We would do much to rediscover the true Christian spirituality if we thought of all of our life as a living out of our Baptism. Indeed, this is probably the “anointing” – in Greek, the christening, or Christ-ian-ing – that John talks about:
“The anointing which you have received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:27-28).
This is the same Apostle John, of course, who gives us this exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus: “Amen, amen, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . . Amen, amen, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5).
But how do we “abide in this anointing”? How do we actually live according to this most bizarre claim that we are “born again” by Baptism ?
In fact, the Church gives us a wonderful frequent devotion to Baptism so common that we almost overlook it: the sign of the Cross. A whole spirituality is carried in this simple little devotion.
The main place of the sign of the Cross is at the holy water stoup, as we enter the Church. Notice, in fact, that the little prayer we say as we make the sign of the Cross is simply the Baptismal formula: “Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These words are meant to call to mind our baptism, which is why they are attached to the holy water: nothing more nor less than a sacramental reminder of the waters of Baptism.
(Thomas Aquinas, in fact, says that all the power attached to the sacramentals is in their devotional power in reminding us of the real Seven Sacraments. The power of holy water is devotion to Baptism.)
Baptism is our entrance into the Church. Yes, it “washes away sin” – though the point of the John the Baptist stories is to remind us that first, Baptism was a sign of repentance, of beginning anew. The difference between John’s Baptism and the Baptism of Jesus is that Christian Baptism gives us the spiritual power to truly begin anew. That means leaving behind our former ways – and thus “washing away sin” – but more powerfully, it means entering into Christ: the anointing, and plunging into Christ.
Baptism only “washes away” by “pouring in” divine life.
It means, above all, entering into the sacramental life of Christ’s Church. Baptism gives us access to the sacraments. It is the beginning of the sacramental life. That’s why we remind ourselves of our Baptism when we enter the Church: it’s a delightfully literal symbol that Baptism is the way we “enter” the Church of Jesus.
(It is also nice, in light of the Great Commission we quoted above, to make the sign of the Cross as we leave Church: we are sent to “teach all nations” and draw them to Baptism, to life in the Church. Our life outside of the Church is about preparing ourselves and others to enter the life of the Church.)
The physical sign we use, along with water, is a cross, drawn on our own body. (We can remind ourselves of this by making this cross actually look like a cross, not a sloppy hand wave.) The sign of the Cross reminds us that we are united to Christ. In Baptism we have died and risen with him. Our sufferings are united to his sufferings – and we are reminded that the divine love will include real suffering. But union with his suffering also means resurrection, the power of God that draws us through and beyond suffering. To mark Christ’s cross on our own body is no small thing!
But the prayer we say, along with recalling our Baptism, recalls the spiritual heights to which we are called, the reason the Cross is worth it. We are called through the Cross into the very life and love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Abide in that anointing. Live your Baptism.
What does the sign of the Cross mean to you?