The disciples of John the Baptist, many years after his death, were still out proclaiming John’s call to repentance. They would baptize with water, symbolizing the cleansing of the sinfulness people were letting go of. This kind of preaching called people to make a very good examination of conscience. They were awakened to a deeper awareness of their sinfulness and they cried out to God to cleanse them of these sins.
Paul reminds some folk in Ephesus who had received the baptism of John the Baptist, that John himself spoke of one coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. This person was Jesus. To be baptized in the name of Jesus was not only a cry to be cleansed of sins but an opening to the great power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus has released. This baptism not only cleansed the soul but brought it into union with God in a mighty way and empowered it for it earthly journey.
In the early church, to receive the Holy Sprit at baptism was not just a belief in an invisible effect. It was an actual manifest experience. People knew clearly whether or not they had received the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were visible; "they spoke in tongues and prophesied."
For some years I was very active in the Charismatic Movement. At the heart of this movement was the belief that we all have received the Holy Spirit at baptism. However, so many of us put this mighty power inside a thick lead box and say, "Holy Spirit I want you to be with me. But stay here and do not bother me." The Charismatic Movement had as its goal, the "release" of this boxed up gift of God, the release of the Holy Spirit. The initial release was so powerful in our age, that it set many, many lives on fire. Initially it was "out of control" so to speak. But, things settled down and hopefully the fire is burning deeply and powerfully inside the lives of many people today.
We are getting near the great feast of Pentecost. Let us dare to pray for the release of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. There will be no doubt that we have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Blaise Czaja, C.P. gives parish missions and retreats. He is a member of the Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.