The Meaning of Baptism

Leon Bloy once wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” The vocation to become a saint is the vocation of each baptized person, therefore it is a vocation for all of us who have been baptized.

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This feast is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own baptism and how this sacrament has
re-defined us as persons, and what it means to be a baptized person. Saint John Paul II in the Apostolic Exhortation Christi Fideles Laici summarizes this in the following way: “Baptism regenerates us in the life of the Son of God; unites us to Christ and to his Body, the Church; and anoints us in the Holy Spirit, making us spiritual temples.”  In other words, the Sacrament of Baptism serves many purposes; amongst others, baptism washes away our sins; it regenerates us, (gives us new birth) and it is because of this new birth that we are incorporated into the Church. Finally, through the Sacrament of Baptism we are given the tools necessary to strengthen our will to remain in the state of grace.

Baptism washes away our sins, which means that all of our sins are forgiven: Original sin and actual sin (those actually done by us, whether mortal or venial). However, even after all sins have been forgiven there remains, as an effect of Original Sin, the inclination to sin, which is called concupiscence. This inclination to sin shows itself in what is sometimes referred to as a darkening of the mind and a weakening of the will, that is, the inability to know clearly the right from wrong of an action and/or the lack of strength to resist temptation and always  do the right thing no matter how hard it may be. The effects of Original Sin need not harm us as long as we seek the strength to resist temptations through the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, prayer, a deepening spirituality, growth in virtue, and a wholehearted dependence on God.

Baptism regenerates us as children of God and through it, we become sharers of divine life and temples of the Holy Spirit. Thanks to this, we are made righteous by God and live in a state of grace, that is, we live in union with God because of his gracious and loving initiative. Our permanence in the state of grace is called sanctifying grace because God “sanctifies” us, that is, makes us his holy people by giving us his life. God continues to assist us through spiritual gifts that are called actual graces. Because of this regeneration in baptism we become members of the Church and form bonds of communion with all those who have been baptized.

It is fitting that as we finish the Holy Season of Christmas and transition into Ordinary Time we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. First, to remember that because of our baptism we are called to be saints and that this calling is to be lived out  in our ordinary lives. Secondly, because of our baptism we are all called by Christ to bring others to baptism and share with us in the gift that He has given to us.


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