The Baptism of the Lord — January 11, 2015

baptism-of-the-lord-cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angelsStaying Close to the ‘River of Life’

“As Christ descends into the waters,” writes Pope John Paul II, “the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (Matthew 3:17) while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.”

Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan not only illuminates Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son (both divine and human), but reveals with bright clarity his mission as Messiah as well.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#438) points out, Jesus’ “messianic consecration was revealed during the time of his earthly life at the moment of his Baptism by John, when ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (Acts 10:38) ‘that he might be revealed to Israel’ (John 1:31) as its Messiah.”

What does Jesus’ Baptism teach us about our own Baptism? When the evangelist John describes the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus as witnessed by John the Baptist, he places these words on the lips of the Baptist: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him” (John 1:32). The word remain in this context is very instructive and enlightening. It emphasizes the permanence of the relationship between God’s Spirit and us.

This helps us to understand better our own Baptism. When God pours new life into us at Baptism through the life-giving Spirit, it is a permanent relationship that is given to us.

Our Baptism is not a one-time event that happened in the past and has stopped being active. Not at all. As in the case of Jesus, the Spirit descends upon us and remains with us. That is why it is so meaningful to dip our fingers into the baptismal or holy water font each time we enter a church. In so doing, we remind ourselves of the permanent baptismal “river of life” that remains and continues to flow within us and is reinforced by the Eucharist and other sacraments.

The Bible is full of water and stream images, and these images have great relevance for our own Baptism. Already in the second creation account in the Book of Genesis, we read how, in the Garden of Eden, “a stream was welling up out of the earth and was watering all the surface of the ground” (Genesis 2:6), including “the tree of life in the middle of the garden” (2:9).

Then in the very first Psalm, we hear of the happy person who listens to God and remains close to the divine source of life. Such a person is “like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade” (Psalm 1:3).

There is a wonderful water image found near the end of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Scriptures. The passage reminds us of the great stream in Ezekiel, Chapter 47, where the famous prophet sees water flowing abundantly from the temple. As we reflect on the image from Revelation, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit—symbolized by the waters of our Baptism—remains active and enduring within us:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2, NRSV).

Application to my life today. Meditating on this mystery is helpful at those times when we feel unloved or uninspired. God is always ready to embrace us as beloved children. Indeed, God’s Spirit is a river of life and love ever flowing within us.

[This reflection on the Baptism of the Lord was first published as part of “A Friar Meditates on the ‘Luminous Mysteries,'” by Jack Wintz, O.F.M. and appeared in the St. Antony Messenger. Here is the link to that article:]

[The artwork shows the tapestry depicting “The Baptism of the Lord” designed by John Nava in Los Angeles’ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. For more information about the tapestry, click here:]