People may have all sorts of reasons for asking to be baptised, or to have their children baptised. It may be the tradition in the family, what the grandparents expect, or something they hope will help their child. It may be that they feel like the odd one out if they have joined a family who are all Catholics. It may be that they want to ensure that their child gets a place in a Catholic school where they will learn the skills and values that will help them to lead a good and happy life. Or it may be that, in the midst of life, they have come to realise that something is missing, something that people who live a life of faith seem to have.
Most of us were baptised when we were too young to remember it, but the Church keeps reminding us: whenever we participate in a baptism, every time we walk into church and bless ourselves at the font, at Easter, when we renew our baptismal promises, and on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when we recall that Jesus began his ministry by being baptised in the River Jordan by John.
The baptism that John offered was a baptism of repentance for sins, and we believe that baptism celebrates the forgiveness that God offers to us, but the Gospel story of the baptism of Jesus has a different focus. As he emerges from the water, the Holy Spirit hovers over him, the Father declares, ‘This is my beloved Son, my favour rests on him’ and Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to prepare for his ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, setting out on the path that will lead to the cross, the tomb and the resurrection.
Baptism reveals our identity and our mission: whatever else may be said about us, each of us is a beloved child of the Father, a sister or brother of Jesus, sharing his mission to reveal God’s love and mercy to everyone. We are baptised only once but we need to remind ourselves every day of who we are and what we are called to be and to do. Each time we dip our fingers into the font and make the sign of the cross we recall that we have been baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.