Water has taken on many meanings in our lives. We all need a certain amount of water to survive, so it frequently symbolizes life. For farmers, the water means that the crops will grow. We use water for washing, so it also signifies cleansing. Within the Church, water is frequently used as the symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In this feast, we are not only called to focus on Our Lord's baptism, but also in the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
For those who were approaching John the Baptist, baptism was a cleansing and purifying act, both physically and spiritually. The Mosaic Law prescribed several acts of ritual washing that were meant to purify oneself before eating or offering a ritual sacrifice. Baptism was also used as a way to express sorrow for sins committed, asking God to forgive those sins and wash them away as water washes away the dirt and grime of daily life.
By Our Lord's baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, He changed how baptism is to be viewed. Baptism still has a purifying aspect, washing away our sins, but has taken on a greater symbol of the dying to our old selves and being reborn as children of God. Through our baptisms, the Holy Spirit has come upon us and adopted us as sons and daughters of God. This is shown in the baptismal rite by the priest anointing the newly baptized child with sacred chrism, the same holy oil which is used at Confirmation and Ordination. It's not a coincidence that this same oil is used at Baptism and Confirmation, as the actions of the Holy Spirit in baptism is completed in our lives through Confirmation. The Sacred Chrism symbolizes the Holy Spirit being poured upon us, so it shows the movement of the Holy Spirit any time it is used in the celebration of a Sacrament. No longer are we in a Creator/created relationship with God, but now a familial relationship through the actions of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism and Confirmation are not the only times that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. It doesn't just come upon us during the reception of the Sacrament and then leave us, but remains within us and continues to draw us closer to God the Father and His Son. As St. John tells us in the second reading, the Spirit testifies to the truth of God's love for us and encourages us to draw deeper into that love. The Holy Spirit does not force us to love God in return, nor are we forced to worship God despite what we want, but gently encourages us and pulls us to Him, much as a child pulls their parents to show them something they made.
We all have these pulls in our lives, and we have to choose whether to follow them. For many of us, we have a particular career that we feel drawn towards. There might be friends that we feel more drawn towards than others. Sometimes we even feel pulled towards a particular meal on a particular day, say a craving for a hamburger or Mexican food. Amidst all these pulls, there is one pull which is particularly strong in our lives, even if we don't realize it. This is the pull of the Holy Spirit drawing us closer to Our Lord, encouraging us to spend our time and energy following Him. Like all our pulls, however, we have the ability to choose whether or not to follow it or ignore it. Unlike the desire for a particular meal, however, this pull does not go away easily, but remains throughout our lives.
The Holy Spirit not only pulls us towards God, but also brings us the gift of faith in Him. We know that we cannot have faith in God on our own, as it is a gift from Him. This gift comes to us through the work of the Holy Spirit drawing us closer to God. The closer we get to God, the more of this gift we receive. God doesn't limit the amount of faith that we can receive, but rather we limit our openness to this faith until we draw closer. It has more to do with our acceptance of this faith than God's willingness to give. St. John promises us that we will be able to conquer the world through the gift of God's faith in our lives.
As we reflect on the Baptism of Our Lord, may we be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives and willingly pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”