Water and fire seem like polar opposites, but for the Catholic Church, they are complimentary.
Water is a necessity for life. Although the amount may change amongst creation, from plants and animals to birds and fish, everything requires water to survive. In our modern world, we have the luxury of having water at our command in many locations of our house: the laundry, the kitchen, the bathrooms, and even in our backyard gardens. Not only do we consume water for our own bodies to function, but we also routinely cleanse our bodies and clothes with it. Water now is a symbol of life and of renewing life. Yet for the ancient world it was a symbol of chaos.
In the first book of Genesis, at the creation of earth, it “was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the water.” (Gen 1:2) Before God brought the order of creation, there was chaos. Water is seen as a destructive force flooding the earth and killing anything that did not seek shelter in Noah’s ark. And for the Israelites, God parted the Red Sea, allowing them to walk dry shod through it, and allowed the Egyptians chasing them to be consumed by the mighty power of the waves. Each of these accounts illustrates that God is no match for nature. He created it, but is not subject to it like we are. In each of them there is a foreshadowing of the sacrament of Baptism.
Baptism is a call from God to join in a relationship with Him, and as part of that, the Body of Christ. We are called to leave chaos behind and welcome His grace into our lives, living and learning about the Triune God. Before Baptism we are void and empty and afterwards we are filled with the Holy Spirit and grace of God. He becomes our shelter in the storms and trials in our lives. He gives us a way out of temptation and sin if we follow where He leads us. Water is the most quintessential element and symbol of the sacrament of Baptism, however, its fulfillment is found, not in more water or other forms of water, but in fire.
Fire is another symbol of the Holy Spirit. From the “burning” hearts of the disciples on the way to Emmaus when they encountered Jesus, to the first Pentecost, when tongues of fire came to rest on the Apostles‘ heads. The sacrament of Confirmation completes what was initiated in Baptism. The bishop calls down the Holy Spirit by “sealing” or anointing the recipient with Sacred Chrism oil. They are anointed as soldiers for Christ, exemplifying Him in their daily lives, no matter who they are or what they do.
Fire, too, can be considered a destructive force, yet who is not fascinated when they see the gentle flames in a fireplace and move closer to be warmed? No matter the size of the flame, fire is an action. It moves. Place a simple candle in front of you, and it may appear sometimes as if it’s standing still, but it shimmers, flickers, and makes the slightest of noises as the wick burns and is consumed by it. Place a cup of water in front of you and it is still and silent. We receive both sacraments and each exists in harmony within us. The still, quiet waters of Baptism cleanse us from original sin, open us to God’s grace and assistance, and puts us into a relationship with Him, allowing us to call Him “Father.” As we reflect the love and gifts God has poured out on us from these and all the sacraments, we too move to share with others from what we have received. We become the action of God: His hands, His feet, and His smile to everyone we encounter.
God is not an either/or, He is a harmonious both/and. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, we are called to follow in His footsteps to be both still and quiet like water and on fire in movement. We are called, by name, into relationship with each person of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.