Christmas / Baptism of the Lord / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord—the end of the Christmas season. And this feast gives us the opportunity to talk about Baptism—the sacrament that probably all of us have received, but also probably take for granted.
Among family celebrations, the baptism of a child is a very important moment in the life the child and the family. For a young couple, who just had their first child, it might be the first time that they have discussed religion since they were married: "Well, what are we going to do with junior? Baptism, or not?"
When I conduct the pre-Baptism class, I usually ask parents about that discussion. Sometimes it’s like . . .1) "Well, my parents want us to baptize the baby; we’re not sure." 2) Or, "Yes we discussed it, and it just seemed important to us." 3) Or, "We still have questions, but it is important for our families." And so on.
Well, maybe we have questions, too. Certainly, the number of Baptisms has decreased at the parish, along with weddings as well. So, what is Baptism?
1) We call Baptism the ianua sacramentorum, the "gate to the sacraments", or the "gate to the spiritual life." It is the beginning, the portal, the door that leads to a new life in Christ.
2) Something important to remember here—and you probably didn’t learn this in grade school. Becoming a Christian is not like joining a club—like the MAC, or rotary, or the Knights of Columbus.
3) Nor does it mean simply becoming a "good person," or a "nicer person," or as Flannery O’Connor said (tongue in cheek) "having a heart of gold." Yes, all of these
things are important—but these are qualities that anyone can have, baptized or not. There is nothing uniquely "Christian" about goodness.
4) To be a Christian means to be "grafted onto Christ." To share the very life of God. As Christians, we are not just "followers of Christ," or doing our best to be like Jesus. Rather, in a very real sense, we are part of the mystical body of Christ, something transcendent—as such, we share in Christ’s relationship with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it more interesting, and even more compelling, to say we share in the life of the Trinity—than simply being a "good person"?
5) What you probably did hear in grade school is that, through baptism, we become adopted children of God, sons and daughters of God, part of God’s family—with all of the rights and privileges that go with it. As St. Paul says, "No longer slaves, but sons and daughters; and, as sons and daughters, also heirs." And as children of the same Father, we are brothers and sisters to each other.
6) And keep in mind that we have done nothing to deserve this honor—it is sheer gift, sheer grace! God’s gift to us. As St. John says in his Gospel, "It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you" (Jn 15:16). Chosen by God.
7) Finally, we say that Baptism "saves us." Here we remember that we were born into the "world"—a world that is dysfunctional and sinful. We call this "original sin"—not any sin that we have committed, but the sin we are born into. To be saved from this, we need an intervention from the outside—we can’t help ourselves from the inside—and that intervention is Baptism—an intervention that draws us into the very heart of God—to do good and avoid evil.
At the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, he hears a voice from heaven: "You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased."
In Baptism, we all hear the same voice, as beloved sons and daughters.