In “God’s Beloved Child” Fr. Pat Griffin continues his series of reflections on Considering Consecrated Life
Sometimes somebody important says something to us which we never forget: a parent or family member, a friend, a teacher. In various times and places, the words play back and give us insight, confidence, or pause when we find ourselves in a particular situation. Perhaps, especially, words which we have from our parents carry this special weight.
This notion comes to mind as I think of Jesus and the experience of his Baptism which we celebrated this past Sunday. The Gospel places us at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He prepares to embark on the apostolate which will characterize his life. He has taken his place among those who seek John’s baptism, and after the Baptism, Jesus hears these words:
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”
What wonderful words—words which any child would be thrilled to hear from a parent!
Note that this occurrence precedes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As he starts his life’s work, the Father affirms in this powerful way: “You are my beloved Son; I am well pleased with you.” Perhaps, the lesson lies here. Jesus does not earn the Father’s love; it cannot be won or lost. The Father loves Jesus freely and permanently and without qualification. Jesus knew that he was loved, but having it said so clearly and so boldly deepens its impact on a human level. Jesus knew that he was loved, but it needed to be said and heard aloud.
Jesus carries this message through the whole course of his ministry. He feared nothing. Even if everyone rejected him, he knew that he was loved. In every circumstance of his life, he knew that the Father was pleased with him and his efforts, no matter what anyone else thought. The words which he heard at his Baptism continued to play in his head. He was loved.
People must have sensed something like that, and they were attracted to him. The disciples saw it in the way that he prayed and they wanted some. People who were marginalized found it easy to approach Jesus because his sense of self did not depend on who was around him or what people had done. He was prepared to eat with the sinners and outcasts, he was ready to touch lepers, he was ready to deal with Gentiles. He was not afraid to be in the minority, because he knew that he was loved deeply and completely and forever. And nothing would change that.
When Jesus spoke of the Father, he spoke about him in that deep way which captured the Father’s love for all his children. He was the welcoming parent who wants each child to come home and be with him forever. Jesus receives this wonderful and powerful gift on the day of his Baptism: the assurance that the Father stood by him. This remains true to the very end when Jesus reaffirms their relationship from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
At our Baptism, God speaks these words to each of us: “You are my beloved child, I am pleased with you.” We need to hear this affirmation and allow it to direct our steps, just as Jesus did. It makes an enormous amount of difference to know that we are loved unconditionally and forever. No matter what we do, God loves us. No matter how far we stray, God stays with us. We do not earn God’s love and we can never lose it. It seems so simple to speak this truth. We need to say it and hear it and believe it. It provides a central focus for how we live.
When we get up in the morning and know that we are loved, the day starts out on the right foot; when we go to bed at night and realize that it was not a great day, that knowledge does not overwhelm our conviction of being loved by God.
We need to remind one another aloud (especially those whom we serve): you are God’s beloved. When we live this way, it is evident to others. How difficult can it be for us to believe that anyone who walks around regularly with a sour face and a bad attitude knows that they are loved and cherished by God? The OT tells us that we are the apple of God’s eye and that God holds us in the palm of his hand. We are loved. How fearful could one be of death when we know that we are going to the one who loves us?
The story of the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of that truth in his life and what a difference it made. Let us grasp that truth for ourselves. Remember how God whispered to us on the day of our Baptism: you are my beloved child, I am pleased with you. We may have forgotten that. Let us pray that our memory be jogged so that we live as and treat one another as God’s beloved children, people on whom God’s favor rests.