Mark 1: 7-11
John the Baptist offered his disciples a water ritual which was essentially preparatory. It was a visible, public way of declaring one’s readiness for the coming of the Messiah. It said, in effect, that from now on no human preconditions would be laid down.
This represented a significant decision because we humans are very tempted to tell God how to do things.
When the Messiah does come, he will bring with him his own powerful baptismal rite. It too will include a water ritual but it will be far superior to the baptism of John because it will confer the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit that was sent from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and which signaled the dawn of a new world.
This Spirit is said to have appeared as a dove over Jesus because it is God’s powerful agent of creation–the same Spirit that hovered over the deep to call being out of nothingness and that appeared as a dove to tell Noah about the new world after the deluge. This Spirit brings to all who are baptized in the name of Jesus the same kind of power that enabled him to announce the new world of God’s kingdom and to illustrate its nature by the power of healing in Galilee. It is this creative Spirit also that empowers the baptized to follow Jesus in loving service, self-sacrifice and final victory.
It is very difficult for us to appreciate adequately the baptism that most of us received long ago as infants. In fact, I think most of our mothers prayed that we would sleep through our baptism and no doubt many babies do just that! This is a sad situation unless we come to realize later just how important and how powerful that sacrament should be in our lives. Such appreciation is the work of a lifetime and we will probably never come to understand all the wonderful effects of this sacrament in our lives.
The most important part of the baptismal rite is the faith commitment that we bring to it. Our sponsors may have made this promise for us many years ago but we must now claim that commitment in our own names. And that means nothing less than a deeply personal decision to follow Christ by living in a truly unselfish manner. It also means to renounce the alluring but false suggestion of Satan that self-indulgence leads to happiness.
Living unselfishly is very difficult and we could never manage it from our own limited resources. However, the powerful, creative Spirit, who comes to us in baptism, is ready and willing to enable us to be truly sensitive to the needs of others and truly generous in our response to those needs. In fact, living in the Spirit is the only way to go! Not only does this make us a gift in the lives of others but it also brings us a deep sense of happiness and satisfaction.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.