This weekend, the Church begins to move out of the Christmas season. Pointing us to the baptism of the Lord Jesus, we now head back into Ordinary Time and its emphasis on discipleship.
The location of the celebration of the Lord’s baptism serves as a reminder to us of our own baptism. Since many of us were baptized as infants, it’s easy for us to miss how essential it is to our discipleship.
Since many of us were baptized as infants, and the proxy faith of our parents (and godparents) were relied upon in the celebration of the sacrament, we can sometimes miss the subjective aspect of the sacrament.
Objectively in baptism, our sins are removed, we are adopted by God the Father, and we are incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ. All of these actions occur, but if the subjective faith of the person is lacking, then such graced actions never take root in the soul and never flourish the way they were intended by God.
Having been baptized, we were to be raised in the faith. Admittedly, this doesn’t happen in many families today. The sacrament is celebrated, but the faith is put on the shelves. Life goes on, and the faith seems forgotten. But the faith is needed – the subjective acceptance of the faith is essential – in the life of the believer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses this point: “By its very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate . Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth. The catechism has its proper place here.”
And so, whether we were raised in the faith or not, we are adults now and there are some pressing questions:
Are we trying to understand our baptism and the way of life it entails? Are we seeking ways in which we can know our faith better and truly fan it into flame in our own lives?
Baptism is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord. It’s the personal commitment to his way of life. It’s an intentional decision for the Lord Jesus and the truths of his Gospel. In other words, baptism is a death to ourselves so that we can live fully for Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul emphasizes this aspect of baptism when he writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
By understanding baptism from this perspective, we can realize that the graces of conversion that are given at baptism can be experienced by the believer at any moment in their lives and in a thousand different ways. The call to conversion is constant and it’s readily renewed by God in the life of a believer.
While the objective actions of baptism cannot be overlook or minimalized, so the subjective aspects of the sacrament cannot be ignored or dismissed. Both are needed if the sacrament is to fulfill its purpose in the life of the Church and in the life of the individual believer.
In the life of the Lord Jesus, we see the connection between baptism and filial identity. We also see the connection between baptism and a way of life.
It is a regrettable state of affairs if someone has been purified of sin, adopted by God, and made a member of the Body of Christ, only to avoid becoming a true friend of the Lord, of following his most excellent way of love, and failing to continue his work and invite others into his friendship. The divine initiative compels the personal response. The movement of God calls out for a response of faith and a life in Jesus Christ.
On this feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, therefore, all of the baptized should pause and question themselves about their own discipleship. We should ask ourselves whether the grace of our baptism is being fulfilled in our lives and whether we are – not only sacramentally connected to Jesus Christ – but whether we are also connected to him in our hearts and in a shared way of life.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby