Sunday, Jan. 13, is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Just as when the clocks change it is a great time to check the batteries in the smoke alarm, on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord it is a great day to stock your house with holy water.
In the Eastern Church especially, the use of holy water is traced back to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Since Jesus was God and had no sin to repent, they say, his baptism didn’t bless him — he blessed the water.
In recognition of that fact, the Church uses “holy water” as a kind of “physical prayer,” a sacramental. Sacramentals are different in kind, not just degree, from sacraments. A sacrament confers grace infallibly — more on that below. A sacramental is like a prayer — that it has been blessed unites our prayer with the prayer of the Church.
By bringing holy water into your home, you bring the prayer of the Church into your home — and strengthen your family’s Catholic identity.
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
Today is a day to celebrate baptism. The baptism of Christ is different from the sacrament of baptism we receive, but in Rome today Pope Benedict XVI will be baptizing babies in imitation of the Lord’s baptism.
So it is a good day to remind ourselves just what baptism is and why it is so vital for us. It isn’t merely the ceremonial entrance into a club, and it isn’t a quaint, ancient custom that reminds us of Jesus.
It is a radical transformation of our very being. When Christ calls us his body, he means it. In baptism, we are incorporated (“put into the body of”) Jesus.
In baptism, we make six promises to God. Here is a longer form of them:
1. “Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?”
2. “Do you reject the glamour of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?”
3. “Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?”
4. “Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”
5. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?”
6. “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?”
But we aren’t the only ones making promises at baptism. God does too. According to the Church, baptism does the following things — consider them God’s promises to us.
1. “Baptism bestows the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
2. “Baptism takes away Original Sin, all personal sins and all punishment due to sin.”
3. “It makes the baptized person a participant in the divine life of the Trinity through sanctifying grace, the grace of justification which incorporates one into Christ and into his Church.”
4. “It bestows the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
5. “A baptized person belongs forever to Christ. He is marked with the indelible seal of Christ (character).”
6. “It gives one a share in the priesthood of Christ and provides the basis for communion with all Christians.”
Put them together, and you can see what is going on:
1. You promise to keep your heart free … and God promises to fill it with the grace needed for virtue.
2. You promise you won’t be taken in by sin’s false promise … and he promises to take your sin away.
3. You promise to reject the father of lies … and he promises himself as your Father, your brother and your partner.
4. You promise to believe in divine life … and he promises you a share in it by seeing your life from God’s perspective.
5. You promise to hope in Christ … and he promises to fulfill that hope.
6. You promise to love, for the Holy Spirit is Love … and he promises to unite you in love with himself and others in his Church.
Our fundamental vocation as Christians is precisely this: to live our baptismal promises, so it’s worth pondering today just what those are — and making the commitment to live them more fully.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.