Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Water and Fire
by Rev. Stanley Krempa
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

The people were filled with expectation, and all went asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.  John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

When a cardinal is elected pope, he is asked whether he accepts the election. At the very moment when he says “yes” he becomes pope and bishop of Rome. The solemn Mass to inaugurate His ministry and the insignia he receives at that Mass display to the world his identity and mission that began with that “yes” in the locked conclave.

Jesus was the Son of the Father from all eternity, “before all ages.” His baptism in the Jordan River displayed through sound and symbol who Jesus always was but now is revealed for all the world to see.

In His baptism in the Jordan, all the signs showed who Jesus was by nature and they also show what we become by the sacramental adoption of baptism.

For us, baptism is our entry to new life and to mission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls baptism a “gateway.”

It is the gateway to all the other sacraments; to a huge flood of diverse sacramental graces; to our living union with Christ; to our membership in the church; to our call to speak truth and seek justice; to our bridge-building between the Gospel and our culture; to an eternal life far superior to biological life.

The rituals of baptism display these truths. With the pouring of baptismal water, we are cleansed of original sin. That is the power of baptismal water. Then we receive what John the Baptist calls “the fire.”

The oil of catechumens gives us strength for the contest of living the Christian life. The oil of sacred chrism manifests our sharing in Christ’s mission “to comfort, to dispel fear, to show the glory of the Lord,” as Isaiah describes in today’s first reading. The white garment we receive displays the dignity of our discipleship, our Christian uniform that will be seen as it is represented by the white cloth that will cover our remains in church. The lit candle we receive manifests the light we are called to be in the growing darkness — light that not only shows the way but also reveals the dangers along the way. All of this means that baptism is defined not only by the original sin it takes away but also by the dignity of the mission it imparts.

By baptism, we are marked forever as Christ’s own. That is why baptism is never repeated but only revived.

Every time we enter or leave church, we sign ourselves with holy water that represents our baptismal water. On entering church, we are reminded that baptism is our gateway to the Mass and sacraments. As we leave the church, the holy water reminds us of our mission. We enter with water and leave with fire.

If we are looking for a purpose in life, we should remember that we are baptized into the mission of Christ. If we feel spiritually alone, we should remember that we are baptized into membership in a worldwide community of faith called the church. If we feel that we have drifted too far from the church, we should remember that the graces, the promises and the mission given in our baptism do not dissolve but can always come back to life.

Baptism, therefore, is not simply an isolated moment in a baby’s life. It is a sacrament whose power and purpose last a lifetime. It is our bridge from earth to heaven.

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