In today's gospel reading, we hear the account of the baptism of Jesus. Although Jesus is divine in nature, he chooses to show his human nature by being baptized. We also hear the Holy Spirit "descends from the sky like a dove". In other gospel accounts, God's voice declares, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (MT 3:17; MK 3:22; LK 3:22.) How does this baptism account relate to us?
With the Sacrament of Baptism, each of us is initiated into the church. We are reborn as children of God. We are freed from original sin. We receive sanctifying grace to help us do God's will in life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church - The Sacraments of Christian Initiation; Article 1) Just as it was for Jesus, baptism is a defining moment in our lives.
As a child growing up at Sacred Heart Church, a rural parish near Lawler, I remember seeing several images of God near the main altar. There was the image of a hovering dove, representing the Holy Spirit as described in the baptism of Jesus. There was the image of a lamb holding a cross, representing Jesus, the Lamb of God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Both images looked nice, but I wanted to know more about them, and why they were chosen.
In particular, how does the dove image relate to the Sacrament of Baptism? It can be explained. Besides representing the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus, a dove is a symbol for purity, peace, and grace. God grants sanctifying grace through the Sacrament of Baptism, as well as in other sacraments. The Holy Spirit can be described in additional ways: our bodies are called temples of the Holy Spirit because God acts in and through us; the Holy Spirit is described as "the breath of God" ; Jesus is described as "the Word of God". Perhaps the dove and lamb images were easy to understand and became traditional choices over time.
As a child I thought of Jesus with His Sacred Heart because the church had a large statue of Him above the main altar. As the Sacred Heart, God loves all His people and creation. In a related way last year, I read the book, Life of the Beloved, by Fr. Henri Nouwen. The book was assigned reading for the Impact group I'm involved with at St. Mary. Father Nouwen explained that every person is beloved by God. We are the beloved sons and daughters of God at all times and in all ways. How inspiring and life changing that idea is for those who believe! These words took me back to the account of Jesus' baptism, and what God's voice said, "You are my beloved ...". How fortunate we are to be loved, like Jesus, by such a generous God.
The images and words from the Sacrament of Baptism express how the Holy Spirit lives in us, around us, and through us. So, how do these images resonate with you? How do you experience the Holy Spirit in your life?
Chuck & Phyllis Carlin