In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’” (Mt 3: 1-11)

The great John the Baptist! He does so much for us, “immersing” or “baptizing” us in repentance, confession of sins, and by his own example, asceticism. All this is important for “making straight” in our hearts “the paths of the Lord.” But it isn’t enough to “save” us; that is to say, to restore us to wholeness and oneness with God, within ourselves, and with one another.

For that kind of restoration, we need a baptism “with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” which only the God-Man could accomplish, by “immersing” Himself, by the “fire” of His inimitable love for us, into our death, and emerging from there into new life, in His resurrection. We participate in that mystery, in His death and resurrection, in the sacrament of baptism, which “sparks” in us a new life and a new love. Today let me remember the “spark” I received in baptism, ignited by the “fire” of God’s love for me, that I may foster it by His way of living and loving.

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