THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Lk. 3:22
What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life?
This was the question posed in a 75 year-long study recently discussed in a TED talk by psychiatrist Robert Waldinger.
Before reaching the three conclusions of this investigation, it was assumed that most people would give one of the following responses to the above question about what makes us happy and healthy: Fame or Money. Give me at least one of those and I’ll be happy as can be. Right?
According to this study, the correct answer is: Relationships. Having a connection with other people. This is the secret to happiness, physical health, and longevity.
More precisely, three further lessons were discovered by the scientists conducting the study.
The first lesson is that “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Social connections are good for us. Loneliness kills.” Sadly, “more than 1 in 5 Americans declare that they are lonely.” More than 1 in 5!
The second lesson is that happiness lies not in the number of relationships we have, but in the quality, in the depth of those relationships.
And the third lesson learned is that “good relationships do not just protect our bodies and help keep us healthy, but protect our brains and keep them healthy.” What the scientists meant is that “relationships in which a person can really trust another person in a time of need, strongly affects the ability to maintain memories that stay sharper for a longer period of time.”
Happiness, a true sense of fulfillment in life, is seemingly all about relationships.
Today’s gospel account of Jesus and his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit would certainly back this up.
This baptism story in Luke’s gospel begins in a very unheralded sort of way. Jesus is just part of the crowd. His actual baptism isn’t even mentioned. Jesus is baptized along with the rest of the folks in a routine, mundane fashion.
One might think that Jesus would be cutting in line and asserting his importance by asking for an audience with the baptizer-in-chief. Instead, Jesus quietly, and in a totally unassuming manner, goes off by himself and withdraws in prayer.
And then, all heaven breaks loose.
The skies open and, in one of those rare times in Scripture where the three persons of the Trinity are described as appearing together, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are joined in a celebration of affirmation and blessing. The Holy Spirit even becomes visible and settles rapturously on Jesus as a dove fluttering its wings.
Then a voice is heard confirming Jesus as “Son,” as “Beloved,” as One on whom the Father’s favor rests.
Jesus has accepted his cousin John the Baptist’s call to turn away from self-centeredness, away from entitlement, away from greed, and to follow the way of becoming transformed, radically altered. Jesus responds to John’s baptismal call to embrace a life of treating the poor and the weak with compassion by developing a relationship with God the Father so close and so intense that Jesus now dares to call God “Abba,” a name only used to designate the most personal of relationships.
But here’s the most exciting part of this relationship story: God has chosen to bestow that same blessing, that same “favor,” that same reckless Love on each of us beloved ones!
St. Paul possibly says it best when he writes that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
In other words, we too are God’s daughters and sons. This is what the great sacrament of Baptism is all about. It’s about standing in that line with Jesus, God’s Firstborn. It’s about being God’s “beloved.” It’s about being the object of God’s deep and boundless affection.
At our own baptism, we were blessed with baptismal water praying that “May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life.” We were then anointed with holy oil “so we may live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” Finally, we were clothed in a white garment to symbolize our becoming “a new creation” clothed in Christ.
Notice: it’s all about relationship.
It’s all about a fundamental connection with God – a God who swoops down from the skies and invites and graces us to see ourselves as intimate members of his family.
If close, trusting, personal relationships are the answer to what will bring us true happiness in life, todays Gospel offers us an exemplary model: Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the Spirit.
The great Grace of our own baptism is that we are given the opportunity to share in that same relationship, and to fully realize that we are God’s beloved children, God’s intimate sons and daughters in whom He is “well pleased.”
Let us do as Jesus did after his baptism when He went quietly off and prayed. And then let us allow the Spirit that empowered Jesus to do the same for us – rouse our inner self, and “enkindle in us the fire of God’s Love,” so that we may enter ever more deeply into the richest and most enduring of all relationships: that of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Then we will truly be able, as that beloved prayer to the Holy Spirit puts it, to “renew the face of the earth.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.
NOTE: For those of you who might be interested, be sure to check out my website for the latest updates from the Vatican supplied by John Allen, the foremost Church reporter, meditations from Fr. Richard Rohr, a weekly blog provided by Tom Carney, a long-time friend, and more.
Go to: drtedsweb.com and click on Spirituality.