Awakened by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood

“So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.”

1 John 5:7-8

At church this past Sunday, we stood in line to receive a personal dousing of Holy Water from the priest in renewal of our Baptisms. My baby girl had finally fallen asleep in my arms, but you better believe she awoke when she felt that Holy Water spray her! Luckily, and no doubt in God’s freshly bestowed grace, she fell right back asleep. Earlier during the liturgy, drops of the Precious Blood of Jesus in the Eucharistic form of wine woke her from her slumber as the priest placed them upon her teeny lips. Twice on Sunday she was awoken by sacramental encounters with Jesus. 

If you have never heard of a baby receiving the Eucharist or a communion line-style Baptismal renewal, don’t worry. These traditions were foreign to me a few years ago. They are traditions of the Byzantine Catholic Church. When I met my husband he introduced me to the Byzantine Rite, an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church in full union with the Pope and the Roman, or Latin, Rite of Catholicism. While the Roman Catholic Church will celebrate Jesus’ Baptism this coming Sunday, we celebrated it last week in the Byzantine Church. In both rites of the Church, especially through the Sacraments, we encounter the Spirit, the water, and the Blood John speaks of in today’s first reading

Some of us may be familiar with this standard definition of a Sacrament: “an outward sign of an inward grace” instituted by Christ Himself. Indeed, the sacraments are physical realities in which we encounter the living Christ and His Holy Spirit. In the three Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist, we encounter the water, the Spirit, and the Blood of 1 John 5. (NOTE: In the Eastern Tradition, babies and children entering the church receive the three sacraments of initiation at the same time. Yes, even the youngest, the baby Byzantines, receive a drop of the Precious Blood of Jesus on their lips. This explains why my baby had been awoken by the Eucharist on her lips in church this past Sunday.)

The waters of our Baptism, through God’s grace, signify that we have become His precious son or daughter. The Holy Chrism, or oil, of our Confirmation or Chrismation, is the sign that communicates the seal of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit which were made ours through our Baptism. The Precious Body and Blood of Jesus present in the Eucharist unite us more fully to Him and allow us to enter into the Mystery of the Cross. We are members of a Church that makes the spiritual realities of the faith tangible. We actively participate in these Sacraments to signify our spiritual relationship with the Living Son of God. John’s words in the first reading are a call to action, a call to live out our faith in Christ. The Sacraments of Initiation provide our initial encounters with this Spirit, this water, and this Blood of Jesus. 

The Gospel shows us how this call moves outside the sanctuary of the Church to the world beyond Her walls. Jesus’ healing of a leper reminds us of the cleansing He has imparted on our own souls — and how we can now be His hands and feet to impart this on others. See, we have been healed by Christ not only for our own sake, but also for the building up of the Kingdom. We have been sacramentally initiated, welcomed into the family of the Church by our good Father through His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit. This is why celebrating His Baptism every year, renewing our baptismal promises, and being doused anew with the waters of the Spirit is so important for our spiritual life. Each week we are nourished by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. God provides us with the grace we need to share our own healing with others, so that they may know that they are loved by God in this same way, and may be invited into His healing love. Most of us are in a continual process of healing of whatever forms of “leprosy” we are sick with — the Divine Healer continues to heal, cleanse, and purify us. Though even as we are in the process of deeper healing, He wants to use us to bring the people we encounter into His healing Love.

May we all be awoken by the drops of Holy Water that land on our faces and by the drops of Jesus’ Precious Blood that touch our lips. His Spirit is alive and well and among us. In fact, it dwells within us. Let us ask Him how He wants us to share the Spirit, the water, and the Blood that we’ve been so blessed to encounter.

The Precious Blood of Christ, the Price for Which We Were Bought

Beloved:
Realize that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious Blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished Lamb.
He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.
– 1 Peter 1:18-21

We’ve heard the message before: “You were bought at a price!”

But what does this mean to us? How does this affect our lives? It is an incredible faith exercise to reflect upon what exactly that price was. One of the main reasons gold and silver have been valued through the ages is their constancy/durability. How many things in life change our perspective so deeply that we would see them as perishable? Bananas are perishable, not gold or silver.

Such is the Blood of Christ.

In Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (happy birthday yesterday, GK!), he touches on this theme in a way that has stuck with me for years: we ought to reflect on the constant things in life, because they speak to God’s imperishable love. Atheists, he notes, take the rigid laws of nature, the rising and setting of the sun, as proof that these realities are, in fact, dull and unquestionable. The universe does not behave any other way because it could not behave in any other way, so the laws of thermodynamics and gravity, for example, are not proof of some greater design, but simply normal.

However, I would bet that even among non-believers, most people would be more likely to acknowledge the staggering improbability of it all. Life, the universe, all of it. Instead of a fatalist boredom, to these the vastness of creation inspires an admittedly uninspiring thought: we were just really, really lucky. With trillions of stars, planets, and combinations of the periodic table throughout all existence, there was bound to be a fortunate set of conditions such as ours. We were the 00 on the enormous roulette wheel of the universe, so we might as well cash in.

As believers, our job is to actively believe otherwise. We all have our experiences of the living God in our lives that refute any kind of inevitability or impersonal cosmic fluke of creation as the source of Goodness. Haven’t you? Where does the goodness in your life come from? Do you attribute it to the Living Water? We must protect and proclaim these experiences of Christ’s Blood covering us, keeping them lit as we do the candle above the tabernacle.

There is something more inside.

Take time contemplate the vastness of the universe in the upcoming weeks. Read The Divine Comedy or The Tempest. Listen to Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Watch Planet Earth or Cosmos (and pray for Neil Degrasse Tyson’s ultimate conversion, I know it’s gonna happen!). Go for a walk and the count the homes you pass. God knows them all inside and out. He knows every soul fully. In a city of 8.5 million, that ought to have an effect on you. Bask in the hugeness of creation, and know that Christ was known before any of it was known. He was “known before the foundation” and revealed to us. The Creator burst into our reality, took on our form for Love’s sake, and imprinted Himself on every one of our hearts.

Such is the Blood of Christ.

“O, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in’t!” 

― William Shakespeare, The Tempest