- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: Baptism and Mission: We Are in This Together
Covid-19, for all its challenges has taught us some lessons. These lessons will hopefully guide us in the days and years ahead. One of these lessons was how much we are dependent on one another to address our challenges. Some 400 years ago, the English poet, John Donne expressed this poetically:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
(John Donne, 1572-1631)
Covid-19 has taught us that we are “in this together”. The challenges we face can only be addressed if we are together in our response. We isolate, we self-distance, we wear masks not to protect ourselves, but those around us. The vaccines that have brought us promise that the pandemic will someday end have come from a global effort and the result has been vaccines rolling out faster than any previous experience of them.
I don’t think I realized it at the time, but my mother did. She was right when she offered a constant lesson: “Wash your hands”. Looking back, I am sure we thought it was to protect ourselves from viruses, bacteria and germs. Only now am I beginning to think she said that not just so I would not get sick, but because I could possibly convey the sickness to the rest of our family. She was right, we truly are, “in this together”, none of us “is an island entire of itself”.
All four of our Gospels see Jesus beginning his public ministry, his mission with his baptism by John at the Jordan. What John the Baptist was doing was common ritual of Judaism. It was a cleansing from sin. The Gospel accounts, however reveal, a new dimension is added to this ritual. As Jesus came up from the river, the Spirit descended upon him and he received his mission – to proclaim the Good News of God’s reign. What had been of rite of cleansing from sin, become for the disciples of Jesus and acknowledgement that the Spirit is among us and that we share the mission of Jesus – proclaiming and building God’s reign among us and around us.
If baptism were understood as only a cleansing rite, then this would be the end of it. But in our Catholic tradition, baptism marks not an ending or fulfillment, but a beginning. For Jesus, it was only a beginning. He surrounded himself with a host of disciples. He spoke beyond that circle to the crowds, to the world. He had Good News that needed to be shared with everyone. It was the beginning of his mission. And our baptism is the beginning of a mission for us as well.
Our baptism is often referred to as a sacrament of initiation, a door into a community of faith. That initiation or entry comes with a share of the mission of Jesus. We are disciples who are continually learning what we are about and we are missionaries who cannot but share this good news to others and to our world. We are in this together, a community of faith.
Who nurtures my faith? Whose faith do I nurture?