BAPTISM OF OUR LORD – SPIRITUAL BIRTH
BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
Is. 40: 1-5, 9-11 Tit. 2: 11-14; 3: 4-7 Lk. 3: 15-16, 21-22
Baptism offers us grace to keep our life in the right track.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the sacrament of Baptism bestows two principle effects on the receiver: (a). Purification from all sins, especially the Original Sin, and (b). New birth in the Holy Spirit (no. 1262).
(a). Purification from all sins, especially the Original Sin
The story of Adam and Eve is more theological than historical. Let us try to unravel the theological significance of the ‘sin’ committed by the first parents. There were two trees which were in the middle of the garden of Eden: One was the tree of life, and another, the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2: 9). God told the first parents not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and not that of the tree of life (Gen. 2: 16, 17).
These two trees can be understood to signify two ways of achieving our happiness in life. Tree of life symbolizes the fulfilment and happiness that we get by our relationship with God, the author and source of life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil can mean to signify and symbolize our mind. It is with the help of mind we say that something is good or bad. Original Sin is basically the human tendency to look for happiness with the aid of mind. The tendency of human mind is to operate on the fulcrum of likes and dislikes. That is, our mind tries to hold on what it likes and to keep away what it does not like. This notion of likes and dislikes may take various nuanced positions – such as good and bad, helpful and unhelpful etc., – depending upon the maturity of one’s mind. If we ask a person what would make him/her happy, the invariable and immediate answer would be, ‘What I like/expect should happen and what I don’t like/expect should not happen.’ Needless to say that such an answer is nothing but the prompting of one’s mind.
The problem here is that even if people get what they want/desire, they don’t seem to be happy. Quite often, our mind prompts us that successful achievement of certain things such as money, power, position, wealth etc., would make our life more complete and fulfilled. However when people achieve these things, they do not seem to enjoy the benefits, the mind had earlier promised. Though the mind convinces us that fulfilment of our desires would make our lives better, in reality what we find after fulfilling our desires is not happiness, but more craving and more desires. The mind simply deceives us. This is what we see in our first parents. They thought that eating the forbidden fruit would help them to open up their eyes; to become like God; to have a life without death etc. (Gen. 3: 3,4). However, after eating the forbidden fruit, though their eyes were opened, they did not see themselves as Gods, but what they saw was only their nakedness (Gen. 3: 7). They did not enjoy a life without death; Rather they saw themselves facing death directly.
The advaitic theory of Indian tradition speaks of māya as the primary responsible factor for human suffering. Māya is the delusion of the mind which makes us believe that happiness consists in the fulfilment of our physical cravings and mental inclinations. But the bitter truth is that fulfilment of our physical and mental inclinations lead us not to happiness, but to further craving. In Bhagavad Gita, we see Arjuna asking Krishna the reason for people’s suffering. Krishna answers that people suffer because of their desires. “If a desire is not fulfilled it leads to disappointment. Instead, if a desire is fulfilled, it leads to further cravings and more desires.
The grace that we receive through baptism helps us not to yields to such delusive tactics of our mind and march in the right path of happiness. The words of St. Paul in the second reading that the grace of God trains us “to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” precisely point to this fact. It is this grace that is bestowed upon us in the sacrament of baptism – the grace which helps us to move away from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to the tree of life
b). New Birth in the Spirit:
Our mind’s constant prompting that the more we are in touch with the material world, the more our happiness will be is anything other than the truth. The grace that we receive in baptism instructs us that it is by being in touch with the Spirit more and more, we can increase the quality of our life to a greater level. That Jesus received the Spirit during the baptism precisely points to this fact.
Pope St. Paul VI spoke in a splendid manner of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church: “The Holy Spirit is the animator and sanctifier of the Church, her divine breath, the wind in her sails, her unifying principle, her interior source of light and strength, her support and her consoler, her source of charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her reward and prelude of blessed and eternal life. The Church needs this perennial Pentecost; it needs fire in the heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her glance.”