Celebrating the most important day of our lives
Reflection on the Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138: 1-3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; and St Luke 11:1–13.
The primacy of grace and the power of Baptism
The two most important days of our lives are days that most of us do not remember. The second most important day is the day that we were born. Of that day, we remember nothing. We may have heard stories about it from our parents or grandparents, but each of us remembers nothing. The first most important day is the day that we were baptized. Most of us have no recollection of that day either.
Yes, I did get those days round the right way. Our baptism is more important than our birth. The natural life that we received at birth was destined to peter out in a few years, because our human nature was mortally wounded by original sin. Like a fan after you unplug it from the socket, it was just spinning by momemtum. It was unplugged from the source of life, God.
When we were baptised, we were plugged back in. We were filled with supernatural life. God adopted us forever as members of his family. This is why baptism is praised so highly by St Paul in the Second Reading. By baptism, he writes to the Colossians, we were buried with Christ who died for our sins, and we were raised with Him who rose to give us eternal life (cf Colossians 2:12). Baptism is the beginning of our eternal life.
The most amazing thing about it is that we didn’t do anything at all. The most important event in our lives is not something that we did. It is not a personal achievement. Rather, it is something that God did for us: it was God touching our souls with the grace of Christ.
As St Paul writes, we were dead. We were sinners. We were completely helpless, unable to plug ourselves back into friendship with God. God, however, came to our rescue. Wholly on his own initiative, working through the love of our parents or our friends, and through the ministry of the Church, He brought us back to life in Christ.
The fountains of Rome
The greatness of an individual Christian does not come from his or her own natural talents and achievements. No, it comes from the much higher life of friendship with God that Christ won for us and that God freely gives us at baptism — the life of grace.
When I visited Rome, I saw many architectural wonders, but one of the most memorable was the fountains of the city. In the seventeenth century, the Church commissioned Gianlorenzo Bernini and his disciples to design a series of monumental fountains to decorate the most important plazas of the city. These fountains, like the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, the Triton fountain in Piazza Barberini, and, of course, the Trevi fountain, turn the ordinary and abundant elements of water and stone into something of supreme artistic beauty. The fountains do not sit immobile and static in their piazzas. No, they erupt in dynamism and spectacle.
The Trevi fountain is huge, but it remains hidden until you are immediately in front of it. It completely took me by surprise. It overwhelms you when you turn the corner of a narrow street.
The Four Rivers fountain amazes by the sudden appearance of a large granite obelisk that seems to hover weightlessly above the basin of churning water.
These fountains were not designed for tourists. They were designed to enhance the experience of Christian pilgrims who came to Rome to renew their faith. Their amazing transformation of simple stone and water into magnificent and awe-inspiring masterpieces encourages Christians to trust in the power of the grace of God. That is the grace that transforms our fallen, limited human nature into something divine, making us into children of God, and citizens of heaven.
Each of us, as Christians, is meant to be for the world what Bernini’s fountains are for the city of Rome.
Celebrating our baptismal day
I am sure that most of us celebrate our birthdays. I know that I do. I know that it is good that we do. Life is a precious gift. A gift that none can give to themselves. It is right to thank God for that gift. It is right to celebrate and appreciate it. It is right to remember that we owe our lives to others — God first, and our parents second.
But just as we celebrate our birthdays, do we celebrate the anniversaries of our baptisms?
I know that I do, but I suspect that many do not. Surely we should all celebrate this as the most important day of our lives? Perhaps we should have baptism parties just as we have birthday parties? The eternal life we received from God on that day is worth much more than the natural life that we received from our parents. It was just as much a gift as our natural life.
Certainly, we did nothing to earn such a great favour from God. Surely that is all the more reason to thank Him for it, to celebrate the day we received it?
In the world of self-help, we can fall into the heresy of activism, thinking that we can make ourselves perfect by our own power. We can’t. We all need the grace of God. He is always willing to supply it. We, unfortunately, are not always willing to take it in. Perhaps, if we start celebrating our baptisms with more energy, the supply lines will be widened.
Today, as Christ comes to us in Holy Communion to strengthen that supernatural life that we received in baptism, I’ll thank Him for all His gifts, more especially that of grace, the gift which alone gives real hope to life.