My first memory as a seminarian at Notre Dame is of entering myroom for the first time, tossing my suitcase on the bed, and walking overto the window. From the window I could look across the lawn and intothe gymnasium. And there in the gym, I could see the Rector of theseminary, all alone in the gloom, pushing a big dust mop back and forthacross the basketball courts.
This made a big impression on me. I suppose I came to theseminary expecting that the Rector would be an august figure, high aboveus mere seminarians. But there he was pitching in with the chores justlike anyone else. And it was the same all year long. The rector washedfloors, made beds and scrubbed pots and pans with the rest of us. Hemade it clear that he was one of us, and whatever we were doing; wewere all in it together.
My second year as a seminarian, the novitiate year at Cascade,Colorado, began with a weeklong silent retreat. Then, on the eighth day,we were given a lecture about the “spiritual benefits of the mindlessrhythms of manual labor,” and sent up the hill to chop wood.When we reached the woodpile, we found the novice master alreadyat work with an axe — wood chips flying everywhere. He worked rightalong side us for the entire three-hour work period. As it turned out,though, that was the only time we ever saw him enjoying the manyspiritual benefits of manual labor. After that, whenever work period rolledround, he was always occupied with other important duties.Nevertheless, it was a nice gesture.
It seems to me that something similar is happening in our Gospeltoday. Jesus, to mark the beginning of his public ministry, is beingbaptized by John. Now, John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance, andJesus is without sin. He has nothing to repent. John says to him, “Ishould be baptized by you, not you by me.” But Jesus insists, and Johngives in.
Why does our Lord insist upon being baptized? I think he isshowing us, right from the start, that he is human. Though he is withoutsin, he is associating himself with the human need for redemption. He isone of us, and we are all in this together. We accept that Christ is divine,but it is equally essential that he be human. Jesus lived, died and wasresurrected from the dead so that we could be saved. If he were notdivine he couldn’t save us. If he were not human, it would not be uswhom he saved. Because he is a human being, what happens in Christhappens to and for us.
And it isn’t just a gesture on our Lord’s part. Throughout his life heexperiences, grief, fear, loss, hunger and thirst — all the tragedies,frustrations, petty humiliations and inconveniences that are characteristicof human existence. All of this is a wonderful gift to us. For I wonder ifwe would ultimately be able to worship a God who didn’t know what itwas like to be one of us. Motivated by boundless, immeasurable love, ourSavior became like us, so that we might become like him.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”