In his book Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives, Father Ronald Rolheiser writes of preaching on Jesus’ baptism one year and remarking that the words God speaks over Jesus — “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” — are words that God speaks over us, every day of our lives.
Father Rolheiser was later approached by a young man who had heard the sermon and was both moved — and distraught — by the priest’s words. Father Rolheiser writes:
“[The young man] had not been to church for some time but had gone on this particular Sunday because he had, just that week, pleaded guilty to a crime and was awaiting sentence. He was soon to go to prison. The sermon had struck a painful chord inside him because, first of all, he had trouble believing that God, or anyone else, loved him; yet he wanted to believe it. Secondly, and even more painful, he believed that nobody had ever been pleased or delighted with him: ‘Father, I know that in my whole life nobody has ever been pleased with me. I was never good enough! Nobody has ever taken delight in anything I’ve ever done!’ This man had never been blessed. Small wonder he was about to go to prison.”
Then Father Rolheiser recalls how different his own family experience was:
“When I left home as a seventeen-year-old boy, my father and mother blessed me. They made me kneel on the old linoleum floor of our kitchen, placed their hands on my head, and said the ritual words of Christian blessing. In effect, however, what they were saying to me was: We love you, we trust you, we are proud of you, and we send you off with our full spirit. You are our beloved child and in you we are well pleased. I suspect that had the young man I spoke [with] had been blessed in the same way by his parents, or by anyone else significant to him, he would not have been on his way to prison. To be unblessed is to be bleeding in a very deep place.
“So much of our hunger is a hunger for blessing. So much of our aching is the ache to be blessed. So much of our sadness comes from the fact that nobody has ever taken delight and pleasure in us . . . When has anyone ever made you the object of delight? When has anyone taken . . . delight in . . . your beauty, your intelligence, your person? When have you last felt that you are someone in whom others, and God, take pleasure and delight?”
In Baptism, God claims us as his own, expressing his delight in us as his own beloved daughters and sons. From the waters of our baptisms, God then sends us forth to be a source of blessing to others: the work of reconciliation and forgiveness revealing to others that they are loved by God; the work of justice that honors the dignity of every human being as made in God’s image; the work of peace that realizes God’s vision for the world God so lovingly fashioned. On the feast of the Lord’s Baptism on January 12 (which is also the last day of the Christmas season) may we hear the Father’s expression of joy in his beloved Son as addressed to us, as well and, with gratitude, may we seek to be God’s “blessing” to all.