•Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; Acts 10: 34-38; Mark 1: 4-11•
Scripture Readings: Baptism of the Lord
Since my retirement I have encountered various grandmothers on the street or in a grocery store, whose son or daughter for whatever reason, never had her grandchild baptized. Each of them found that upsetting and told me, “when they left me alone with my grandchild, I baptized him/her in the sink!” It seemed inappropriate to say anything in response but my utter amazement probably was apparent on my face.
I think these grandmothers are representative of the many, perhaps the majority of Catholic people, whose understanding of baptism is inaccurate, confused or even magical. Many opportunities for adult learning have been available since the II Vatican Council. For whatever reason many folks ignored those opportunities. They still are guided and motivated by a first or second grade mentality about church and sacraments. I think that is one of the reasons the theological and liturgical backlash promoted by John Paul II and Benedict has been so successful. For the majority of folks, “aggiornamento,” the spiritual and theological renewal called for by John XXIII in the Second Vatican Council, has never occurred. So we have grandmothers pouring water over their grandchildren in kitchen sinks. Wow!
Today we gather to remember the baptism of Jesus. That suggests two important notes.
First. Baptism by John was preparation for the baptism Jesus would bring. Mark’s John is clear. “I baptize you with water. Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Second. John was symbolically calling Jesus and all others standing there back to their origins. For Jesus stepping into the Jordan River marked the inauguration of his public life and ministry. The II Vatican Council reminds us baptism is the beginning of our life within the community called church.
Those grandmothers don’t understand that. They remain fixated on the teaching of Original Sin, which had its roots in and evolved from pre-Christian philosophy. The only possible biblical source for the teaching of Original Sin is Paul’s letter to the Romans. St. Augustine used that letter to develop the theory of a hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our descent from Adam.
At the Jordan River John baptized with water. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. Note the significant difference. “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In our tradition water baptism is important but incomplete. Only those who know and correctly understand who Jesus is can have an authentic relationship with him. Without that relationship it is impossible to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Those who are “baptized with the Holy Spirit” are guided, sustained and strengthened by his Spirit.
The church is in crisis today and many have departed. Our society is becoming ever more secular and religion less significant for many. Nothing is gained by lamenting such development. Quite simply conditions are being created in which we have the opportunity to develop new ways of expressing the gospel. Our task is to renew our way of understanding, expressing and living “the Christ Mystery.”
This means considering the problems, doubts, fears and discouragements that burden men and women today. It means changing our attitudes and adjusting our manner of relating to the world as it is today, not as it was yesterday. It means being more like Jesus, the Christ.
The Good News we celebrate today is very simple. John announced, “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of Jesus continues to live and work today in the hearts of people who have an authentic relationship with the Risen One. Only Christ can awaken the vision we need to bring the gospel to our world today. It is time for all of us to awaken to the meaning of baptism and the gospel, allowing ourselves to be guided, sustained and strengthened by His spirit