January 10, 2016
The Baptism of the Lord
The Gospel by LK 3:15-16, 21-22
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Baptism of the Lord: The Spirit of GOD the Father confirms the messiahship of Jesus.
In the early 1970’s a new group emerged in the church: they called themselves “charismatic”. The word is Greek and means “gift” (like the gifts of the spirit). In a way the group claimed to be in possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of the main rituals was “baptism”. The leaders of the church began to question the group and tried to eliminate its influence in the Church. I remember listening to sermons from priests and bishops who condemned the Charismatics as heretics because they claimed more than one baptism. The truth is that the Charismatics were talking about one thing and the leaders of the church misunderstood them. The problem was the word “baptism”
The Catholic Church teaches that there is only one baptism. If a person speaks of more than one baptism, then he or she is a heretic (a person who is going against the teachings of the church). In the past a heretic had to pay with his life and many people were killed for not following the teachings of the Church (But that was long time ago and most people question if that really happened). In any case the Charismatics began to use a new term “infusion of the Holy Spirit”, which sounded better than saying “baptism of the H.S.”
Notice, however, that the gospel of today speaks of two baptisms: the baptism by water and the baptism by fire. Over the years people think of the baptism by fire to be confirmation.
In a deeper, more mystical sense, baptism of water represents an initiation (a beginning) of the spiritual life. The fact is that when a person is baptized the person stops being a creature of the world and begins to be a creature of God (in a matter of speaking, although I am simplifying it).
In ancient religions, especially Jewish mysticism, initiation meant that a person had passed a hard test and was ready to undertake more spiritual responsibilities. In that sense, Jesus had just come from the desert, where he was tested. After passing the test, Jesus was ready for an initiation, which would mark the beginning of his ministry. But there is also an initiation of the Spirit: Fire.
The baptism by fire is not that easy to explain or to be understood. For those who like simple thoughts, think of it as the sacrament of Confirmation. For those who like more mystical meanings, let us go try to decipher it, although for the sake of brevity I try to summon up some of its concepts.
When you find a speck of gold in the river, the gold needs to be melted so that the impurities (that which is not gold) are separated from its real essence. The use of fire was good for such a thing. Soon the purification through fire became a symbol of a spiritual cleansing. One has to be refined by fire, just like gold. In fact, St. John of the Cross, talked of fire as God’s Love purifying our soul in preparation for the final union with Him. Purgatory took a new meaning: a place where the soul is purified –purge- from impurities before it can stand before God. The term purified by fire and baptism with fire became synonymous.
St. John the Baptist will make a distinction between his way of baptizing and the way that Christ Baptized. I think there is a message hidden in here, which I see over and over again. Many people are baptized yearly, yet their lives continue to be the same. Their sins may have been forgiven, but there is no change in the way they live. This is such a problem that many people refuse to go to church because “the baptized” are no different from the non-baptized. In fact people call us hypocrites, because we strike our chests three times recognizing ourselves as sinners, and as soon as we come out of church we are back to our old selves. What happened? Did you not receive the Spirit in your baptism? Were you not made children of God? There seems to be something missing, but what?
The baptism by fire, or by the Holy Spirit will answer those questions, BUT, only if we look at the baptism of fire from a mystical point of view. If you look at it as confirmation, then we are back in the same boat: people are confirmed and they disappear from church, they commit even more vicious sins (not because they were baptized in the Spirit, but because they are adolescents and they tend to want to do their own thing).
The baptism of the Spirit or by Fire, or the initiation in which the dove rests upon the disciple who has passed the tests, is a confirmation that the person is no longer living his or her life like the rest of the world. In this case the baptism of Jesus leads him to another baptism, that in which the Holy Spirit rests upon him and he is ready to begin his mission with the power of God. The baptism of fire has melted away anything that would have interfered with his ministry. With such a definition, the majority of us is still waiting for the initiation from above.
I can hear some people saying: but I was confirmed by the bishop – But I am not speaking about that-. The baptism of the Spirit in fire has to do with the purification of the soul to the point that the life of the person receiving that initiation is closer to the life of a saint than to the life of a religious church goer.
The one receiving the initiation is closer to God by the way he or she lives his life; the church goer is trying to be closer to God, but because of the many temptations and distractions he or she has not taken the step necessary for such initiation. We would ultimately admit that our lives do not reflect the life of Christ, although some of us are trying harder. Does that mean that we are not baptized with fire? That we do not possess the Sprit? From the standpoint of mysticism, the answer is yes, but not that much, for some people the answer is no.
We need to understand this better: although, the symbol and the ceremony were performed, we were pronounced confirmed, but our commitment is still weak, and the power of the Spirit is not manifested yet. In a way, we need to put more effort before we can be initiated.
Putting it all together, the baptism of the Lord represents the completion of his personal intimate work (private) before his public ministry. It represents the fulfillment of his relationship with God, before launching his campaign to convert the world.
Today we can join Jesus in his quest to purify us through fire by opening our hearts to his amazing grace. By doing this, we can begin to experience his spirit, which will fortify our desires to grow deeper in His relationship. We can begin by recognizing our limitations and asking Him to give us more patience, more love, more desire to forgive and forget, and to be more committed.
May the Lord bless you all and keep you safe in His heart. Amen.
Fr. Marc Angelo, PO Box 3414. Culver City CA 90231