Herrens dop/The feast of the baptism of the Lord

Dom Benedict Hardy OSB

Oh come to the water, all you who are thirsty! (Is 55:1)

Water is such a commonplace element! It falls abundantly out of the sky; it rises up from the ground; it surrounds us in the sea; it fills our rivers and lakes; just now it clothes our landscape with a coverlet of snow: and all free of charge! Yet a rich man who is truly thirsty will willingly hand over a sackful of diamonds in return for a single cup of water. Nothing can live without water. Thirst is tormenting agony. Lack of water means the desert, sterility, death. Yet also, water is dangerous. Even a little can drown us. Too much water out of control can bring devastation and destruction; it can overwhelm even cities.

Holy Scripture frequently takes the image of water as a symbol for all God’s blessings and gifts, or, as in Noah’s flood, for the chaos that follows man’s rejection of him and his law. Our dependence on water is a good and natural image for our total dependence, for everything, on God. We deceive ourselves if we think we can establish our own security apart from God, through our wealth, or power, or technology. So we turn to him in all our needs, and we ever give him thanks for all his gifts.

Yet beyond our physical needs and material dependency, we all have a deeper need, and a more radical dependence. We need God: we need to live in friendship with him, in communion with him. We were made for that: without it we cannot be happy. In Holy Scripture water also stands as a symbol for the satisfying of that need; for the slaking of that thirst; for the strictly supernatural life that comes to us as pure gift, from God alone. So water in Holy Scripture stands above all as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Today we hear the Lord cry out to us through the Prophet Isaiah: Come to the water! The reading is very familiar to us from the Easter Vigil. It’s evoked also at the end of the Apocalypse, where St. John writes: Let all who are thirsty come. All who want it may have the water of life, and have it free! (Apoc 22:17).

The business of the Catholic Church is to announce to the whole world that this water is available; that it flows freely for anyone at all who wants it. In our confused, inconsistent, sometimes barely coherent way, we all seek, or want it. Whether or not we confess openly that we want God, we all want life in its fullness; we want purity and goodness; we want holiness; we want what is eternal. And for his part – but how much more! – God seeks us, and wants us. God offers us precisely what we need, in

unlimited generosity, and he urges us to accept it. In today’s mystery, the Baptism of the Lord, the symbolic language of the Old Testament finds its perfect fulfilment. In Jesus God manifests himself to us, reaches out to us, in human form. In Jesus, God’s invitation to life with him, his gift of the Holy Spirit, becomes definitive.
One day Jesus met a woman at a well in Samaria, when he himself was thirsty. He said to her there: Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never be thirsty again. For the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up for eternal life (Jn 4:14).

Through today’s Feast Jesus again cries out to us, on behalf of his Father: Come to the water I offer you! Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will refresh you! Specifically: come to the waters of Baptism! Come to faith; come to conversion; come to riches that are true and will last forever! Come to life everlasting, given as free gift! Come also to inherit all the riches that Baptism contains. Come to liberation from sin! Come to a new and better birth in me, through the power of the Holy Spirit! Come out of the darkness, and into the light! Come to adoption as children of God! Come to share in my own divine Sonship! Come with me to heaven! Come to eternal communion with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity!

In today’s Gospel, St. Mark tells us, in starkly brief narrative, that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. This seems very strange. What on earth is going on here? What is he doing; what does it mean? My thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord, nor are my ways your ways (Is 55:8).

Each day this week at Vigils we’ve been listening to the Fathers of the Church, of East and West, marvellously unfolding for us some of the implications of this tremendous mystery. As God, Jesus steps into the waters in order to sanctify them. He confers on them the power to wash away not only dirt, but also sin; he makes them able not only to nourish life, but also to raise it up from death. Then also: in his humiliation and condescension, Jesus enters the waters as man. He enters them with us, for us, so that with him we too might be anointed with the Holy Spirit; so that the heavens may be opened for us too, and the voice of the Father declare us his beloved Sons, on whom his favour rests.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a day for us to give thanks to God for all his wonderful gifts. We thank him above all for the gift of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ; for all his redeeming work; for the gift of our baptism into him.

Today is also an occasion for us to renew our resolution not to cast all these gifts away; not to be careless with the treasures we have received. Today we commit ourselves once again to conversion of heart; to putting away from us our habits of sin; to live as befits the sanctified children of God.

And today also we pray especially for the non baptized; for those who do not know Jesus or his holy Catholic Church; and for those who have fallen away from friendship with him. Today the proclamation of Divine Mercy is reiterated. We pray that all may hear it; that the divine invitation may not return to him empty. Like the snow and rain that comes down from heaven, may the offer of divine forgiveness that is manifested today be effective in carrying out his will; succeeding in all that it was sent to do (Is 55:11).