Living the reality of our Baptism in Christ
On this great day that we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, it is important to reflect on the Baptism of the Lord and how it relates to our spiritual life. Baptism is the most magnificent gift of God to us and the porta of the spiritual life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1213). My awareness of the ultimacy of the spiritual life is informed by the Scriptural expression: “And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). How did I arrived at this divine illumination? It was through Baptism! Baptism is a sacrament that washes away our original sin / (actual sins), makes us holy, children of God, and members of the Church and heirs of God’s kingdom. It is the gateway to other sacraments and membership into the Church – the mystical Body of Christ. The big question is: Did Baptism originate from John the Baptist and Jesus Christ? It is important to note that the Baptism we have today did not originate from John the Baptist or Jesus Christ. Before them, there existed some sort of three rites of “Baptism” in the Old Testament for ceremonial purification – “Baptism” of water (Lev. 8:5-6), “Baptism” of oil (Lev. 8: 10-12) and “Baptism” of Blood (Lev. 8: 23-24). The Baptism of Blood was equally experienced by Christ through the event of Calvary; Blood and water flowed out of Him on the Cross. (John 19:34). We have also experienced the efficacy of that Blood when we were baptised.
Why was Jesus Christ baptized? Baptism presupposes sin and in the time of John the Baptist, the Jews themselves received baptism to symbolically demonstrate a sign of repentance and the need for the forgiveness of their sins and baptism was more for the Gentiles to serve as a means of entrance into the faith. Jesus had no sin but He received baptism from John the Baptist for solidarity and identification. Christ was never a sinner but He chose to be baptised in order to share in our humanity and in doing so liberate our fallen humanity. St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and it has been established that “Sin is in the blood” and “The shedding of blood, therefore, represented the emptying of sin” (Fulton Sheen, 1963). Consequently, it is said “Unless blood is shed, there can be no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). This being so, He became the Lamb of God (John 1:29) in order to atone for our sins. He kept company with us not to support our continuous sinning but to stop us from sinning. Beautifully, the Church has followed His footsteps. She goes in search of sinners to call them to repentance and she spares no resources or efforts to recall and regain all sinners. For God and the Church no sinner is beyond redemption. Everybody is redeemable in the sight of God and the Church.
Living the reality of our baptism: In the two millennia of the Church’s history, it has always been the sacraments that have been challenged or denied by those who attacked the unity of the Church. The best solution for refuting such error is the proclamation of the truth and witnessing to the same truth. This calls for a review of how we are living the reality of our Baptism.
Awareness of our Baptismal Dignity: St. Leo urges us: “Christian, remember your dignity!” The dignity is that we have become children of God and coheirs to eternal life. A dignity that St. John explains, “He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself (John 1:10-13).
Celebrating our Baptismal Anniversary: Many are not aware of their baptismal anniversaries because they were baptized as infants. For this reason, the Church places Holy Water fonts at the entrances of the Church, so that as we enter the Church we can sign ourselves with the Holy Water and recall the saving waters of Baptism. To remember our baptism is to remember its dignity. In a certain interview, a Catholic was asked to state his sacramental information but he failed because he could not remember his dates of Baptism, first Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Some don’t even have the baptismal card again. Today make reference to the parish you where baptized and get a copy of your baptismal card. On our birthdays, we celebrate with huge festivities but none for our Baptismal anniversaries that are even more important than our birthdays. Godparents too, rarely remember to get a gift, visit and offer prayers for their godchildren but they remember their birthdays and accompany them with huge festivities.
Sustaining our garment of salvation: After our Baptism, we were clothed with a white garment with the following instructions, “see in this white garment the outward sign of (our) Christian dignity” and to “take that dignity unstained into everlasting life.” This day challenges us to examine how white our “wedding garment” has remained or has been maintained
Keeping our light shining: After we were clothed, we were given illuminated candles and we were instructed to “walk always as a child of the light,” with “the flame of faith alive in (our) hearts.” We were told to keep them “safe from the poison of sin” so that when the Lord comes, we, like the wise virgins in the Gospel (Mt 25:1-13), might “go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.” On this feast day, we have the opportunity to assess ourselves if we are still on fire for the Lord, others and ourselves.
Finally, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord offers us the opportunity to renew our wealth of divine graces and our power as children of God. It is an occasion to thoroughly examine if we are living according to the paths of our patron saints that we are named after. May the Lord assist us to appreciate the magnificent gift of Baptism and bear fruits that will last.
Fr. John-Mary Atep