As a young priest one of the ministries that brought me great joy was teaching a seminar for the deacons, soon to be priests, at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, my own alma mater. The seminar was a very practical sharing with these men on the dynamics of how to celebrate the sacraments well. We would look at each of the sacraments and I would have these deacons literally walk through, ‘how to baptize,’ ‘how to anoint the sick,’ ‘how to lead a funeral liturgy,’ ‘how to celebrate a wedding mass.’ I was gratified some years ago having one of those deacons, now a priest for almost 25 years, tell me how important and helpful that seminar was for him. In fact, he even quoted back to me what I told those soon to be priests, “Catholics are either made or lost at baptisms, weddings or funerals…so celebrate them well!”
Indeed, these moments of grace not only anchor our faith as Catholics, they express the faith of the Church, what it is we believe about coming to life in Christ, experiencing his healing mercy, as well as our call to mission and ministry in the life of the Church of Christ.
As we gather to formally bring to a close the Christmas Season on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, it is an opportune time for us to reflect on this first and foundational sacrament in our journey of faith.
We have all heard the expression, ‘blood is thicker than water,’ to express the intimacy of relationship that exists with our families. Paradoxically, however, through the waters of baptism an intimate relationship is forged with all who are made new through these waters of grace and blessing. For in baptism, each one of us becomes a son or daughter of the Father, brother or sister in Christ and to one another. In many respects, together with the Eucharist, baptism is the sacrament that forges this divine communion with one another and the Lord.
We sometimes hear folks talking of ‘Catholic’ baptism or ‘Lutheran’ baptism or ‘Presbyterian’ baptism. While such terms have commonly crept into our vocabulary, it is important to keep in mind that there is really only one baptism, and that is Christian baptism. For it is this sacrament shared by so many Churches that share a common belief in a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that binds us all together as members of the common household of the Christian faith. Sadly, over the centuries, that household has become divided. Divergent traditions and expressions of faith have developed. Yet, these differences in belief can never erase the common identity that we share as the baptized of the Lord.
St. Paul in his letter to Titus, beautifully captures the deepest meaning of this sacramental moment that radically has changed your life and mine.
When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
Justified and saved by the grace of Jesus Christ our Savior – that, my friends, is the unmerited gift and hope that we share in this first sacrament of the Lord’s unfailing Love.