“Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk. Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?” Indeed, many are seeking meaning and fulfillment in life.
We know that the things of this earth cannot satisfy us, no matter how much we have. We might have a luxurious life. We might have plenty. Yet, our lives are empty and meaningless. Money, food, luxury alone and even career cannot give us real happiness in life.
Who, then, can give us fullness of life? St John wrote, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 Jn 5:11f) Faith in Christ is the key to the fullness of life. This faith renders us a share in Christ’s sonship. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God; and whoever loves the Father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.” The way to share in Christ’s sonship is through baptism which is given through faith.
Indeed, today, when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we are reminded of our own baptism. The baptism of Jesus is the basis for Christian baptism. Christ Himself did not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins because He was sinless. Yet, He insisted on John the Baptist baptizing Him for our sake. In being baptized with the waters of the Jordan, rather than being sanctified, Jesus sanctified the waters of the Jordan. By extension, He sanctified all the waters for the use of baptism. Through the symbol of water, the Lord saves us from our sins by His death and resurrection, since baptism is a call to being immersed in the water and to rise up a new person. Baptism is a commitment to die to our old selves and rise to a new life in Christ.
But water is also a symbol not just of death and newness of life, it is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded of the Samaritan Woman who asked for the living water. Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (Jn 4:10) Christ is the living water and the one who will baptize us in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said, “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” Consequently, the psalmist invites us, “Truly, God is my salvation, I trust, I shall not fear. For the Lord is my strength, my song, he became my saviour. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
Cleansed of our sins and given a new rebirth in the Holy Spirit, we are made sons and daughters of God. It is the Holy Spirit living in us that makes us children of God. It is the Holy Spirit living in us that gives us the experience of being sons and daughters of God, loved and empowered by Him. This was the experience of our Lord. “No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’” It was this consciousness of His sonship that propelled Him to begin the mission of proclaiming His Father’s unconditional love and mercy. St Paul affirmed this fact when he wrote, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:14-17)
Becoming a son and daughter of God entails that we are brought into complete union with Christ through the Sacraments of Initiation, namely, Baptism, the Eucharist and Confirmation. It is through the Sacraments of Initiation that we are made truly sons and daughters of God, sharing in the life of Christ. For this reason, St John wrote, “Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God: Jesus Christ who came by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood; with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth.”
Baptism is but a necessary gateway to all the sacraments of the Church. Baptism itself is not sufficient to save us. It only gives us the grace and the possibility to grow to adult manhood in Christ. St Paul makes is clear that the gifts He gave us are meant “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:12-14) After baptism, we must make full use of the means to sanctification provided by the Church of Christ, the other sacraments, the Eucharist, devotions, instructions and service to the community and to the poor. Through these means, we can grow in our discipleship.
Unfortunately, many of us are born again in baptism but never grow to full maturity! We do not take our dignity as sons and daughters of God seriously. St John wrote, “We can be sure that we love God’s children if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us; this is what loving God is – keeping his commandments.” If we do not live the life of Christ, then we are just children of God in name, not in fact. A nominal faith in Christ will not save us. In the commissioning, Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19f)
The truth is that parents do not instruct their children in the faith, or lesser still, show the way of faith by their examples and their Christian way of life. This explains why many of our children lose their faith, or their faith never truly grows. A number of them do not go to church, or for catechism classes and for the sacraments because their parents either do not bring them or discourage them from going. They would wait till it is the time to receive their First Communion or Confirmation, then they might bring them to Church. Of course, with such half-baked Catholics, many would leave the Church after Confirmation as they do not have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus, and a relationship with Him.
Prophet Isaiah invites us to “seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.” We are called to nurture ourselves in the Word of God. God’s word is effective and efficacious if we take the Word of God which we read, “not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Th 2:13) Indeed, “as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”
Through our love for the Word of God and the Eucharist as the Bread of Life, we will be able to nurture ourselves in the faith, strengthen our relationship with the Lord and with His body, the Church. Because many of us hardly pray the Word of God and meditate on it, we are not directed in our lives by the Spirit of Christ but by the spirit of the world. In addition, because we do not reinforce ourselves as members of the body of Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, our link with the Church is weak. Thus, when tempted by the world, we are easily deceived by the world. Without a love for the Word of God and the Eucharist, we cannot be enlightened in the truth or be more incorporated into the life of Christ.
One sure way we can grow in our faith is to be His witnesses. The Holy Spirit is given to us not just to build the Body of Christ and our personal faith but also to be His witnesses in the world. Only by testifying to Christ by our words and deeds, can we draw others to the Lord as we grow in our faith and love for Him. Indeed, baptism is the beginning of mission as was in the case of Jesus. It was His conscious experience of His sonship and the love of His Father that enabled Him to go about proclaiming the love of His Father. So too we cannot say that we are baptized and yet not be His witnesses. The failure to be His witnesses means that our baptism is just a ritual, a nominal faith. If we really believe that we are God’s children, that God loves us and that Christ is the Son of God, we will not stop sharing Christ with the world and those who are seeking fullness of life. So let us take to heart the exhortation of Isaiah “See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples, a leader and a master of the nations. See, you will summon a nation you never knew, those unknown will come hurrying to you, for the sake of the Lord your God, of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.”