Reflection and Dialogue: Baptism and Christian spirituality; baptism and the belief in the heavens open to us
Reflection. Baptism and Christian Spirituality. Our celebration of the baptism of Jesus is not just about an event in the life of Christ, or the beginning of his public life. All the New Testament texts are at pains to point out that at his baptism he was anointed with the Holy Spirit. In the power of that Spirit he went about doing good and undoing the work of sin and Satan. The Church from the beginning has looked on Christian baptism as intimate union with Jesus and his baptism, and with the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers. This Holy Spirit makes us aware that we are children of God. Possession of the Spirit is an anointing that gives confidence of faith in Christ and his church. The Holy Spirit works quietly to help believers live the Christian life in the spirit of the beatitudes. Today in certain quarters there is much talk about spirituality, sometimes with the implication that while religion is inferior, spirituality is good and respectable. In our world it is well to note that spirituality can be used in different senses. It can be used, and is used, by humanists with little regard for faith or belief in God or the other world. Spirituality in this sense is a quality or manifestation of the human spirit, irrespective of any belief. For Christian believers spirituality is life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a life of grace. All believers, rich and poor, young and old, learned and otherwise, have a spirituality, just a they possess the Holy Spirit, given at baptism and abiding all through life.
Belief in the heavens opened. All the Gospel narratives speak of the heavens being opened at the baptism of Jesus, and of the Father’s voice speaking from heaven. The open heavens mean that there is another world, with an absolute God, and that there is contact between the two – not an abstract or remote contact but a close and personal one. Profession of faith in this other world and all it stands for is made at any baptism, be it of an infant or an adult. The pouring of the material element of water on the head at baptism is an expression of deep faith, and has sense only with such faith. Belief in an other world and contact with it, in the opened heaven, is naturally denied by humanists and atheists, and because of this the ultimate sign of rejection of Christian belief is the refusal to have children baptised.
Belief in this open heaven is sustained by faith and contact with the sacraments. This is one message for us of this feast of the Baptism of Christ.
(For reflections on the Sunday and Feast Day readings see Martin McNamara, Sunday Readings with Matthew: Interpretations and Reflections, Dublin, Veritas, 2016)