Baptism – a supernatural force LUKE 3:15–16, 21–22
At the moment there is a tremendous fascination in Western culture over the occult. Things like white magic spells and incantations, tarot cards, mediums speaking with the dead, crystal therapy etc., all have grasped the imagination and hearts of millions.
Many Catholics in our own beloved islands are not immune to this trend as well. In short, people are desiring the supernatural. They are searching further afield to find meaning and fulfilment.
One reason for this is probably that familiarity breeds contempt: we constantly feel the need to find something new because the ‘buzz’ of new discoveries brings a certain pleasure, even if it is fleeting and not true.
Another reason is perhaps the lack of true faith and understanding in the immensely powerful sacramental system that Jesus created for His Church as a means of communicating His life to us.
I think, therefore, that we ought to try and cultivate a certain sacramental amazement. We can start with today’s Gospel which presents to us the mystery of Baptism, the doorway to all the other sacraments.
One way to imaginatively wonder over this great mystery of baptism is to ponder the words of the Baptist in the Gospel: “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
The image and symbol of fire here to describe the power of the Holy Spirit is a powerful one. Fire is one of the most mysterious and enchanting of earth’s elements. It is also one of the most powerful of earth’s elements.
By alluding to the symbolism of fire, it is as if the Baptist is saying to us that far from being a nice Church ritual to bring family and friends together to profess faith, baptism is immensely powerful. As fire is mysterious, so is baptism; as fire is so powerful a natural force, so is baptism as a supernatural force.
Origen (circa 184 AD), one of the Church Fathers, likened baptism to the Jews being led by Moses out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea and into the wilderness and then into the Promised Land.
Origen saw this journey as foreshadowing baptism because in the baptismal waters the soul is mystically led by Christ through His own death and burial to the possession of the new life of Heaven.
No doubt Origen had this quote of St Paul in mind: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm 6:3–4).
In baptism, we celebrate the making present of the power of the Cross to bring new life: a power that brings new life by destroying sin and death.
Therefore, why is baptism so powerful? It is powerful because the Holy Spirit descends from heaven as a fire of divine love to consume original sin from the soul.
The Spirit also comes to transform the soul by divinising it with grace to live the life of Jesus Christ. When Jesus rose from the dead, He rose with a new humanity, a glorious humanity, a humanity no longer under threat of death and the evils of sin. Baptism is the mystical link between this new power-filled risen humanity in Christ and us.
Such a mystery should cause us to be amazed if we truly believe it. It calls for the kind of faith that would not let us wander towards other seemingly enchanting rituals offered by the New Age movement and the occult.
It is the kind of faith that leads us to a sense of awe and wonder at all the sacramental works of God.
The Gospel Meditations for January 6 and 13 were by Rev Jesse Maingot OP, a former St Anthony’s parishioner. He is currently studying for the priesthood at the Dominican Studium in Dublin, Ireland. He will be ordained a priest on August 17 at St Finbar’s RC Church.
By Rev Jesse Maingot OP