In this video produced by the Granger Community Church, we encounter a young man who reflects on the significance of baptism. His reflection is very personal, colored by his understanding of certain biblical references, probably from his Protestant background.
You and I, at one point in our journey of faith, might have shared his thoughts. As he invites us to follow his reflection, he also challenges us to recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises – promises that were made at one particular and special moment in our life, yet through this sacrament’s indelible spiritual mark, do and must continue to shape our life.
As Catholics, by way of reminder, we situate our reflection on the sacrament of baptism not only in a personal but also in a communal level, that is, the Church.
Jesus and Baptism
In the gospel of Matthew, the public ministry of Jesus opens and ends with baptism. In Matthew 3:13-17, Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. In Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit of God descended upon him. With God the Father also confirming him as His Beloved Son, Jesus is therefore introduced for public ministry. Then in Matthew 28:19, after his resurrection and before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave the great commission to his disciples, “Going (a literal translation) therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” A close reading of his command allows us to see how important it is to Jesus that his disciples must make other disciples. And disciples precisely do this by (i) always being on the go, on the road as disciples and witnesses, and by (ii) continually baptizing all into communion with the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Owning our Baptismal Vows
In the Catholic Church, most of us were baptized when we were infants. (See another video, Sacraments 101: Baptism for more on infant baptism.) That our parents and godparents brought us to Church for baptism reflects their faith and understanding of the importance of the sacrament. They even took the responsibility of “(i) training us in the practice of the faith, and (ii) bringing us up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us by loving God and neighbor” (Rite of Baptism: Reception of the Child). But as we grow into adults, our sense of responsibility also matures – this includes our taking personal and communal ownership of the faith that our parents and godparents have imparted to us. In this sense, there is never a time in our journey of faith when we are utterly alone or on our own. Our journey is always Trinitarian and communal. That our parents and godparents offered us guidance in faith when we were children should prompt us, as adults, to offer and to receive encouragement from fellow as well as new disciples in our ongoing journey of faith
In college, I stopped going and being an active member of the Church for about a year. In the midst of self-searching, I realized that I had been living my faith only in the footsteps of my parents. But after a year of aimless wandering, I realized how beautiful the footsteps my parents had laid out for me: they gave me stable grounding and a sense of rootedness in something that gave me meaning. The wonderful experience of the Christian Catholic faith that my parents gave me only prompted me to return without hesitation. This time, however, as I follow their footsteps, I also make sure that I add an imprint of my own.
Baptism and Identity
The young man in the video touches a very important point: the importance of identity. When the pharaoh’s attitude towards the Israelites changed, he began to treat them as slaves (Exodus 1:10-14), which was his deliberate attempt to suppress their identity as a people. And as the Israelites’ cry of oppression reached the ears of God, we realize how God looked at the Israelites according to their proper identity, their relation to the covenant that God made with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (Exodus 2:23-25). In this sense, we can understand the Exodus as a story where the identity of a people is re-asserted and renewed by setting them free from slavery. And once free from slavery, God would invite the Israelites to renew their relationship with Him, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7).
For us Catholics, the Prayer of Exorcism said at baptism makes our true identity explicitly known: “Almighty God, you sent your only Son to rescue us from the slavery of sin, and give us the freedom only your sons and daughters enjoy.” (Rite of Baptism: Prayer of Exorcism and Anointing before Baptism)
Pre-figuration in the Old Testament
The biblical reference to water is rich. These references, now used in the Blessing of the Baptismal Waters, allow us to grasp the mystery of God’s gift of renewal and rebirth: (i) At the very dawn of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness (Genesis 1:2), (ii) The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness (Genesis 7), and (iii) Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism (Exodus 14). The setting of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan even reminds us of the cleansing of Naaman the leper in the same river at the prompting of the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 5).
The Figure in the New Testament
Jesus, in his public ministry, said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). On the road to Emmaus, he further reveals himself as the key in interpreting the Old Testament in the way that he brings to fulfillment the promises previously made by God: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
How the early Christian community profoundly understood the significance of Jesus is evident in their understanding of our participation in his baptism: not only are we baptized like Jesus, more, we are baptized in Jesus! In baptism, we participate in his death so that we too may participate in his rising to new and eternal life.
Romans 6:3-4, 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.
Even now, at the conclusion of the rite of baptism, the Church continues to affirm to the newly baptized: “You have put on Christ, in him you have been baptized. Alleluia, alleluia!”
The Indelible Spiritual Mark
Our baptism in Christ incorporates us in Christ and configures us to Christ (Catechism 1272). In Jesus Christ, precisely as the only begotten Son of God, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. This identity in and because of Christ is sealed on every Christian as an indelible (permanent and lasting) spiritual mark. This indelible spiritual mark that transforms our very being is often referred to as the ontological change. So permanent and lasting is this ontological change that once baptism is given to an individual, it cannot be repeated, even when the person converts from another Christian denomination.
Note that our becoming sons and daughters of God is solely gained through Jesus Christ. At times, I hear people say, “I need to be good in order to become a son (or daughter) of God.” The logic of their mentality completely misses the wonderful reality imparted through baptism: God has already made us His sons and daughters in Christ and, it is precisely this grace of being sons and daughters of God that impels us (persistently) and enables us (now and forever) to live the good and moral life.
Fr. Edison T.
 One may be reminded of the sacrificial love that Lily Potter imparted on her infant son, Harry. Her sacrificial love enabled the baby Harry to survive Voldemort’s killing curse. However, while Lily’s sacrificial love only had its effect for seventeen years, the indelible spiritual mark God imparts to us in baptism is permanent and lasting.