Bishop Morneau's Column|
"Reflection on the Readings"
|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
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
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)