The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 10, 2001 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Carry the light of Christ into the world

Wherever darkness reigns, we must spread the light of God

August 19, 2001, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What do you understand "the baptism by fire" to mean?

2. Was Jeremiah baptized by water or by fire?

3. And St. Paul - in what did his baptism consist?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this is our understanding of Baptism: "Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons [daughters] of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission." (1213)

Jesus speaks of baptism in the Gospel today. He does not describe our mid-Sunday baptisms of children with cameras clicking and all is neat and clean (although at times rather noisy). This baptism is one of fire and realism that is broad enough to speak of division in order that peace might be accomplished. It is a baptism that should cause us to tremble.

Jeremiah knew of this baptism. As a prophet, as one who spoke the truth, he was rejected by his audience and his very life was threatened. Down into the well he was thrown and nearly died. His baptism embraced suffering and pain; his baptism involved the struggle against sin. He went on to proclaim God's reign in an age unfriendly to the kingdom.

And St. Paul? What a baptism he underwent throughout his ministry. He did resist sin to the point of death and was able to run the race because he kept his focus, gazing upon Christ crucified. Paul's discipleship was one of constant division among earthly relationships but one of peace with the mystery of God. He knew that nothing could separate him from the love of Christ.

Though many of us were baptized years ago, we are still "being baptized" in the sense that our life in Christ continues to challenge us to grow in grace and to resist sin. Our baptism is a gateway that takes us into the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Our baptism is a door, a door to the sacred, and through it pass into the rooms of the Eucharist and Reconciliation and Confirmation. Baptism continues to set us free from sin, those attitudes and actions that injure the Body of Christ and cause us to lose peace.

But if we are to live out this baptism and the promises to reject sin and evil, then we must be willing to struggle against life's temptations. This life in Christ is a whole new life, one that finds expressions through forgiveness, compassion and love. At times it will mean separation from people who have chosen other values; at times it will mean standing alone in the face of opposing political and economic forces.

Baptism by water does not exclude baptism by fire. We are given a baptismal candle that we might carry the light of Christ into the world. That means that wherever darkness reigns, we must be willing to move into that territory spreading the skirts of lights into every sector of the society. Though the light might be threatened at times and almost extinguished, our baptismal light cannot be quenched.

Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. He also knew a type of baptism in Gethsemane. In all circumstances he heard: "You are my beloved Son." May we hear a similar message as we struggle to be true disciples.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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