Jesus’ Baptism and the Holy Spirit

Just how the period of retirement in the life of the Lord came to an end is not recorded. The Evangelists write only that one day, as John stands preaching and baptizing on the Jordan, Jesus suddenly appears and demands baptism. Startled, John replies: “It is I who ought to be baptized by thee, and dost thou come to me?” but Jesus only answers: “Let it be so now, for so it becomes us to fulfill all justice.” And John acquiesces. The heavens open, the dove descends, and the voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13–17). Jesus arrives at the Jordan, the profound experience of childhood and the long process of maturity behind him. He is fully aware of the stupendousness of the task before him and of the powers that rise to meet it from the depths of his being. Yet his first gesture, first words are an expression of deep humility. No claims to special privileges; no: that may be the law for others, but not for me! He goes up to John and asks to be baptized. To demand baptism implies readiness to accept the word of the baptizer, to admit oneself a sinner, to do penance, and to accept willingly all that God sends, however difficult. No wonder John is startled and tries to dissuade him! But Jesus quietly takes his place in line. He refuses to be an exception; voluntarily, he places himself within the law that is valid for all. This humble descent to the human level was immediately answered by an outpouring from above. Since the fall of man (and the resultant corruption of nature—Rom. 8:20–22) a barrier had separated us from the beatific presence of the omnipresent God in his heaven. For a moment this barrier was removed. While Jesus stood there praying, writes Luke, stressing that it was a spiritual event, an infinite encounter took place: the illimitable abundance of the divine Father streamed into the Son’s human heart. Event “in the spirit” obviously; yet also an act as real, or more real, than any tangible reality. The Holy Spirit lifts man beyond himself in order that he may experience God the Holy One and his love.

Servant of God Fr. Romano Guardini (1885 – 1968), author and academic, was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th-century. This essay is adapted from his most famous book, The Lord. He was a mentor to such prominent theologians as Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger.