Friday, April 4, 2014

Illuminating Our Baptism

 A Maronite icon of the Theophany, when Christ sanctified the waters for our Baptism

"Going forth therefore make into disciples all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you."--Mt 28:19-20a

Baptism is the door through which we enter the Church, the first Mystery every Christian experiences.  It is what marks one as a Christian.  To understand it, then, is key to understanding the Christian life in truth.  In Baptism, we are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection so that we die with Him and rise with Him so that we may life and rule with Him.  The effects are myriad, but the basic fact is this: "The power of Baptism is to be understood as a covenant with God for a second life and a purer lifestyle."  We enter into the Lord's New Covenant through our Baptism, and in this covenant He gives us innumerable graces and we give Him our lives, our souls and minds and bodies, our heart and strength, in their entirety.  We must always, then, keep in mind the fundamental importance of our Baptism and all the graces it was the doorway for, and so I hope these words for St. Gregory the Theologian will inspire us all to a deeper understanding of our Baptism, our Illumination.  "This is also an illumination, to know the power of the mystery."

"This illumination is radiance of souls, transformation of life, engagement of the conscience toward God. Illumination is help for our weakness, illumination is renunciation of the flesh, following of the Spirit, communion in the Word, setting right of the creature, a flood overwhelming sin, participation in light, dissolution of darkness. Illumination is a vehicle leading toward God, departure with Christ, support of faith, perfection of mind, key to the kingdom of Heaven, change of life, deliverance from slavery, release from bonds, transformation of our composite nature."

Through Baptism, God remolds us, as He first molded us in creation, although "through a molding more divine than the first and more exalted."

By Baptism we gain "the Trinity, the great and beautiful safeguard."  Through this safeguard, we can defeat the devil at all times.  "If after baptism the persecutor and tempter of the light attacks you…you have a way to conquer. Do not fear the struggle. Defend yourself with the water, defend yourself with the Spirit, in which all the fiery darts of the Evil One are extinguished. He is a Spirit, but He melts mountains. It is water, but it extinguishes fire."

Let us always recall this mystery "greater than visible things," and let us spiritually renew our Baptism, committing ourselves ever more firmly to the covenant.  Remember how much God wishes to give all these graces: "O swiftness of love for humankind! O ease of reconciliation! The blessing is on sale to you for your will alone; God accepts the yearning itself as a high price. He thirsts to be thirsted for, He gives a drink to those washing to drink, He is benefited by being asked for benefit. The great gift is at hand; He gives with more pleasure than others take in receiving."  So let us all, at all times, strive to live these Baptismal graces and be filled with the Lord's Spirit, as Jesus commanded.  "Let us purify every limb and organ, brothers and sisters, let us sanctify every sense. Let there be nothing imperfect in us, nothing of the first birth; let us leave nothing unillumined."
 St. Gregory the Theologian 

Nota Bene: All quotes are from St. Gregory the Theologian's Oration 40, "On Baptism," as found in Festal Orations, translated by Sr. Nonna Verna Harrison, volume 36 of the Popular Patristic Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008).

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