Baptism is an act of humility – through Baptism, we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient, that we need Jesus in our lives. We can see this in today’s Gospel, where Jesus presents himself to be baptised by John the Baptist – this is an act of humility – that Jesus, though he is the Son of God, did not see his being the equal with God as something to be exploited, but instead, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 6-8). For this reason, his name is raised higher than any other name, so that every knee shall bend, every tongue confess that He is Lord.
It is Jesus who reveals to us the face of the Father – who so loved the world that he sent his only son into our lives, into our families, into the world, so that we may all have eternal life, the fullness of life through baptism. Baptism initiates us into a lifelong journey of faith, hope and love, until the day when we enter heaven.
This lifelong journey is also a lifelong search for the deep peace within us that nothing can take away, a peace that is founded on our living, and moving and having our being in Jesus, the Lord. A peace that gives rise to fruits of hope – a peace that is not just naïve or wishful thinking, being founded on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This peace is sheer grace. I was born into a non-Catholic family. I remember when my grandfather died when I was aged 3. At the funeral, which followed the traditional Chinese customs, all the adults in my family were busy, even preoccupied with the funeral rituals. And here was I, a lonely 3 year old child, who did not know what was happening, I did not know what death was, and my grandfather’s coffin was a strange sight indeed. I tried to reach out to touch the coffin out of curiosity, only to be pulled back by the adults – it might be unlucky, and I might die if I touched the coffin!
However, deep within, I felt this peace – it was like a presence reassuring me that things would be alright.
Growing up, I associated this experience of peace with the figure of the Chinese goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin.
My parents then sent me to a De la Salle brothers’ school in Malaysia, which I attended for 12 years. In Year 10, my classmates would attend Pentecostal and Assembly of God churches, and return critical of the Catholic Church. I felt this was unfair, given the witness of the brothers, who had left family and friends behind in coming to Malaysia to educate us boys.
So, after the year 10 exams, I went to the local Cathedral every day, made the stations of the Cross and said the rosary in front of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. At the end of this time of prayer and spiritual exercises, I came to realise that Guan Yin, the presence that I experienced as a 3 year old, and who is a principle of Buddhist compassion, had become human in the person of Mary, especially Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
I then decided to become a Catholic, and seek baptism when I came to Australia – in obedience to Our Lady’s request at the Marriage Feast of Cana – ‘Do whatever my son tells you to do”
Three points follow from this story –
First – Baptism is a response to grace. For me, it was a response to the grace of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour’s presence in the middle of an anxious and lonely 3 year old at my grandfather’s funeral.
Second – Baptism is a response to the call to mission. I had always felt compassion for the sick and the vulnerable – so I made the decision to enter medicine at University in response to the call to follow Jesus, the healer I saw my baptism as the invitation to care for the sick, the dying, the vulnerable professionally, where being a professional is not just a technical matter – I was not called to be merely a ‘body-mechanic’ for the sick and the dying.
Third – Baptism initiates us on a journey as a community, as the People of God. I joined a community of faith through my baptism. Starting Uni as a new arrival in Australia, the Catholic community at University gave me a welcome, and through the community, I met and married my wife.
So, baptism is a grace given to us, the People of God called on a mission – to be Good News for family, friends, neighbours and those in need.
In other words, baptism calls us to go out on mission to those around us – to follow Jesus in his mission, who as the first reading from Isaiah says, he ‘does not cry out or shout aloud’ he does not break the crushed reed nor quench the wavering flame. Faithfully he will bring true justice – to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
Deacon Michael Tan is a member of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Parramatta and serves the parish community of St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst.