In his recent letter “Desiderio Desideravi” Pope Francis describes the Eucharist, the sacraments and the liturgy as signs of the presence of Christ. They’re signs in which we encounter Christ, who came among us by becoming flesh, human flesh from the Virgin Mary, but also flesh from creation itself.
Water, for example, is a sign from creation that Jesus uses to bring us into the mystery of his death and resurrection. At his baptism, he entered water with its power to cleanse and give life.
From the beginning, “God created water with Baptism in mind,” Pope Francis writes. Baptism is not “a mental adhesion to his thought or agreeing to a code of conduct imposed by him.” Rather, water is a holy sign that plunges us into the mystery of the Incarnation. Through the presence and action of the Spirit, it makes possible for us to die and rise with Christ. (12)
The prayer for the blessing of baptismal water reveals that God created water precisely with Baptism in mind. This means that when God created water, he was thinking of the Baptism of each one of us, and this same thought accompanied him all throughout his acting in the history of salvation every time that, with precise intention, he used water for his saving work.
It is as if after having created water in the first place, he had wanted to perfect it by making it eventually to be the water of Baptism. It was thus that he wanted to fill it with the movement of his Spirit hovering over the face of the waters (Ge 1:2) so that it could contain hidden within the power to sanctify. He used water to regenerate humanity through the flood (Ge 6:1-9,29). He controlled it, separating it to open the way of freedom through the Red Sea (cf. Ex 14). He consecrated it in the Jordan, plunging into it the flesh of the Word soaked in the Spirit. (cf. Ma 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22)
At the end he blended it with the blood of his Son, the gift of the Spirit inseparably united with the gift of the life and death of the Lamb slain for us, and from his pierced side he poured it out over us. (Jn 19:34) And it is into this water that we have been immersed so that through its power we can be inserted into the Body of Christ and with him rise to immortal life. (cf. Ro 6:1-11)” (13)
The pope speaks later in his letter of the loss of a symbolic sense in our western world, which affects the way we see sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It also affects the way we see our environment. Symbols like water, bread, wine are seen only from a personal or scientific view. “How much water should I drink each day?” “What’s its scientific make-up?” “How can we control it to benefit our cities and ourselves?
Water is more than that.