Thursday, August 04, 2005

Baptism Into Death

Since I opened the topic of baptism yesterday, I might as well say a little more about it. Baptism seems to have become, for many modern Christians, a sort of religious or even social convention, perhaps a rite of passage -- in any case something that is more or less taken for granted and little understood.

In the old days, baptism was seen almost exclusively as a means to remove original sin, so that the child would not be excluded from heaven should he die without it. But there is so much more. Let's just take a quick look at what St Paul has to say about it.

In the letter to the Romans he asks his readers a question, one which could be asked of us today: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (6:3). "Baptism" means "immersion," so we have been sacramentally and mystically immersed in the death of Christ. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death." Why? "So that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (6:4).

The death and resurrection of Christ is our salvation. But the simple fact that He died and rose will not save us if we do not personally share in its grace and power. We have to be immersed in it, thus becoming members of his crucified and risen body. This is the beginning of life in Him; this is what makes it possible to begin to "walk in newness of life." But members of his body still need nourishment if they are to abide in Him and He in them. So it is this same crucified and risen body into which we have been baptized, the death and resurrection of which makes eternal life possible for us, that He now gives us as food and drink to sustain us all the way to his Kingdom. "For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (John 6:55-56).

The sacramental life of the Church, therefore, is not merely a series of optional (or even meaningful) rituals for those who like that sort of thing. They are life and resurrection, grace and "viaticum" unto eternal life. Without baptism there is no immersion in the death of Christ and hence no walking in newness of life unto eternal salvation. Without the Holy Eucharist, there is no mutual abiding unto resurrection on the last day. This is the word of Christ. Make of it what you wish, but the Catholic Church has always taken Him at his word, so when He says to eat and drink his flesh and blood in order to have his life in us, that's precisely what we do!

It would be good to reflect further on what it means to be baptized into the death of Christ. Go on reading Romans 6 and you'll see that it means a whole new way of looking at life, a whole new way of living it, because the grace of baptism has made us new and we no longer have to be slaves to sin. The grace is there, you baptized Christian, and it can transform your life, now and forever. Immerse yourself in it and live!