Illuminated by His truth: A reflection on the Baptism of the Lord from Pope Benedict XVI

January 9, 2024

A 17th-century oil on canvas painting by Antoine Coypel depicts the Baptism of Christ. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 

The joy that flowed from the celebration of holy Christmas is fulfilled today in the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Gospel account of the Baptism of Jesus, which we heard in St. Luke’s version, shows the life of meekness and humility that the Son of God chose freely, complying with the Father’s plan to be obedient to His desire for love for man in all things, even to His sacrifice on the cross.

Having reached adulthood, Jesus began his public ministry by going to the River Jordan to receive from John a Baptism of penance and conversion. What might seem paradoxical in our eyes actually happened. Did Jesus need penance and conversion? Of course not. Yet the One who is without sin put Himself among sinners to have Himself baptized, to make this act of penance. The Holy One of God joined those who recognized they were in need of forgiveness and asked God for the gift of conversion, that is, the grace to return to Him with their whole heart, to belong totally to Him. Jesus chose to join the ranks of sinners, to be in solidarity with them, expressing God’s closeness.

Jesus shows His solidarity with us, with our efforts to convert and to be rid of our selfishness, to break away from our sins in order to tell us that if we accept Him in our life, He can uplift us and lead us to the heights of God the Father. And Jesus’ solidarity is not, as it were, a mere exercise of mind and will. Jesus truly immersed Himself in our human condition, lived it to the end, in all things save sin, and was able to understand our weakness and frailty. For this reason, He was moved to compassion; He chose to “suffer with” men and women to become a penitent with us. This is God’s work, which Jesus wanted to carry out: the divine mission to heal those who are wounded and give medicine to the sick, to take upon Himself the sin of the world.

What happened at the moment when Jesus had Himself baptized by John? In the face of this act of humble love by the Son of God, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit showed Himself in the form of a dove, while a voice from on high expressed the pleasure of the Father who acknowledged His Only Begotten, His beloved Son. This was a real manifestation of the Blessed Trinity that bears witness to the divinity of Jesus, of His being the promised Messiah, the One whom God sent to set His people free in order to save them (cf. Is 40:2).

In Baptism [we] express and witness... to the joy of being Christian and of belonging to the Church. It is the joy that comes from knowing [we] have received a great gift from God, faith itself, a gift which not one of us has been able to deserve but which was freely given to us and to which we responded with our “yes.” It is the joy of recognizing that we are children of God, of discovering that we have been entrusted to His hands, of feeling welcomed in a loving embrace in the same way that a mother holds and embraces her child. This joy, which guides every Christian’s journey, is based on a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship that directs the whole of human existence.

Indeed, it is He who is the meaning of our life, the One on whom it is worth keeping our eyes fixed so as to be illuminated by His truth and to be able to live to the full. 

— Excerpted from the Jan. 13, 2013, homily given by Pope Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel