In today’s joyous readings we are reminded of God’s kindness, compassion and love for all mankind; so much so that he sent his beloved son, and poured out the ongoing gift of his creative Spirit upon us to redeem us.
The first reading offers words of consolation and hope to God’s people in exile. The Lord comes with power to restore and protect his people, like a shepherd who guides and nourishes them. The psalms is a meditation on the glories of God in creation, where he looks after all he has made. The psalmist also reminds us that God’s spirit is the spirit of life, rebirth and renewal.
Paul’s letter tells us that through his life and giving of himself, Jesus embodied the kindness and love of God. The life-giving gifts of the Holy Spirit were revealed and shared with all. Today’s Gospel describes the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus while he was at prayer, emphasizing the importance of both the Spirit and of prayer in Jesus’ life.
Certainly, we can ask ourselves precisely what that action of God to redeem us is. Evidently, a washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved; in baptism water was used. Indeed, water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church. Tertullian, a Church writer of the second and third centuries, said something surprising. He said: “Never is Christ without water”. By these words of Tertullian we can also say; never is a Christian without baptism.
On the other hand, oil to symbolize the redeeming power of Christ, and a burning candle the light of Christ. A white garment that symbolized the purity/holiness of life in Christ was used and after the baptism we, our parents and god parents celebrated with friends the gift of new life in Christ. Baptism does not only concern the soul only but human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God’s action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.
Consequently, we perceive in a new way that Christianity is not merely an individual, spiritual reality, a simple subjective decision that I take, but something real and concrete, we could also say something material. Adoption as children of God, of the Trinitarian God, is at the same time being accepted into the family of the Church, it is admission as brothers and sisters into the great family of Christians. And only if, as children of God, we are integrated as brothers and sisters into the reality of the Church can we say with Paul in the second reading: “For the grace of God has appeared for our salvation training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions and to live sober, upright and Godly lives” (Titus 2:11). In fact, Christian life is living this message of St. Paul and having our eyes fixed on the Lord who is the meaning of life.
Besides the matter, there is Spirit: of what does the fire that St John the Baptist referred to consist? To see this reality of the fire, present in Baptism with water, we must note that John’s baptism was a human gesture, an act of penance, a human impulse for God, to ask the forgiveness of sins and the chance to begin a new life. It was only a human desire, a step towards God. In Baptism God himself acts, Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit. In Christian Baptism the fire of the Holy Spirit is present. God acts, not only us. Furthermore, that fire should continue to burn in us. The fire/spirit to forgive and be forgiven must continue to grow in us and the Christian community. The fire to overcome selfishness and egoism and the fire to love and to serve others is what baptism impacts. Similarly, the spirit to unite with others to build a community of Disciples of Christ (small Christian communities) should burn in our Christian life.
Naturally, God does not act in a magical way. He acts only with our freedom. We cannot renounce our freedom. God challenges our freedom, invites us to cooperate with the fire of the Holy Spirit. These two things must go together. Baptism will remain throughout life a gift of God, who has set his seal on our souls. But it will then be our cooperation, the availability of our freedom to say that “yes” which makes divine action effective.
Joy and Peace