What Does It Mean to be Baptized?
“From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes.” (CCC 1267)
Some time ago, I attended a Mass celebrated by a holy priest from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fr. Jean Pierre was studying at a Catholic university near my home in the Midwest and he often celebrated the weekly evening Mass held in the nearby Schoenstatt Marian Shrine. Fr. Jean Pierre had a wonderful gift for engaging the congregation in his homilies and, since the shrine was fairly small – seating only 30 or so people – there was opportunity for dialog about the Readings.
On this particular evening, one of the attendees asked him whether he missed his family since he was so far from home.
His reply was, “I’m baptized!”
The individual, confused, repeated the question. Fr. Jean Pierre repeated his answer, “I’m baptized!”
Still confused, the woman asked yet again, “But, don’t you miss your family?”
Again, Father replied, “I’m baptized!” In exasperation, the questioner asked him to explain his answer.
Smiling, the priest said, “You are my family. I’m baptized, you’re baptized, we’re all family!”
I’ve never forgotten Fr. Jean Pierre’s simple, joyful response that night in the shrine and I’m reminded of him whenever I witness a baptism or contemplate my own. For all its simplicity, the gentle, Congolese priest’s response was quite complex when you consider its meaning and impact.
When Father said that we are all family, he meant that by our Baptism, we are members of the Body of Christ. That Body includes not only Christ himself, but every other individual who ever has, is, or ever will be baptized. By the sheer numbers, that means we are indeed part of a family of countless persons claimed for Christ.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: ‘Therefore . . . we are members one of another.’ Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.’” (CCC 1267)
That is one huge family! While he may have missed his blood relations, Fr. Jean Pierre was aware that he was essentially surrounded by his spiritual family – the baptized People of God. This is true for us, also. We may or may not be physically close to our blood relations, but we still are surrounded by family when we are in the presence of other baptized persons.
There’s more. We aren’t just members of any family, we’re members of a royal family and that makes us royalty, too. As the People of God, we are part of a holy nation and have a high calling to live a royal priesthood.
The Catechism goes on, “The baptized have become ‘living stones’ to be ‘built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.’ By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.” (CCC, 1268)
Baptism frees us from sins and gives us rebirth as sons and daughters of God who are incorporated into the Church and become sharers in her mission. "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word,” the Catechism says. If you’ve ever worked cooperatively with others toward a godly goal or mission, you’ve been given a taste of the kinds of attachments and co-responsibility that is generated by our Baptism. Sharing the mission of the Church binds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ and as such, we share in the attachments and co-responsibility that entails. Our Baptism is so important that Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to the baptism of St. John even though he was in no need of it himself. He did this for us – to drive home the importance, vitality, and meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism. By his Baptism, the waters were cleansed so that they might have the power of Baptism for our sakes.
Fr. Jean Pierre was able to remain secure and joyful despite his distance from his blood relations because he fully understood the meaning and impact of Baptism. He lived by the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4)