Manus Scullion with his godmother Diana McLeish is pictured being being baptised into the Catholic Church. Above Docherty family baptism in St Patrick’s. Left to right- Frank Docherty, Gillian Docherty, baby Ruth Docherty, David Docherty and godmother, Caitlin Woods. Canon Conroy officiated. Pictures by Bill Heaney.
This Baptism of Christ signals the beginning of his public ministry. It was a sort of acceptance by Christ of the will of his Father, a sort of mutual recognition of one another with God recognising Christ as his Son. Being fully human, Christ had to accept in his humanity the will of his Father, his Baptism was his public acceptance of that will and the decision to take up his mission. The Baptism was when he formally and publicly opened his life to God and to God’s will. Here I think there is an important point for us to reflect on if we are to find some meaning in our life, especially the darker moments of our lives such as we are facing at the present time. What does it mean to say he opened his life to God? The Letter to the Hebrews sums it up by saying, ‘Although he was son, he learned obedience through what he suffered’. It means to receive without limits all that God has to offer, all he has to give us. That is what Christian obedience is: it’s not the blind doing of someone else’s will, it’s an attitude of seeking, or searching out the meaning for our life, of what is happening around us and to us under the guidance of God. It is about believing there can be a positive meaning for us in what is happening. As St Paul said, in one of his letters, ‘All things work to the good of those who love God.’ At his Baptism, Christ gave himself over completely to the will of the Father in a more complete and focused way; he gave himself over in trust.
That is not always an easy thing to do. Take our own situation. In the face of the pandemic and the renewed lockdown, it would be easy to despair or to become so frustrated that we closed down in the face of it thinking there was no way forward other than to wait for it all to pass and we could return to some sort of normality. It would however, be another thing to engage creatively with the situation, but that would mean we thought there was a possibility of something positive being found in all of this.
When Christ was Baptised he accepted that he could find the will of God in whatever happened in his life and that he believed would lead him to doing what was good. That will, even if it led through darkness’s – as it did – would bring about the salvation of Israel and not just Israel but the whole world. In Baptism, God acknowledges that we are his children and we acknowledge that God’s will for our salvation and well-being can be found in the events of our life, even the dark ones we would rather avoid. We confess that in all things he is leading us to something better and to eternal life.
What does it take to look at life in this new way? It takes faith. It takes a lot of trust because sometimes life can seem very dark. It takes trust to believe that someone is interested enough in us to be following our life, trust to be able to hear said to us what he said to Christ: ‘You are my beloved child, my favour rests on you.’
Canon Gerry Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton