Our Father: Baptism

seven sacramentsToday we begin a new series, exploring the sacraments through the Our Father. I laid out the general theme in a post several months ago. Now I want to take some time to consider how each line of the Our Father helps us think about a sacrament.

The purpose here points in both directions. On the one hand, we want to be able to pray the Our Father well. The sacraments can give some substance to the words, a way to focus on what we’re saying. On the other hand, we want to appreciate the sacraments. The Our Father can give us a way to appreciate each of the seven sacraments – and, indeed, a daily way to rediscover them all, for they are all important to our lives. At the heart of the Our Father is the most powerful prayer for making a spiritual communion. But while we’re at it, we can spiritually unite ourselves to all the other sacraments that surround communion.

***

We begin, then, with Baptism: Our Father, who art in heaven.

Baptism is the sacrament of rebirth. The word means “plunging.” The original rite involved going down into the water and coming up again. (We have radically simplified that rite; the Latin Church sometimes likes to minimize the experiential aspect of the sacraments in order to emphasize the divine power, which does not rely on us.) So the symbolism is of dying, as we go under the water, and rising again as we come up. There is freshness, a cleanness, a refreshment in this new life – just as there is some fear and trepidation as we approach the water. Baptism is death and rebirth.

But behind this rebirth is another element of rebirth, regeneration. It is not just that we are born again from the womb of the Church our Mother. It is even more that we are conceived again by God our Father.

Jesus is the only-begotten Son, the only one who is Son by nature. But in Baptism we are joined to him, so that we become sons and daughters – “sons in the Son,” says a traditional formula. We enter sacramentally into his human death, and so are reborn united to his divine sonship. We receive the power he put into the waters – and it is the “power to become children of God” (John 1:13).

We are born again “not of blood” – that is, this Sonship is not baked into our human nature. “Nor of the will of the flesh”: our sinfulness turns away from this Sonship. “Nor of the will of man” (John 1:13), because we simply do not have the power to make ourselves sons of God. We are born again “of God,” with the sonship only he can give us.

***

Every time we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we can remember that by Baptism we have been given a rebirth to heavenly life. We have been called – and truly are – sons and daughters of God. This dignity is heavenly, impossible to obtain apart from the infinite divine power of Jesus, through his sacraments. And it is heavenly, too, because our citizenship, our home, our inheritance, is in heaven, with the Father who has made us his own.

Every time we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we ought to remember how awesome our Baptism is. We carry that Baptism with us. It is our spiritual garment, the constant source of our spiritual dignity. And everytime we think of Baptism, we should realize that it has made us able to call the God of heaven our Father.

***

It is appropriate that Baptism comes first in the Our Father. Baptism is the door, the beginning. We remind ourselves of our Baptism at the door of the Church, because Baptism is our entrance into the mysteries of all the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the heart that beats at at the center of the Church, of the sacraments, and of the Christian life. Baptism is our wedding garment, without which we are not allowed entrance.

It is only a beginning. When we pray about Baptism at the beginning, we realize that it must be completed by worship (hallowed be thy name!), by service (thy kingdom come!), by endurance (thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!). It must be fulfilled by the Eucharist (give us this day our daily bread), by Penance (forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive), and by Suffering and Death itself (lead us not into the Test, but deliver us from the Evil).

We do not understand Baptism if we think it is the end. We do not understand our sonship if we think once we have it, nothing else matters. Baptism, and calling God our Father, is the beginning of our heavenly journey.

How does Baptism change the way you look at your life?

eric.m.johnston

One Comment

  1. Beautiful things you say Father, thank you. May I add something to it perhaps along the same lines, from another perspective although consistent with yours according to this wonderful statement of yours in the text..”the Latin Church sometimes likes to minimize the experiential aspect of the sacraments in order to emphasize the divine power, which does not rely on us.)

    “The gates of heaven were opened to Christ because he was lifted up in the flesh” (St Irenaeus).
    – Come, let us worship Christ the Lord, who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.

    We do not believe that the Christ [the Anointed one] became man and what that really means in our individual lives. We need examples and illustrations and stories about what that means. The way humans best communicate is through stories, not through well worked out presentation that are a theologians and pastoral delight but walk down well-worn grooves so that everybody though awake is asleep.

    Your homilies are works of art but dare I say it, do not always touch the places that people need to go to encounter the Anointed One whose mission they share but do not know it. I am not being judgmental, I am simply reporting what happened to me after a simple meeting with you over some wine and food. One small remark of yours started a revolution that needed my wife, Melody’s passing to really set it off.

    I cannot continue in the chorus because I cannot pray up there, and I am too exposed so that any emotions that overtake me are open to everyone and easily misinterpreted. I love the Mass the way you celebrate it, you bring so much to it, in your singing voice and your diction and your piety. To me it is a joy that keeps increasing every time I am able to come.

    Please Father, take those statements above with a pinch of salt, perhaps I am wrong, if I am I beg your forgiveness which I know is mine because of who you are. As a teacher myself for many years I know firsthand how sensitive we are about anything we have worked on and perfected. Then some thunderhead comes a long and thinks that he knows better. Perhaps he does and perhaps he does not, your choice, if you see any sense in what I am saying all well and good, then we can forget about it and never mention it again but if not I really have nothing else to say except thank you for being our shepherd.

    I am going through an odd time of re-evaluation of everything in my life especially my sense of being a Catholic in the way that I have pursued it all my life. I have come to realize that I have little sense of what it is because the very foundation is missing or let us say, covered over with the excrescences of too much of the culture and my needs. In my “last days” I want to get it straight.

    My friend from graduate school Stan Cunningham happened to mention a writer in passing to me and I looked him up and saw some of the things he had written and gave it a whirl. It turns out the man is on to something. I have always felt that our psychology, by that I mean, the experiences we had during even our infancy, conscious or unconscious, in my case as well as during our childhood and adolescence have a marked influence on our religious understanding and practice and more importantly the meaning we attached to each and our understanding of Scriptures as well as Our Lord and the Trinity and its workings in my world.

    I come to find out that Fr. Rohr has been teaching a type of understanding that I was groping for. At this stage of my life, my supposed dotage, why had I not advanced further than I had? Why was I finding it impossible to truly pray? Why did I approach everything with my mind and not my heart or some combination thereof? I was reading St. Charles de Faucould and his disciple Carlo Corretto as well as St. Therese of Liseux and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, and they were giants among those who spoke and in faith knew the companionship of Jesus of Nazareth.

    I knew so much about him technically by my study but I was not his familiar, and he clearly from scripture reading wanted my friendship and love. I tried to give it to him but something was wrong and I did not know what it was. I literally, when Melody died I cried out to him in my anguish and sense of loss, I wept bitter tears, they are different from other tears I have had, they taste bitter and feel bitter.

    Then the something unexpected happened that I will never forget. After all the tears and cri de coeurs, not too long ago, I spoke to Jesus like a person I knew and was familiar with, I stopped in amazement, I cried out loud to no one, I am really speaking to you, O my God, O my God, it was like not believing what was occurring was occurring, but I could not doubt what I was experiencing right then. So I stopped reflecting and I continued to discover that what I was looking for had been given to me, I knew now I was swimming in the sea of love and I was a fish previously unaware of the water.

    If a fish had consciousness, it would have felt like me perhaps it does when it is denied the water and flopping on the shore in death but I want to know in my life, death will come soon enough.

    From that moment on Father, I have not lost a sense of the sea, not at every moment but when I turn to it in preparation for prayer the sense is there. It has changed me interiorly in such a way that things I did priorly seem weird. Rebellion, anger, roughness, emotionalism, sentimentalism, no borders, no sense of others except through mental analysis, thus no true empathy, or feeling the feeling of others. They were all objects, I was different and superior. All that ‘crap’ was gone, not because I had done anything. I began to trust in God, I began to overcome fear I had all my life unawares but powerful in my attitude and actions. I challenged my sincerity and found it wanting but now I stopped [something helped me to stop] the crying over Jesus which was nonsense, I was crying over myself. Jesus did not need my tears, he wanted my love. I felt capable of doing so, and then wow, as I talked to others, just a few, some on the phone I was full of joy and communicated it. My daughter said to me in our last conversation that she had never heard me speak and laugh the way I did and that she left the conversation encouraged in her faith and love of Our Lord. Who did that? Not me as such, I never had that in me. I could fascinate others, even attract and seduce others, I was ‘charismatic’ as a personality but never this, never, never. I was aware at some level that my heart was broken, that I had finally come to grips with my overweening pride which had escaped me for so long in my self-imposed ignorance of it. Now it was in the open and I could see it and do something about it with Our Lord’s help and the Holy Spirit.

    This experience and the sequelae are not going away. I wake up now feeling the truth of St. Augustine’s brilliant bon mot “Love and do what you will.” Give that to the ordinary Catholic, and they shy away from it. Why? Because they fear their own freedom under the New Covenant in the Blood Of Christ. Why? because they have not encountered the true God. Anyone that has immediately sees its truth and know not to fear freedom. WE enslave ourselves with rules and demands, and obligations and thus live in fear of failing. We do not trust our Jesus to be there for us, we do not Hope in Him, hence we do not feel his love. We do not understand the statement above that He joins us in our temptations and our suffering, as some Saint beautifully said, in order to shower us with his mercy.

    He is a loving God, wildly so. What stops us, is we are raised and then that is all we hear, if you do not do X, I will not love you. Conditioned love as it is called, but we are children of God, not just of our parents. If we were to look for explanations based on our birth from our parents, that is as far as we would look. But we would find no answers there.

    When we realize who we are heirs of heaven, brothers and sisters of Our Lord, chosen in, from and through the Mind of God before the universe existed, not only chosen simply because of our human nature having been united to Jesus of Nazareth but BY NAME, by name He knew us and called us into existence. When he called Samuel, He was in eternity where there is no past, present or future but a gorgeous NOW, so he called him by name as he does us.

    The loss of the understanding of parenthood as a co-generator with the Father is monumental. My teacher Etienne Gilson wept when they eliminated the word “consubstantial” from the Creed, he died to soon to glory in its return, and that is nothing compared to the loss of role of the Father in every birth of a child.

    The Son is His only begotten Son as the Christ, through the Incarnation, the Father is Father of every begotten son that is born of women. He is their co-creator, for our parents only produced our nature not our existence, because it does not belong to them, they and all who preceded them received it but from whom, another like themselves, impossible, it had to come from someone who was Life itself Our Abba who is in heaven.

    So looking at Abba, the Creator, for who I am, makes it a lot simpler. I come from Him and that is why I yearn to return to Him and I am restless until my heart rests in Him. It is obvious that the love which diffuses from Abba is a creative love for there is nothing to see in the object of that Creative love because it does not exist yet in its fullness only in his mind yet.

    So nothing like human love which is conditional on certain qualities or talents. Nothing of the Beloved who is created, that is you and me, reader, does, can possibly affect the Creator’s Love, it is Creative Love and we are Created Beloveds who will never lose that love and status once given as it is both naturally at birth and supernaturally in baptism. It MUST, it demands, it requires, it wishes to, it wants to, it will not rest until, it was made to, TO BE SHARED, that is its nature, that is what it is.

    The proof is the life of Jesus of Nazareth and we will follow the same path in some form or other willingly, joyfully, mercifully, non-judgmentally, in peace and tranquility, undisturbed by doubts, anxiety, or nervousness, or fear about the present or the future. It is easy to spot a mature Christian. Ask him/her, what do you make of the statement: “Love and do what you will.”

    Thank you for reading, my wish is that this will explain something of the strange character in the front pew to your left who lifts his eyes to the Lord and sees you, my ‘alter Christus’ and I wish, I need to follow you as you exercise your priesthood and I wish to exercise mine, the patrimony of my baptism in our parish but I cannot find a place, perhaps you can help me. Remember that Jesus chooses the weak, vulnerable, least of men, so that his power may be manifested, I think I finally qualify. I do remember your first liturgical office for me, a confession and your exuberance and love in a kind of shaking of my head and shoulders, that could only come from Jesus I knew and it felt like home but I still had a long way to go through death not mine but Melody’s. In Christ, in hope, faith, and love

    John Catan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *