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The Spirit working at Jesus' Baptism

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 11 July 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the life of Jesus as Messiah, that is, the one who is consecrated by the Holy Spirit's anointing (cf. Lk 4:18), there are key moments when the person of the Holy Spirit is shown to be intimately united to Christ's humanity and mission. We have seen that the first of these moments was the Incarnation. It occurred through the conception and birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit: " Conceptus de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine ," as the creed professes.

Another moment when the presence and action of the Holy Spirit took on special prominence was at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. We will look at that in today's catechesis.

2. All the evangelists have passed on that event to us (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:29-34). Let us read Mark's text: "It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him" (Mk 1:9-10). Jesus had come to the Jordan from Nazareth where he had spent his "hidden" years (we shall return again to that theme in an upcoming catechesis). Before his arrival, he had been heralded by John, who had been exhorting people to a "baptism of repentance." He preached thus: "one mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mk 1:7-8).

Here we are already on the threshold of the messianic era. With John's preaching the long preparatory period ended. It had taken place through the whole of the old covenant, and one could say through the whole of human history, narrated by the Sacred Scriptures. John sensed the greatness of that decisive moment, which he interpreted as the beginning of a new creation. He discovered in it the presence of the Spirit which had hovered over the first creation (cf. Jn 1:32; Gn 1:2). He knew that he was and professed himself to be only the herald, the precursor and minister of him who would come to "baptize with the Holy Spirit."

3. On his part, Jesus prepared himself by prayer for that moment of great importance in salvation history. In it the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son in the trinitarian mystery, was to manifest himself, though under representational signs, as present in Christ's humanity as the principle of divine life. We read in Luke: "While Jesus was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" (Lk 3:21-22). That same evangelist will narrate later that one day Jesus, teaching those following him along the byways of Palestine how to pray, said that "the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Lk 11:13). He himself asked for this greatest of gifts in order to carry out his own messianic mission. During the baptism in the Jordan he received an especially visible manifestation of it. It marked the messianic "investiture" of Jesus of Nazareth in the presence of John and his hearers. The Baptist bore witness to him "before Israel as the Messiah, that is, the one 'anointed' with the Holy Spirit" (DViv 19).

The Father heard the prayer of Jesus, who in his divine Person was the eternal Son of God, yet acting and praying in his human nature. He himself one day had told the Father: "I know that you always hear me" (Jn 11:42). This awareness resonated especially within him at the moment of the baptism, which was the public start of his redemptive mission, as John had understood and proclaimed. He introduced him who had come to "baptize in the Holy Spirit" (Mt 3:11) as the "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29).

4. Luke tells us that during Jesus' baptism in the Jordan "heaven opened" (Lk 3:21). Once the prophet Isaiah had invoked God saying: "O that you would rend the heavens and come down!" (Is 63:19). Here at the moment of the baptism, God seemed to have responded to this cry and heard this prayer. That opening of heaven is linked with the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon Christ. It was a visible sign that the prophet's prayer was heard and that his prophecy was fulfilled. That sign was accompanied by a voice from heaven: "And a voice came from the heavens: 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'" (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22). Therefore the sign entered the level of the sight (the dove) and the hearing (the voice) of the privileged beneficiaries of that extraordinary supernatural experience. The manifestation of the Father's eternal pleasure in the Son takes form above all in the human soul of Christ, but also to those present at the Jordan. Thus in the baptism at the Jordan a theophany occurred. Its trinitarian character is highlighted even more than in the narrative of the annunciation. The "opening of heaven" signifies at that moment a particular initiative of communication by the Father and the Holy Spirit with earth through the religious and almost ritualistic inauguration of the messianic mission of the Incarnate Word.

5. In John's text, what occurred during Jesus' baptism is described by the Baptist himself: "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'on whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God" (Jn 1:32-34). That means that, according to the evangelist, the Baptist shared that experience of the trinitarian theophany and understood (at least partially, by messianic faith) the significance of those words which the Father had pronounced: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Furthermore, among the other evangelists as well, it is significant that the word "Son" is used instead of the term "servant," found in the first song of Isaiah regarding the Lord's Servant: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit" (Is 42:1).

In their faith inspired by God, and in that of the early Christian community, the servant was identified with the Son of God (cf. Mt 12:18; 16:16) and the Spirit given him was recognized in his divine personhood as the Holy Spirit. Jesus on the eve of his passion said to the apostles that that very Spirit who descended on him during his baptism would work with him in carrying out the redemption: "He [the Spirit of truth] will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn 16:14).

6. A text of St. Irenaeus of Lyons is interesting in this regard. In commenting on the baptism in the Jordan, he states: "The Holy Spirit had promised through the prophets that in the last days he would be poured out upon his servants and handmaids so that they might prophesy. For that reason he descended upon the Son of God who was made son of man. He became accustomed along with him to dwell among the human race, to 'rest' in the midst of men and women and to reside among those who were created by God, bringing about within them the Father's will and renewing them in a way that transforms them from the 'old man' into the 'newness' of Christ" [1] . This text confirms that from the earliest centuries the Church has been aware of the association between Christ and the Holy Spirit in bringing about the new creation.

7. The symbol of the dove which appeared during the baptism at the Jordan was a sign of the Holy Spirit. In baptismal symbolism, the dove is linked to the water. According to certain Fathers of the Church it recalls what happened at the end of the flood, interpreting this too as a type of Christian baptism. We read in Genesis that when Noah "sent the dove out from the ark and the dove returned...there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had lessened on the earth" (Gen 8:10-11). The symbol of the dove indicates forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and renewal of the covenant. That is what finds its complete fulfillment in the messianic era, with the work of Christ the Redeemer and of the Holy Spirit."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

A numerosi pellegrini polacchi

Obchodziliśmy w Rzymie i na Łotwie pamięć Meinarda, pierwszego biskupa w Rydze. Rok 1986. Osiemset lat tego biskupstwa i tego Kościoła nad Bałtykiem. W naszych czasach Kościół w Rydze i jego sędziwy biskup, który niedawno zmarł, kard. Vaivods stał się punktem oparcia dla katolików rozproszonych na olbrzymich obszarach Rosji, Białorusi, Ukrainy, a także w głębi Azji, w Karagandzie (Kazachstan) oraz w różnych rejonach Syberii.

Seminarium w Rydze przyjmowało kandydatów z tych wszystkich rejonów. Wychodzili też stamtąd kapłani, aby służyć rozproszonym wspólnotom. Byli nieliczni, dochodzili do kapłaństwa z trudnościami - ale byli.

Ty, Matko Kościoła na Jasnej Górze, wiedziałaś o tym wszystkim. Tobie też dzięki składamy za macierzyńską obecność wśród tego Kościoła rozproszenia: za kapłanów, za wielu heroicznych duszpasterzy, za ukryte siostry zakonne, za wszystkich braci i siostry niezłomnych w wierze, wytrwałych i męzńych pośród prześladowań i upośledzeń, poprzez więzienia i łagry - aż do ofiary życia.

Dzisiaj ten Kościół zaczyna jak gdyby wyłaniać się spod ziemi. Zaczyna mówić o sobie. Daje świadectwo. Oczekuje na pełnię praw.

Dziękujemy więc Tobie, Matko Kościoła, za to bezcenne . . .

Ai fedeli di espressione francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,Je salue cordialement les francophones présents à cette audience et, en particulier, les Petits Chanteurs de Champagne que je félicite pour leur service liturgique et leur joie de chanter. En ce temps de vacances, je vous encourage tous à profiter de votre disponibilité pour renouveler votre expérience spirituelle, avant de reprendre avec énergie et générosité vos activités. Que Dieu vous bénisse!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,Iwish to welcome the priests from Los Angeles who are participating in a renewal programme, as well as the children’s choirs from England and South Africa. My special greeting goes to The Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who are preparing for final profession. Dear Sisters: I pray that you will always grow in love for the special vocation which God has given to you for your own sanctification and the sanctification of the world. To all the English-speaking visitors at today’s audience I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache sehr herzlich. Allen, die gegenwärtig Ferien machen, wünche ich gute Erholung. Euch und Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Hörerinnen und Hörern erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli giunti dalla Spagna e da alcuni Paesi dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular a la peregrinación procedente de Puerto Rico, que acompaña al Señor Cardenal Aponte Martínez, Arzobispo de San Juan.

Igualmente saludo a la delegación deportiva del Instituto Salesiano San Miguel, de Tegucigalpa (HondurasA todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,Aos peregrinos portugueses residentes na Califórnia e aos do Brasil provindos de São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte e aos que pertencem à Paróquia de Nossa Senhora de Fátima da cidade de Belém do Pará, como penhor de abundantes dons divinos que sirvam de estímulo para sua vida cristã, concedo benevolamente minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani

Desidero ora rivolgere un cordiale benvenuto ai gruppi di lingua italiana: abbiamo tra noi i pellegrini della Parrocchia di Santa Maria delle Vergini, di Scafati, in diocesi di Nola, ed un gruppo di Suore Adoratrici del Sangue di Cristo.

I pellegrini di Scafati desiderano far benedire una preziosa statua della Madonna, protettrice della loro Parrocchia. Cari fratelli e sorelle, vi auguro che questo pellegrinaggio vi sia di stimolo per una vita cristiana sempre fervorosa ed intensa, sotto la protezione di Maria, che e la guida sicura verso il Cristo.

Al gruppo delle Religiose, provenienti da varie parti del mondo, ed attualmente impegnate in un corso di spiritualità, auguro che questi incontri di studio servano ad approfondire il Mistero del Sangue di Cristo, che ci lava dai nostri peccati. La devozione al Sangue Preziosissimo, a cui è dedicato il mese di luglio, vi aiuti a progredire sempre più nell’amore verso il Redentore.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

La festa di San Benedetto, Patrono d’Europa, che oggi celebriamo, mi dà lo spunto per esprimere il mio saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e ai novelli sposi, presenti a questa Udienza.

Voi, giovani, siate costruttori di una nuova mentalità di comunione in questo Continente che, pur diversificandosi nelle sue lingue e culture, si fonda su un comune patrimonio cristiano, al quale San Benedetto e i suoi monaci diedero un grande incremento.

Chiedo a voi, malati, di pregare perché l’Europa diventi effettivamente la casa comune delle diverse comunità nazionali e viva nella pace, nel rispetto e nella solidarietà spirituale e materiale.

Voi, sposi novelli, alimentate nella vostra famiglia e nella società un modo di vedere e di pensare che si ispiri al vero amore cristiano e alla reciproca stima e simpatia. A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica. 

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