by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
We celebrated the conclusion of the Christmas season this year out of the usual sequence with which we are familiar. Because Christmas was celebrated on Sunday, the usual celebrations of the Holy Family and the Baptism of the Lord had to occur on weekdays and not as holy days of obligation. The Feast Day of the Baptism of the Lord was just celebrated on Monday, Jan. 9, when the Christmas season concluded. We have returned to the liturgical cycle known as Ordinary Time.
The Baptism of the Lord reminds us of the importance of our own Baptism. It reminds us of the sign of water used in the sacrament and its importance in our spiritual lives, especially since Baptism is the gateway to the Eucharist. We are baptized in order that we can participate in the Eucharist. At the beginning of Ordinary Time, it is important to reflect that nothing in the spiritual life is ordinary. It is a fitting time to reflect upon the sign of water in Baptism, which leads to the Eucharist. The Gospel of St. John is filled with the image of water.
It is significant to note that John begins his Gospel with the same words as does the Book of Genesis describing creation, “in the beginning.” In doing so, he is recalling creation, and Genesis tells us that the first element God created was that of water. We are told that God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, which He separated to form heaven and earth. Water becomes a primary element of life used as a powerful image in salvation history. From the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, water is constantly used by Jesus in His saving acts, and John ultimately ties it to the Eucharist and Christ’s saving act on the Cross.
Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of St. John is ushered in by a miracle pertaining to water. As the Lord attends a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee, the bride and groom run out of wine. At the urging of Mary, Jesus changes water into wine. This miracle not only is the first of the signs of Jesus’ ministry, but also points to the miracle when he will change wine into his very Blood at the Last Supper. Immediately after this miracle, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee, who is much attached to the message of Jesus. Jesus makes clear to Nicodemus that to become part of the Kingdom of God one must be “born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). Here again, water is a significant sign which pertains not only to Baptism but also to the healing message of Christ.
It is in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of St. John that we encounter one of the most significant references to water in the Gospel, which underlies an important aspect of John’s use of water. Here, Jesus, passing through Samaria, requests water from a woman sitting by a well. A rather lengthy theological discourse is entered into by Jesus and the woman in which Jesus refers to the water that He will give which will quench all thirst. He again refers to this water in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John when He says, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (Jn 7:10). The thirst of Jesus, asking the woman for water, is a thirsting for all of us. It is He who is able to quench all longing and thirsting. His thirst is that we may come to Him for our thirst to be quenched. This is indeed one of the central themes of the Gospel of St. John.
We can continue to point to many other uses of the element of water in St. John’s Gospel. However, it is essential to realize that these references to water refer to the living water which Christ will give us in Baptism and also His thirst for real relationship with Him, which begins through Baptism. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus uses water to wash His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. This use of water at the Last Supper, a paramount action of Christ, is significant since St. John does not narrate the actual words of the institution of the Eucharist. He associates this institution with Christ’s humbling action in the washing of His disciples’ feet with water as a symbol of His thirst for us. After this, Christ utters His most significant words in regard to water before He gives up His Spirit on the Cross when He cries, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). This thirst is for each one of us – the reason He came and gave His life on the Cross. After He gives up His Spirit, St. John tells us that His side is pierced with a lance and immediately flow out Blood and water. This water from the side of Christ, mingled with His Blood, is His giving Himself to us. This again happens every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
While Christ is the one who satisfies our thirst, His thirst for us precedes ours for Him. God created us for Himself, and only a real relationship with Him brings happiness and fulfillment in life. He created us because He desires this real relationship with us, and so He has put an insatiable thirst inside of us, which is directed to Him. Nothing will satisfy the deepest yearning of our hearts except God Himself.
The first letter of St. John makes clear God’s thirst for us impelled Him to send His own Son into the world when we were unwilling to recognize our thirst for Him. He poignantly states, “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and sent His Son as an expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). St. Paul expresses this profound truth when he says, “For our sake he made him to be sin, who did not know sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (1 Cor 5:21). In the waters of Baptism and in the Blood and water that flow from the side of Christ, which we receive in the Eucharist, Christ quenches our thirst and invites us to quench His.
During the preparation of the gifts at the celebration of Mass, the priest pours a small drop of water into a chalice of wine, saying the following words, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The wine obviously represents Christ since it will be consecrated into His Blood. The one small drop of water, insignificant as it is, represents all of us who are united with Christ in His sacrifice in the Eucharist. Here we have an insight into the depth of God’s love for us and His desire for us to enter into a real relationship with Him.
During this Ordinary Time, may we give the Lord the water for which He thirsts. May we enter more deeply into a relationship with Him, realizing that through the saving waters of Baptism, brought to fulfillment in the Eucharist, we find our thirst quenched in Christ.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 13, 2023