BAPTISM OF OUR LORD (January 9, 2017)

Today is the feast of our Lord’s baptism by John the Baptizer. This was not a sacrament; sacraments had not yet been instituted. This marks both the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and his identification with us, Jesus would later choose baptism to be the initiation and lifetime lifestyle of the reformation of the Jewish faith.

So much has happened in our understanding of all that surrounds the sacrament that I thought today would provide a good opportunity to talk about baptism.

Wm. J. Bausch in A New Look at the Sacraments tells us that in the Roman Empire where our church has roots, a “sacrament” meant an oath or pledge of allegiance a soldier took to the Roman emperor. For us it is a public allegiance to follow Jesus. We remember that Jesus never used the word, “sacrament” - it is a church word.

Years ago when many of us were baptized -- and perhaps your kids, too -- there was a rather shortsighted understanding of baptism. Godparents took us to church. Our mothers were home making the potato salad for the party afterward. Honestly, there was often more concern about the party than for the baptism itself.

Baptism was thought to be almost magical – a ceremony where water was poured and special words were said that would remove a stain from the soul. “Stain” was a metaphor to indicate the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve.

Today, “original sin” is seen as “sin in our origins” - the accumulation of evil that surrounds us from the time of Adam and Eve until the present. Today, both parents and godparents are present and all four publicly promise to teach the Christian truths and practice that form a moral atmosphere, to be an influence for good to offset the worldly evil that engulfs the child. To understand this, parents and sometimes, godparents are required to go to class on baptism before the child is baptized.

Baptism is not simply a ceremony - it is a lifestyle. Baptism has an impact on our daily vocabulary, our attitude toward life, and our conduct. It affects - or should affect- how we pay our taxes, work with co-workers, talk to and about our neighbors, how we choose to be entertained, how we react when we receive too much change from the store clerk.

For our pledge to take root, we need other believers to help us by their example on how to live out this pledge. Faith is more caught than taught. Our early practice of this lifestyle comes from our parents and family. If their practice was good; our practice tended to be good. If their practice was poor, our practice tended to be poor. When we are old enough to know right from wrong in the atmosphere of our parents and family, we choose to keep – or not keep - this pledge for ourselves. Not to decide is to decide negatively.

Like marriage and priesthood, baptism involves a vocation. Baptism is actually a variation of the sacrament of marriage: the Lord and we took each other for better, for worse; for richer for poorer; in sickness and in health, ... Until death do we unite. It is about relationship

We hear today of “baptized unbelievers.” a seeming contradiction: people who go through the motions of religion, but have not experienced the personal, life-altering conversion that is essential. It was rightly said after the Vatican Council ended and a new course was set that the task of the church then was to convert the baptized.

The question is asked: why don’t we baptize people when they are old enough to choose for themselves? Our answer:

That would mean that to raise a child religiously neutral is to be religiously neutral ourselves. It would mean having our children live among us as non-Christians. Also, it would be an impossible, psychological tension precluded by the very nature of faith and the commitment that faith requires. It would be like not immunizing your child, spiritually. Later, they may repudiate their baptism, but they cannot object later to having been baptized any more than they can object to their parents’ setting up an educational trust fund, if they later decide against further education.

Today is the last day of Christmastime in the liturgy. Tomorrow begins “ordinary time,” the real Christian life is not lived in the more spectacular Christmas and Easter times, but in the long hauls in between. Ordinary time provides us with the time to be faithful to our pledge, faithful to our sacrament of baptism - our vocation as ordinary people living as extraordinary Catholic Christians.