—that is, to the Church. In this, we find our most secure sense of belonging. At Jesus’ baptism, after the Holy Spirit descends upon Him, He is sent on mission; He begins His public ministry; and He ultimately goes to suffer, die, and rise again. At our baptism, we also find our mission and purpose. We are sent forth from our baptism to become like Christ, to share in His work of salvation—to be saved ourselves, and to help others in their journey of salvation. Finally, at Jesus’ baptism we see what perfect happiness consists in: it consists in sharing in the life of the Trinity. At our baptism, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ who, in turn, unites us to the Father. Our happiness—in this life and in the next—will depend on maintaining and growing in our union with the Trinity.
Today, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we are invited to reflect on the great gift of our own baptism. Our baptism gives us the answer to the most fundamental questions in our lives. And that answer is Jesus Christ. If we try to answer these questions in any other way, we will only find frustration and disappointment. If we think our deepest identity is school or work, what will happen when we fail a test or lose a job? If we think our most secure sense of belonging is in our family or social group, what will happen when our marriage breaks down, a loved one dies, or our friend group changes? If we think our truest purpose is in what we can do mentally or physically, what will happen when we are no longer able to do the things we once did in our youth? Finally, if we think our most perfect happiness is in anything in this world, what will happen when we find ourselves in danger of death? If the answer to our most fundamental questions isn’t Jesus Christ, then our basement will truly be a scary place to be. And we will be afraid to go down there, lest we discover that the foundations of our lives are not secure. But if we claim as our own the answer that was given to us at our baptism—the answer who is a person, Jesus Christ—if we try to let that answer determine everything we think and say and do, we will be like the house built on rock. And when the winds and waves of our lives blow and beat upon us, we will stand firm. Amen.