2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached January 19, 2020; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord and this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel continues on the same theme. Jesus, upon whom the Holy Spirit descended in his baptism, is proclaimed by St. John the Baptist as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. In this way St. John the Baptist makes clear for us the connection between Jesus’ baptism and ours.
Before I enter further into today’s Gospel, I would like to review something I spoke about last Sunday: the supernatural life and the supernatural order.
The supernatural life is the life of grace, sanctifying grace, a true sharing in the life of knowledge and love that belongs to the Holy Trinity. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that begins in baptism. It is Jesus, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, who gives us the Holy Spirit and works in us through the Holy Spirit, uniting us to himself and making us to be like him.
The supernatural order includes not only the life of grace, but also the whole visible order of the sacraments and of the Church that serves the supernatural life of grace. In addition it includes the internal order characterized by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, that flow forth from the life of grace.
It is called ‘supernatural’ because it is above anything that belongs by right to any created nature. Through the supernatural life, our natural life is purified, healed, elevated, and transformed, so as to share the inner life of God, the most Holy Trinity. We could liken this transformation to the change of water into wine at the wedding of Cana. This means that our collaboration is needed for the transformation to take place. Like the servants at Cana who filled the jars with water, we must do whatever Jesus tells us.
Now, returning to today’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed as the Son of God made man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and the Messiah who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” He comes down from heaven precisely by taking a human nature for himself and being born of the Virgin Mary, a man like us in all things but sin. He makes use of his sacred humanity as an instrument for our salvation. This works in two basic, interrelated ways. First, as the Lamb of God he offers his humanity on the Cross, in obedience to the will of the Father, as a sacrifice of expiation for our sins. That removes the obstacle to our union with God. Then as Messiah, he communicates to us his own life in the Holy Spirit, the life of grace, the supernatural life. Both aspects of this work are begun in us through baptism, which wipes away our sins and gives the life of grace, making us to be children of God.
Notice that St. John the Baptist speaks about the Lamb of God taking away ‘the sin of the world’ in the singular. This refers to the sin of Adam that, the words are inadequate but there is really no other way to say it, turned the whole human race into an enemy of God, making the human race, as such, to be hateful to God.
Well, God loves even his enemies; he sends the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of Adam through the sacrifice of the Cross. If the sin of Adam made mankind hateful to God, how much more then does the obedience of Jesus Christ make mankind pleasing to God.
Just as through transgression of one condemnation came upon all, so through the justice of one justification of life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made just … where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more. (Rm 5:18-19,20)
We could say that now, for the whole of mankind before God, the justice of Christ weighs heavier in the balance than the sin of Adam. Nevertheless, individually, through our birth we are under the sin of Adam and are only brought under the justice of Christ through our baptism.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This gives us both the forgiveness of sins and the life of grace. There is, however, another very important effect, belonging to the supernatural order, that the Holy Spirit produces in our soul through baptism and brings to completion through confirmation. It is called the sacramental ‘character’ or ‘seal’.
St. Paul writes: The one who confirms us with you in Christ, and anointed us is God, who has also sealed us and given us the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts. 2 Cor 1:21-22)
The life of grace can be lost through mortal sin, but the sacramental character is indestructible; the sacramental character marks us forever as belonging to Christ. In this way the sacramental character is always a sign of hope and a call to repentance, to return to the life of grace and to grow in the life of grace.
The life of grace makes us to share in the life of Jesus Christ, but the sacramental character makes us to share in the mission of Jesus Christ, prophet, priest, and king.
The word Christ comes from the Greek and is a translation of the Hebrew word, Messiah, both of which translated into English as ‘Anointed One’. Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit and he anoints us to share his mission. He is the Christ and he makes us to be christs.
The baptismal character calls us, as ‘prophets’, to receive the word of God in faith and the character of confirmation summons us further to bear public witness to the word of God by our words and actions.
The baptismal character, as a priestly character, gives us the power to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, to participate in Christian worship as members of the Body of Christ, and to receive the other sacraments. The baptismal characters calls us as ‘priests’ to offer our bodies, our lives, as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God, (cf. Rm 12:1) and to do everything in word and work in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (cf. Col 3:17). The character of confirmation strengthens us to follow Christ, the High Priest, who was obedient unto death, death on a Cross. (cf. Ph 2:8) The character of confirmation gives us the strength for the worship of martyrdom if that be God’s will.
The baptismal character calls us to be ‘kings’ who rule over ourselves, no longer conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf. Rm 12:2), taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ (cf. 2 Cor 10:5), and putting to death our earthly parts: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. (Col 3:5) The character of confirmation calls us further to order the affairs of this world in accord with the Gospel of Christ.
What God calls us to do, he gives us the power to accomplish through the gift of the Holy Spirit, provided that we are living as his children, that we have the life of grace within us.