What is Baptism?
What does it mean “to be Baptist”? This question receives different answers from Christians and non-Christians. This is because “baptism” and not “to baptize” are current words. To baptize signifies to inaugurate. So the first stone of a new construction is baptized with champagne. Baptism of the air during the first flight. The baptism of a ship when it is launched the first time and receives a name.
We have each a name: our name of baptism. In different spheres, therefore, baptism always recalls a beginning.
For Jesus it signals the beginning of His salvific mission. For the Christian, it is the beginning of a new life: “Through baptism they ….. born again by water and Holy Spirit become new creature: because of this they are called and really are Sons of God. So incorporated in Christ, they constitute the people of God”. (New Rite of Baptism)
BAPTISM: BEGINNING OF NEW LIFE
Sons of God: “The followers of Christ, called by God, and justified in Jesus Christ … in the baptism of faith are made truly Sons of God and participating in divine nature and therefore truly holy” (LG 40). With baptism we receive “divine filiation from the Father. Certainly not that proper to the second person of the Holy Trinity for which He is the only son of the Father, but an adoptive filiation according to the words of the Apostle Paul in Rom 8:15. Adoption which is not purely an external title, but which penetrates to the depths of our being in such a way that we are worthy “to be called Sons of God and such we truly are” (1 Jn 3:1).
This is our dignity. We have to ask ourselves how we are living out our membership in the family of God. There are ways of living in the family: we live because we are born, but sometimes disinterested and not loving; because the family is often only a place of necessary service in order to live (a true residential hotel; or because one participates and shares with interest and love in all domestic events both sad and happy ones.
How do we place ourselves in the family of God? Does baptism remain a rite without incidence and consequence or does it mark the beginning of a life of familiarity and intimacy with God nurtured by love and prayer?
MEMBERS OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Our incorporation into Christ is not an individual and isolated act. Rather it makes us members of His body, which is the Church, of which He is the “Head” and “First born”. “In one Spirit, we all, Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, have been baptized to form only one body” (1Cor 12:12). For the fact that baptism puts us in communion with God, also puts us in communion with all our fellow creatures, because we are sons of the same Father, who form one People of the saved.
Our belonging to the People of God should urge us to eliminate all forms of individualism which makes us think only of ourselves, forgetting the presence and needs of our brothers.
It should animate us to avoid every attitude of indifference and passivity because in baptism according to expression of St. Peter we have become “living stones” of the building whose corner stone is Christ.
It should stimulate us to avoid every form of proxy in those tasks and responsibility which do not come from the priest but from the Lord directly, in the strength of the sacrament of baptism: “Inserted into the mystical body of Christ through Baptism, fortified by the Holy Sprit through confirmation they are delegated by the Lord Himself to the apostolate” (Aa3).
SENT TO SERVE
Through baptism we are not only incorporated into Christ and members of His Church, but we also participate in His saving mission. “Go into the world” is not addressed only to the apostles or to a few others, but to all baptized who should become like the Church, authentic missionaries.
Vat II reminds Christians that “their action is so necessary that without it the apostolate of pastors will frequently be unable to reach its full efficacy” (AA70).
Without the missionary activity of Christians we shall have a clericalised church where the priest would be like a lion suffocating the charisms of the laity, domineering like in the past and depriving the Christian community of proposals that are valid which only the laity can carry out. We shall have, besides, a mutilated church, because when a body has some paralyzed member (in the case of disengaged Christians) it is truly mutilated and deprived of the fullness of life and action. Whoever that is not in some way engaged for others cannot justly claim the title “Christian”, because the Christian is one who lives for others. Not this alone, but there is doubt over the authenticity of his faith, which in adulthood, is incarnated in works.
And how can we say that charity is evangelical if it is not expressed in commitment and service? The true believer cannot but have Christ as point of reference and model of life, Christ who is among us “as one who serves”, because He went about “doing good”. The adult Christian can, therefore, never in the Church be unemployed, but is always in service and never “retires”.
The feast of the baptism of Jesus does not only highlight the fact that Christ is Son of God and initiates His mission of salvation; it makes us reflect on our own baptism which initiates a new life of children of God, of membership in the People of God and of being envoys to continue the same mission of the Saviour.
God bless you.