Baptism in Christ
One of the great things about Ordinary Time, is it gives some flexibility to homilists as to what to preach about. So, during these summer months, I want to give a series of homilies — sermons really, on the Sacraments of the Faith. And St. Paul’s words to us this Sunday in the second reading are a perfect launching point to begin, with the Sacrament of Baptism. His words of admonition, which we often hear at Funerals are a reminder of the importance of baptism in each of our lives.
Baptism is not just a nice gesture not a good thing we do to children. It is the beginning of a life of Grace, granted to us by the Lord, and drawing us into the very mystery of the Holy Trinity. It is a moment of change in our lives, which is meant to be lived out, in faith, in the Church, so as to continue our journey towards the Father’s Kingdom.
Let me begin by an illustration.
A story is told about the new life we receive in baptism. Thor Heyerdahl was a great sea adventurer. He wrote the famous book KON Tiki. Few people realize it, but he once had a deathly fear of water. But something happened to change all of that.
During World War II, Thor trained in Canada with the Free Norwegian Forces. One day, he was conning down a dangerous river. The river ended in a waterfall.
Suddenly the canoe capsized. Thor was plunged into the raging river. As the swirling waters swept him helplessly towards the waterfall, a strange thought entered his mind.
It occurred to him that he would soon learn which of his parents was right about life after death. His father believed there was such a life; his mother did not. Then another strange thing happened. The words to the Lord’s Prayer popped into his head. He began to pray.
A burst of energy began to surge through his body. Thor began to battle the river. Some mysterious force was helping him. A few minutes later he reached the shore.
Thor Heyerdahl, who climbed out of the river was totally different from the Thor Heyerdahl who was plunged into the river. The waters of the river had baptized him, so to speak, into new life.
First of all, the old Heyerdahl had a deathly fear of water, the new Heyerdahl did not.
Second, the old Heyerdahl had questions about God, and the life after death. The new Thor did not. Thor’s experience in the water of the river is a beautiful illustration of what happens to us in the waters of baptism.
The person we are after baptism is not the person we were before baptism. Before baptism, we are spiritually dead. After baptism, we are spiritually alive in Christ. We are a totally new person; living a totally new life.
The early Church understood this well. They understood that in the waters of baptism — which they only celebrated by total immersion — that is St Paul is speaking about — was to be plunged into the waters so as to wrestle with the devil, who would try to drown you. Before being plunged into the waters, the candidate (catechumens) were oiled down with the Oil of the Catechumens, as a Greek wrestler was, so as to be slick and be able to slip through the wiry grasp of Satan. So as to rise victorious with Christ.
The early Church also understood that this was about a second birth. Just as our mothers had given us our first birth, now Holy Mother Church was birthing us into eternity. We were becoming children of the Eternal Father. Thus the words of St. Vincent Ferrer, who said, “Every baptized person should consider that it is in the womb of the Church where he is transformed from a child of Adam into a child of God.”
That is one of the reasons I try to protect the font at the back of the church, from having “stuff” put upon it. It is a sacred thing. It is the womb of our mother. It is a place where new life springs forth. It should not be treated as a mere table.
But once we are baptized it is important that we stay connected to Christ, all the days of our lives. Another illustration. The Early Christians liked to think of baptism as grafting us in the Body of Christ. Just as a farmer would graft a twig from one tree onto another tree, so baptism grafts us to the Body of Christ.
If we wanted to update this illustration, think of plugging a lamp into an electrical socket. Once the lamp is plugged into its source, it can draw power and illuminate the room and glow brightly. But if the it is unplugged, it is worthless. We must stay connected to Christ if we are to be the light of the world. We must always draw our life from HIM.
Baptism is not the end of the process. It is a beginning. It is merely the first step. What happens baptism is just as important , in its own way. Consider the grafting image again. Once a twig is grafted onto the branch, it needs to grow and become part of the tree. If it doesn’t it will soon die.
the same is true in baptism. Once we are grafted onto Christ, we musts grow and become a a part of Him. If we don’t, we will die.
That is where the rest of the spiritual life of the Church comes along. We need the other sacraments to continue growing.
Baptism makes us one of Christ. But the world has a strange view of baptism. Several years ago, the head of the OK Southern Baptism Convention, who at the time lead the largest Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma — in Edmond — said he would not do public baptism any more, because, “after all baptism doesn’t do anything.”
That is the problem with many Protestant congregations. They don’t understand theology. They have lost their way. After Vatican II, the Church was quick to embrace all baptism, except for those who do not baptize with water and in the name of the Trinity — Mormons, unitarians, Jehovah Witnesses. However, with this kind of mentality, and with the confusion of many denominations using questionable formulas like, “I baptize you in the name of the creator, redeemer and sanctifier” well, confusion runs rampant.
Baptism is a tremendous grace, which frees us from Original Sin; makes us a child of God; and equal inheritor of all that Christ inherited; a temple of the Holy Spirit, just to name a few things. It is such a powerful moment in time. It prepares us for a life of Grace.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seeton once said, “if we beheld a soul after baptism with the eyes of faith, we would see angels taking their watch around it.”
Know of your baptismal dignity; hold it with tenderness and care and never forsake what God has given to you and called you to. For you are precious in His sight; for you are a baptized Catholic, and an heir of the Kingdom of God.