One of our greatest teachers of the early church was St. Gregory Nazianzus. In speaking of the sacrament of baptism, he is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows: “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift… We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift.
It is called a gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship” (#1243).
John the Baptist was aware of the power of baptism. As the people came to him at the Jordan they felt the cleansing power of this saving water. But John was aware of another, even more powerful baptism, one conferred in the Holy Spirit and in fire. Baptism brought people into an intimate relationship with God. Is there a more beautiful gift than to live in union with God? When John baptized Jesus there was an experience of being beloved and favored.
When we were baptized we too were gifted and graced with life in God. We too were anointed and clothed in a white garment and given a candle to carry through life.
Before the days of St. Gregory, St. Peter was fulfilling his baptismal call by witnessing to Christ. Peter proclaimed the “Good news of peace” and told of how Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power. God was with him as God is with us through our baptism. Our calling is essentially the same: to spread the good news in word and deed. Our call is to put our baptism into action.
Although baptism is a moment in time, we constantly are renewing our baptism as we enter church and dip our hand into the holy water font, as we attend the Easter sacraments and renew our baptismal promises, as we rejoice in our young adults who are confirmed and watch them plunge more deeply into the life of Christ.
Baptism has an intimate relationship with confirmation and the Eucharist, the other two sacraments of initiation. Again the Catechism instructs us: “Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism, which is the beginning of new life; confirmation, which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourisheds the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ” (#1275).
This Sunday provides us the splendid opportunity of thanking God for this most beautiful gift, the grace of baptism.
Questions for reflection
1. Which of St. Gregory’s descriptions of baptism speaks most personally to you?
2. What do you see as the relationship among baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist?
3. How often do you renew your baptismal promises?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.