God comes to remain. The Holy Spirit calms our fear of abandonment

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

“John testified further, saying: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him […] And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’”.  (Jn 1:32.34)

The event of Jesus’ Baptism, celebrated last Monday, is recalled once again in this Sunday’s Gospel (Jn 1:29-43), as if the liturgy does not want us to skip this important moment in the life of Jesus.

In the Gospel passage we notice the special union between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God incarnated in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and during His baptism the Spirit visibly “came down” like a dove and “remained” on Jesus, now a young adult at the beginning of His public mission.

These two verbs, “to come down” (which is a “reaching out”) and “to remain”, are very essential for the development of a committed relationship, even from a merely psychological point of view. If one cannot rely on dependable, predictable and consistent presence of loving caregivers in the process of growth, even though there might be inevitable conflicts and disagreements, then that person might experience anxiety and fear of abandonment.

Those verbs are also important from a theological point of view. The “divine descent” describes God’s constant, passionate and radical effort to bridge the distance between Him and humanity. We wrongly perceive God to be far away in heaven, secluded from our fallen world, resentful because of our sins. We often feel abandoned by God and filled with guilty feelings. Therefore, the prayer of the people of Israel, well expressed by Isaiah, has often been a cry to God to break His seclusion: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 63:19).

God’s powerful interventions in the history of humanity, and in particular in the history of Israel were meant to assure His People about His steadfast love and faithfulness. But the sense of distance remained. It is only through the Incarnation that the separation is overcome, and God’s descent became complete and definitive: He not only came to help us, but became one of us by assuming our own human nature. In other words, through Christ’s incarnation, our human nature has become an indissoluble part of God Himself.

 “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”, were the last words of Jesus (Mt 28:20). God came to “remain”, dispelling in us any fear of abandonment. After the Ascension, it is through the Holy Spirit that we experience God’s presence and Grace, in a particular way in the celebration of the Sacraments.

During Baptism and Confirmation, “the Spirit comes down and remains in the purified hearts of the baptized” (CCC 701), exactly like Jesus during His Baptism. In the Eucharist, during the prayer called “epiclesis”, the priest invokes the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine so that, by receiving the Body of Christ, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor 13:13) might remain with us always and bear fruit beyond the Eucharistic celebration, into our daily life now filled with charity. God wants us to feel loved so that we might be enabled to love others.

I am thinking of the amazing service that many caregivers, including many Sisters belonging to different congregations, are giving to the most vulnerable persons in our society particularly in elderly homes during the latest Covid outbreaks. They have to work through tiresome shifts constantly exposing themselves to the risk of infection, and unable to return home after a tense day of work.  Many other frontline workers, in the medical field or in other essential services are experiencing similar hardships.   Because of their presence, many people in need have been able to cope with their anxieties and loneliness. 

As we said, every serious and committed relationship, as well as any vocation implies a reaching out to others (to come down) and a reliable presence (to remain). To be a spouse when the marriage is in crisis. To be parents when children become problematic. To be a missionary in a hostile cultural context. To be a teacher when the social and political environment keeps changing. We could go on and on. 

After the past Christmas period filled with so many challenges, we are invited to begin the liturgical (and existential) Ordinary Time with the security of God’s faithful love and presence in our life. We are not alone in facing this new year. Fortified by the Holy Spirit, may each one of us become, too, a dependable and loving reference person in the life of those whom the Lord will entrust to our care.

(Image: Baptism of Christ by Paolo Veronese (1528 – 1588). License: public domain work of art. Source: Wikimedia Commons)