13th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A

In today’s Second Reading, Saint Paul speaks about baptism. Most of us were baptised as babies – and there is a beautiful rightness about that. Just as we received our natural life from our parents as a sheer gift of love which we did nothing to earn, so the community of Jesus’ disciples embraces us with love, not because we have earned it, or because of our personal faith, but as a gift of grace from the heart of God. Some of you were baptised as adults and you remember your journey and the experience of coming home and knowing you belong.

Whatever our personal experience, let us imagine that we have spent our life with no knowledge of Jesus, in a family that has never celebrated the experience of being part of a Christian community. We have been picking up our values from the world around us, and in our search for meaning we keep coming up against a brick wall. We are unable to find our centre and we find ourselves stumbling from crisis to crisis without knowing where we are going. There is no way of judging the value of things and no way of finding forgiveness or of bringing about a reconciliation from the many hurts that life brings. At least, we find that we cannot do these things in a way that satisfies our soul. Then, by whatever means, we come to know of Jesus and so of a God of love. We experience an attraction to be part of a community of faith that offers forgiveness and communion with God as well as a set of values that has stood the test of time, generation after generation. We ask to be part of this community and we are welcomed by baptism.

A good way to understand what is happening at baptism is to look at a baptistery constructed according to the preferred manner, allowing for full adult immersion. Firstly, there is the deep trench, dug into the ground, just like a grave – which is what it represents. When we are baptised something has to die. As Saint Paul says in today’s Second Reading: ‘When we were baptised we went into the tomb with Jesus and joined him in death’(Romans 6:3). At baptism, we renounce behaviour that is self-centred, dysfunctional and destructive. We say goodbye to a lifestyle that never really gave us life. It is just that we didn’t know any better. But now we have found life through our union with Jesus and with those who are committed to living as his disciples.

Let us pause to reflect on the ways of behaviour that we are renouncing, helped by tradition which speaks of seven founts from which all sins are said to spring. As Christians we commit ourselves to give up a life that is characterised by the following:

• pride – thinking, judging and acting in a self-reliant, self-focused way, disdainful of others and inattentive to God and to God’s will.

• covetousness – never satisfied with who we are or what we have but grasping for possessions, prestige, reputation, and whatever gratifies our self-centred desires.

• lust – using our sexual energy either for our own self-gratification or to exercise power over others without regard to their true happiness.

• anger – not the anger which is an appropriate protection of self against unjust aggression, but the anger that resents anyone who crosses our ideas, our preferences, our comfort zones, even when they are right and we are wrong.

• gluttony – living so superficial a life that bodily gratification is more important to us than the aspirations of our spirit, or the needs of others.

• envy – when we see someone doing well, instead of experiencing joy we feel ourselves devalued and in overt or subtle ways we find ourselves putting others down, feeling miserable that we do not have their beauty or their possessions or their success.

• sloth – unwilling to commit ourselves and our energy to the noble tasks of life, preferring to hang around waiting for life to deal out fortune to us.

Life experience teaches us that ways of behaving that have their source in such poisoned springs are decidedly dysfunctional and destructive. In baptism we die to these false values, even if they are the values of our mother or father or the social group with which we have been identifying. We have found something, or rather someone, in whom we experience God, and we have discovered a love which is true and liberating. In Jesus we have found a meaning that awakens the energy of our soul. To follow him we have to embrace him on the cross, but we choose to do that and we go down into the tomb with him to renounce behaviour that does not lead to life. In terms of today’s Gospel we love Jesus and the God he reveals more than the natural ties that tend to bind us and give us our security: ‘anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me’(Matthew 10:37).

We choose to do this in the hope that, as Saint Paul says in today’s Second Reading: ‘as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life’(Romans 6:4). This new life is life as a member of Christ’s body, the Church. We are still the same person, but now a refreshing stream has been poured into the desert of our dry and weary soul. This is the second obvious feature of a baptistery. The large pit, besides representing a grave, represents a bath. The water of life, pouring from the heart of Jesus on the cross, is poured onto and over the person being baptised. We are immersed in a river of love that cleanses, refreshes, purifies and then carries us forward into a new life with Christ. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God promised:

‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’(Ezekiel 36:25-26).

Paul speaks of ‘the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit’(Titus 3:5). We are baptised ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’(Matthew 28:19). In the name of the Father, the source of all life including our own, and of all love. In the name of the Son, who, as Paul says: ‘loved me and gave himself up for me’(Galatians 2:20). In the name of the Holy Spirit, the bond of love that unites Father and Son, the bond of love that comes to us from the heart of Jesus to welcome us into God’s embrace. Each time a person is baptised a new channel of grace opens up and this new life is welcomed into the life of the Christian community, enriching the Church.

Jesus follows his baptismal instruction with the words: ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’(Matthew 28:20). This teaching is symbolised by the candle. Jesus is the light of the world enlightening us to see everything in the light of God’s love.

The oil of chrism represents the Holy Spirit who is poured into our hearts, filling us with the perfume of Christ so that all we say and do exudes grace. We are consecrated ‘priest, prophet and king’. We share in thye life of Jesus who is ‘priest. prophet and king’.  A priest mediates grace. Each baptized person in his or her own special way is consecrated to mediate grace to others: husband to wife, mother to child, teacher to student, neighbour to neighbour. A prophet speaks God’s truth. Each baptized person is consecrated to speak and do the truth in love, to reach out to others from a place of communion with God. Sharing in the kingship of Jesus we are consecrated to bring about the reign of God’s love in the world.

The white garment reminds us that in baptism we are ‘clothed in Christ’(Galatians 3:27).

Saint Paul pleads with us: ‘If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above’ (Colossians 3:1). Baptism introduces us into a new way of living in which the life of Jesus becomes our life. How is this life expressed? The Gospel speaks very simply of welcoming others, offering them even a ‘cup of cold water’. The heart, purified in baptism, now concentrates on love – the loving service of others. This is the life of God, the life that Jesus lived.

Our Responsorial Psalm began with the words: ‘I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord’. Our heart rejoices in this new found love. Our minds, too, find meaning in it, and so – again, in the words of the Responsorial Psalm: ‘Through all ages I will proclaim your truth’. Our life as those baptised into the Christian community is to be a life of love. The love we are speaking of is God’s love. Baptism makes us part of a community which helps us to allow this love to transform every aspect of our lives. Jesus showed us that God is communion in love. In baptism we are welcomed into this communion. Let us be attentive to God’s grace and live from the heart in prayerful love. Let us also allow this love to be a light for others and salt to the earth, preserving all that is beautiful as we draw others into this same communion.