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.

Setting Captives Free

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How saddened the disciples were that Jesus would not be with them much longer in the way they had imagined He would be.  While their encounter with the Living Word-made-Flesh had turned their lives completely upside down, journeying with Him during the years of His public ministry, they still did not understand the full picture.  In the Gospel today, Jesus sees the grief that fills their hearts in this moment, knowing still the grief yet to come at His Crucifixion, but also knowing the complete joy of His Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is the deep reception of the Holy Spirit in their inmost beings that set the Apostles on fire after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they can be faithful to their mission of baptizing the world in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, no matter where they go or what they endure.

In the first reading, we see Paul and Silas stripped, beaten severely and thrown into jail.  Yet even there the kingdom of God reigns.  Though they are prisoners in every outward sense—put in the “innermost cell” with their feet secured to a stake—they are set free in their innermost selves by Christ and able to be instruments of God’s grace, singing His praises and praying in the dark of night.

Imagine being one of the prisoners nearby, overhearing their love for God spilling forth.  Would you scoff at them?  Might your own heart be stirred to whisper a small prayer of thanksgiving?

Either way, you’d definitely be most attentive the moment you felt the earthquake shake the very foundations of the jail!  What a dramatic revelation of God’s glory!  Each prisoner being set free from bondage—chains broken, doors blown open, light piercing their own hearts.  This freedom is not just physical, but spiritual—freedom from sin.  This outward manifestation of God’s power seems small compared to the inner transformation of the jailer, much like the instance where Jesus healed the paralytic, saying first “Your sins are forgiven,” and then performing a physical miracle to account for our poor human blindness (Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26).

For the jailer and his family to have received the Holy Spirit so as to know the truth of Jesus Christ is a true miracle and a cause for great rejoicing indeed!

And what about us?  How is it that we live in the light and joy of this truth, no matter how dark our present situation may seem?  And do we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us so as to be ministers of joy and truth to others in our lives who may themselves feel imprisoned by doubts, sadness or trouble? 

By virtue of the Sacraments and living in a state of grace, we have the Holy Spirit! We too are set free!  Jesus promised His disciples, as He promises us, that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  And what a mighty work He has done!  No matter if we were born into the Faith or converted later (or find ourselves on the path of conversion!), it is a gift that by His Light we know Light. 

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
~Ps. 138:7-8

What a grace it is to be transformed in the waters of baptism, confirmed in the Faith, brought freedom from our sins in reconciliation, and to receive JESUS Himself in the Holy Eucharist! The Lord has a plan for our lives. We must trust Him every step of the way and bear the crosses He allows us to carry for our sanctification, for even in the darkest night He is the Light we need.

We still have some days of Easter left, before arriving to the great Feast of Pentecost.  Prepare your hearts and souls to grow closer to the Holy Spirit. Receive a new outpouring of the Spirit by praying a Pentecost Novena, learning the Veni, Creator Spiritus prayer (which St. JPII prayed every day!) and shedding any chains of bondage to sin in the confessional.

God awaits to do marvelous things in your soul. Let Him in ever more! And let us cry as one with the whole Church, Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well-beloved Spouse!