In today’s gospel reading, we hear God saying to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is short, sweet and to the point. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but first our Lord must go through baptism and face 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus starts off his ministry and ultimate journey to Calvary with the reassuring words of his Heavenly Father ringing in his ears.
What encouraging words these are: “With you I am well pleased.” When spoken to a child by his or her parents, these words can evoke a deep sense of assuredness in one’s self worth. Sadly, many children and teens never receive words of encouragement from their parents or caregivers. They only know what it feels like to be reminded of their failures or ridiculed for their shortcomings. Unfortunately, neglected and abused children often repeat the same behavior when they become parents.
“You are my son, the Beloved.” These six simple words from the gospel message speak volumes. To be called someone’s beloved child creates a deep, unshakable sense of belonging and acceptance. But to those who have never experienced the enduring love of a parent, these words can bring up a sense of deep longing and emptiness. Such folks can only barely imagine what it must be like to be loved by a father or mother, let alone comprehend what it means to have a parent say, “With you I am well pleased.”
Oh, to live with the knowledge that someone is well pleased with you just because of who you are! That’s the basis of God’s grace to us, His unmerited favor. We don’t earn it; we can only accept it. God’s grace is given to us at birth and sealed by the Holy Spirit at baptism. Without His grace, we have no hope; but once His grace is realized in our lives, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
It is one thing to grow up without a loving mother or father in one’s life. Sadly, many children today struggle through life without ever knowing the love of a parent, often with tragic results. According to research, fatherless boys face an extra challenge in life. Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families. Boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated. Children from fatherless homes represent well over half of youth suicides, youth with behavioral disorders, high-school dropouts and juvenile detainees. This is cause for concern when one considers the inordinate percentage of poor homes where children are growing up without a father figure. Who is there to call them “beloved,” and tell them that someone is pleased with them?
Just because a child grows up in a fatherless home doesn’t mean he or she is doomed to a life of despair or failure. Far from it; it is safe to say that most children raised in loving single-parent homes headed by a mother or mother figure grow up to lead successful and productive lives. Never underestimate the importance of a mother’s love. And many uncles, brothers, family friends, teachers and mentors act as father figures in children’s lives in the absence of their biological fathers.
The church’s calling is to help support single-parent families – and all families for that matter – and ensure they don’t have to raise these young people alone. Parental love isn’t dependent upon biology, but comes from the love that God has freely bestowed upon us. But where are the father figures? Where are the big brothers, uncles, teachers and neighbors, the men who can take a stand in a child’s life and be a dad who can help raise the child? Who is around to say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased”?
In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating our Heavenly Father’s love for us who are called by His name. It doesn’t matter if we’re related or not, the only requirement is that we love them as God loves us as His own.
You see, all of us were once fatherless in a manner of speaking, before we entered into covenant with God through the waters of baptism. If we were destined to be adopted as God’s own children through Christ, then are we not also called to be fathers and mothers to those who have none? Are we not loved by our Heavenly Father so that we can in turn love one another? For what is love if it is not freely received and shared with those around us?
We live in a world of fatherless children, sons and daughters who have been rejected by their parents because of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, disability, substance abuse or just because of the parents’ own selfish narcissistic interests. These young people often lead very solitary lives and are easy prey for society’s predators. When faced with life’s temptations, they often make wrong choices because there is no one there to guide them. If we truly take our Baptismal Covenant seriously, we must do all we can to protect those least able to protect themselves and help them find their inheritance awaiting them in God’s family, our family.
Every time we who are baptized into the Body of Christ approach the Eucharistic table, we are reminded of God’s love for us. It is around the holy table gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ that our Heavenly Father graciously accepts us as living members of his own Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and feeds us with spiritual food in the Blessed Sacrament.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the family we call the Body of Christ. As they pass through the waters of baptism, we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. All of us have an important role to play in their spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.
God is saying to us today, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.” Embrace each other in the love God has freely given us, and reach out to those who long to be loved. Go and spread the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.