By Tom Quiner
Even by modern standards, John looked like something of a wild man.
He was dressed in rags.
His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.
To the upper crust of society, his rantings about repentance and penance were beginning to wear thin. And yet the common folk swarmed to him.
He stood in the Jordan River and poured water over their heads, calling it a baptism of water. He suggested that this was just a taste of what was to come, that Someone else was soon to come. This Someone Else would baptize with Spirit and fire, whatever that means.
And then that day came.
I try to imagine what is what like. I suspect it was hot. I picture a lot of people hanging around, some mingling on the banks of the river. Some waiting their turn for this baptism of water.
I may be wrong, but I’m not sure John had the best people skills. I think this guy had a single focus and didn’t mince words on the urgency for the gathered to come to repentance, and to come fast.
As my late father-in-law used to say, “the day’s a wastin’!”
John obviously thought the stakes were high.
You wonder when he noticed the tall Man dressed in white. It turns out, it was John’s cousin.
Did John know Him? Were they friends? Or had the extent of their contact been the day John leapt in his mother’s womb when he met his Cousin some thirty years earlier?
We can only speculate.
What we do know is this: the world changed that afternoon.
Theologians and secular historians agree: Jesus was baptized that day and His public ministry began.
Interestingly, John balked at first. He said that Jesus should baptize him, not the other way around.
But Jesus convinced him that John should baptize Him.
What happened next is another chapter in the history and mystery of our faith. The sky opened. A Voice could be heard:
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
And then the Holy Spirit in the guise of a dove descended from the sky and landed on Jesus.
In this day in the life of Judea, the Holy Spirit, this movement of love as He is known, moved into our lives in a profound and beautiful way.
So, what is the significance of this historic event? It is this, according to the Catholic Catechism:
“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit.”
It is even more:
Baptism is “the door which gives access to the other sacraments.”
It is even more, far more:
“Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”5
Liam was baptized a year ago.
My first grandson was freed from sin and reborn as a son of God. Whether he lives to be one or a hundred, yesterday was the biggest day of his life. And I was there to participate in this rich Christian and family tradition!
His life was regenerated through the Love of the Spirit.
Christian baptism is rich with tradition. The same words have been spoken for two thousand years:
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Water was poured onto his forehead, and he cried a little.
He was anointed with oil to complete his entrance into God’s kingdom. Here is what he received, says the Catechism:
“Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . .We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship.”
Father Jerry took him in his arms and we all applauded this newest member of the church.
Liam wore the same baptismal gown his mother, grandmother, and great grandmother had worn, another beautiful tradition.
I had the honor of sitting down at the piano and accompanying Liam’s grandmother as she sang a song written for this same occasion on the day Liam’s Mom was baptized. The song was written by Liam’s great-Aunt, who was in attendance.
Life, tradition, and love, so much love, united in a day which I would characterize as a little slice of heaven. Fr. Jerry has a saying that “Christians never say goodbye.”
We’re family on earth and will remain so in heaven when the baptized are re-united.
As a side note, I hope I get to spend a little time with John the Baptist in the next life and check out his people skills to see if the Blessed Mother has smoothed some his rough edges!
Liam, welcome to the family of God!