I asked the class of five-year-olds: “when did your life begin?” A few quickly answered “when I was born” and another added “when I was little inside my mother.” All good answers but one child sensed I was after something else and asked: “when I was baptised?”
That was what I was after!
On this feast day of the Baptism of the Lord in 2013 Pope Benedict gave a clear and sharp summary of what actually happens when someone is baptised. He told the crowds gathered for Mass at St Peter’s and especially the parents who had brought their children to be baptised by him:
What happens in the baptism that I shall shortly be administering to your children? Exactly this: they will be deeply united with Jesus for ever, immersed in the mystery of his power, of his might, namely, in the mystery of his death which is a source of life so as to share in his resurrection, to be reborn to new life. This is the miracle that is repeated today, also for your children: in receiving baptism they are reborn as children of God… who can address God, calling him with full confidence and trust: “Abba, Father”. The heavens are also opened above your children and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am well pleased. Inserted into this relationship and liberated from original sin, they become living members of the one body that is the Church and are enabled to live their vocation to holiness in fullness, so as to be able to inherit eternal life, obtained for us by Jesus’ Resurrection.
Don’t worry if that is a bit heavy on first reading. The message is clear: baptism is not just a ceremony that we humans arrange and celebrate to mark the birth of a child. Baptism is God’s response to our expressed awareness (for ourselves or our children) that an earthly existence with tangible goals of human achievement and worldly success is not enough for human life.
Human life for too many people is an exhausting existence of grasping at whatever will bring pleasure for a night, or working at a project that will at best deliver only fleeting prosperity and glory.
But we who seek Baptism know that there is more to life, and we know that in the Sacrament of Baptism God opens this door to the more.
While this grace of divine life is given in baptism, it too often is forgotten and remains latent. The power of Baptism is unleashed when nourished through daily practice and experience of living in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Last year Pope Francis said “there is a before and an after to Baptism. The baptismal promises…must be rekindled every day so that Baptism may “christify”: we must not be afraid of this word; Baptism “christifies”. Those who have received Baptism and are “cristified”; they resemble Christ, are transformed in Christ and it truly renders them another Christ.”
In Baptism an earthly existence becomes an eternal and abundant life.