Baptism in the Spirit begins process of our sharing in divine life
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Glen Argan
This week, following Monday’s celebration of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we enter what the Church calls “Ordinary Time.” That makes Sunday’s Gospel somewhat paradoxical for it too is an account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Twice in one week do we hear accounts of Christ’s baptism.
Yet, no Gospel is more suitable for launching us into Ordinary Time for in all four Gospel accounts, Jesus is described as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
Ordinary Time – and ordinary life – is the time and place of the Spirit. In the Western Church, we typically get this wrong. Either our homilists ignore the Spirit and his power or they reduce the Spirit to a dispenser of signs and wonders, such as speaking in tongues.
This is easy to do. The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as “the unknown God” or “the hidden God.” We have historical accounts of the life of Jesus, part of whose purpose of living in our midst was to reveal the Father.
However, no one reveals the Spirit. The Spirit reveals the Son and, through him, the Father. But how do we get to know the Spirit? Unsatisfactory as the answer may seem, it is that we do not know the Spirit.
The Spirit, however, knows us. It is through the Spirit living in us that we live in Christ and participate in the life of Christ’s body, the Church. We receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Baptism.
This reception of the Spirit is not a static thing. After Baptism, the Spirit does not lie inert in us for the rest of our lives. The Spirit is life – the Lord and giver of life, according to the Creed. Although I may be unaware of the Holy Spirit’s movements in my heart, he is always spurring me to draw closer to Jesus.
Still, there is a problem – human freedom. This is not really a problem since freedom is God’s gift; without freedom, one is either close to God or alienated from God. One has no choice in the matter.
St. Paul, after bemoaning his being enslaved to sin, cries out “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7.24). Immediately, he answers his own question: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8.2).
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not about receiving an ability to do signs and wonders. Rather, the Spirit frees us from slavery to sin and empowers us to share freely in the sonship of Christ the Lord.
This is the core of Christian living – Spirit-filled participation in divine life. Of course, we never get it completely right in our earthly lives. But the Spirit, if we allow him, leads us ever more deeply into the life of God.
Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar calls this process “attunement.” The love which the Holy Spirit infuses in people “bestows also the taste for God and, so to speak, an understanding for God’s own taste.” Those baptized in the Spirit who respond to the call to follow Jesus are like harps which the Spirit tunes to play in harmony with God.
The tuning process lasts a lifetime, but those who willingly participate in it increasingly sound and taste and live like the Divine.
Attunement is our “ordinary time”; once we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit working through the Church enables us to participate ever more fully in the life of God. Here is a story worth sharing much more than we do.
[Sunday’s readings: Isaiah 49.3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1.1-3; John 1.29-34]