After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him… And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)
How many of you will contend that if God spoke about you to others that he would declare how well-pleased he is? How many of us could say with certainty that everything we think, say, and do in the course of an average week is well-pleasing to the Lord. Would we not admit at least a few things wanting in ourselves; perhaps more than a few things that God would find unpleasing?
How many of us wake up in the morning with the distinct purpose of pleasing God? Are the first words that pass our lips, “Lord Father, help me to spend this entire day pleasing you”? Perhaps we should consider starting our day like this to be in the correct disposition of love toward God.
Many of us who try to do what is right and just in the eyes of God do so because we want to avoid God’s punishment. This is not a bad thing, but it could and should be better. Better for us if we were to do what is right and just in order to please God.
“Father” is the name Jesus revealed to us concerning the One Lord who sent Him to earth. This Holy Name is itself instructive because it implies that we are to become like little children (Mt 18:3) in order to know and love God as an ever-loving Father. That is, we are to put off our worldly “maturity” so as to please God as ever-loving children.
For this year’s celebration of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we have placed on our bulletin cover a work by Adam Elsheimer entitled Baptism of Christ (1599). Elsheimer was a German Baroque painter who made his way to Rome absorbing its methods and adapting these to his German training. He eventually converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism. His style was influential on the Germanic (Dutch) traditions of Rembrandt and Rubens, the latter with whom he became friends.
Baptism of Christ is a complex work using diagonals. The first traverses from God the Father who sends the Holy Spirit (dove and rays) through a ring of cherubs to descend upon Jesus. The second begins from a large angelic being and two cherubs carrying a kingly robe in which to enwrap Jesus after his baptism.
This painting is also a symbolic piece. The right hand of John (pouring water) and the two outstretched arms of Jesus form the Sign of the Cross used in Baptism. Further, Jesus peers at a man taking off his shoe as if to bathe his feet in the blessed water. This man represents one who is oblivious or even disdainful to the water of grace – one with whom God is not pleased In contrast to this man, the people in the background appear to symbolize various nations that will eagerly come to be baptized in Christ.
Ours is not a difficult choice between following the law of God (in fear of punishment) or pleasing God (out of love). Just as Elsheimer integrates his German training into the Roman style, so are we called to incorporate God’s laws into the practice of love, so as to fulfill the glorious, divine pleasure.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Studies