Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They ask him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands One whom you do not know, even He who comes after me, the thong of Whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1: 24-28
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Epiphany this week, we make mention of the role of St. John the Baptist. St. John has different titles. He has the title “prophet.” Prophets were the ones who came before Christ and were foretelling that the Messiah was coming. John is the last of the prophets. He has the title “saint,” which refers to those who lived during the time of Christ and after. He is in some sense, the first of the saints, because he was the first to give his life for Christ. (He was beheaded.) He has the title “Forerunner,” since he was the person who immediately preceded Christ and who pointed our Christ to his followers, endorsing Him as “the lamb of God.” (John 1:29) And finally, he has the title “Baptist” or “Baptizer” because this describes what he was known for.
Baptism, at the time of Jesus, was a ritual spiritual cleansing, done throughout one’s life, not just on one occasion, as we have it now. The way baptism was done back then was the way that confession is done today—we go periodically for spiritual cleansing and renewal. Jesus went out to be baptized by John. We read in Matthew 3: 14-15 that “John would have prevented Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; fur those it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.” Jesus was showing by His example that even though His heart was perfect, it still could benefit from spiritual cleansing.
No matter how good we are, and let’s be honest, we all have our moments when we are not good, or not as good as we should be, we all need spiritual cleansing. In our church, this comes now through the sacrament of confession, where we go periodically to a priest (can be our parish priest, or another priest, but someone with whom we have a spiritual relationship) for confession and absolution. The confession of our sins is made to the Lord Himself, but in the presence of a priest, from whom we receive counseling, encouragement, and prayer.
Every heart becomes distracted. Thus every heart needs cleansing. If the first sin committed by Adam and Eve was greed (eating from the forbidden tree), and the root cause of our sins is still greed—think about lying, gossip, and coveting, the sins we commit the most often—then we need to cleanse our hearts in order to keep them grateful and not greedy. This cleansing should be done on a regular basis, at least once or twice per year, to keep our hearts filled with gratitude and love, so that we can better love God and serve our neighbors.
Lord, thank You for the many gifts that You have given to us. Thank You for the gift of confession, which we can receive through the Church. Thank You for the opportunity to cleanse our hearts and souls and be renewed and strengthened through this sacrament. Help me to always have the courage to come before You and to be honest about the things that trouble my heart. Through Your servant, my priest and confessor, impart spiritual advice and encouragement to me. Continually create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit in me. Amen.
If you haven’t been to confession in a while, consider making an appointment in the near future.