Recently I was at a Baptism at my church and I spent a little time reflecting on the beauty of the ritual. Baptism is the beginning of our true life in Christ and in His Body, the Church. It is an incredible gift, as is any sacrament, but the gift is made on our behalf. We can see that if an infant is being baptized, the gift is made available by the baby's parents who are standing in for that child who is too young to say his or her own "Amen." Actually the gift is neither being given by their parents or the priest or deacon. It is being given by God who loves us so much that He wants us to be connected to Him by the graces of Baptism as soon as we can. But it is the love of the parents (and godparents) that enables this to be given to the child. It is their love that passes this on because they have brought their child to the community in order for this gift to be bestowed.
God wants to offer this gift because He wants us to have what is best in life: His very self, given in love forever. And parents want their children to have it for the same reason. They want their children to have the very best: nothing less than salvation. Through Baptism we receive many gifts which open us to this life with God. Most prominent are the cleansing of original sin and the graces of faith, hope, and love. We also receive the connection to the entire Body of Christ, living and already in Heaven. We receive the connection to the Church here on earth, the body of believers who will support us in difficulty and cheer us on in times of joy, and whom we will also serve in this way. But what really struck me as I reflected on the gift of Baptism is that once it is given, we can never lose it. God makes an incredible covenant of love with us when we are baptized which is indelible and can never be lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed. We do not need to take out insurance on it, though we do need to feed it with a steady diet of Scripture, prayer, and a sincere effort to love Him back. God does not force His grace on us, but we need to cooperate with it by doing our best to let this gift of Baptism grow. It is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.
What I wanted to touch upon, however, is the love with which God loves us that enables us to have this great gift. From the very beginning of the Old Testament, from the beginning of creation, God wanted to be in a covenant of intimacy and love with us. He made us out of love, giving us His very breath, forming us out of the clay with His hands. Immediately after He created man and woman He gave us everything that He made. He made it clear in the very first covenant with Noah that it was all for us; it was clear that we have a responsibility to care for everything, but He would give us all we need in order to do that. He made covenant after covenant, but all of them were broken by His people. However, what is nearly impossible to comprehend is that God never broke His promises and renewed that covenant with an unfaithful and weak people again and again. We may be weak and often unfaithful, but we are His people!
Finally He sent His Son, Jesus, and made Him the ultimate covenant, a covenant sealed in His own body and blood. And from the gift of Jesus' body and blood flow all the other sacraments and graces. Jesus began His ministry by being baptized as a way to emphasize for us just how important this sacrament is. Baptism joins us to God in an unbreakable covenant which is fed by the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist. That great gift keeps us bonded to Him, unless we decide to reject it, and there is no power in the heavens or on earth that can break that bond. The bond is the bond of love. Love is what keeps us all connected to one another and to God. St. John tells us that God is love, (1 John 4:7 and following) so the bond is God's very own self.
No wonder St. Thérèse of Lisieux was led to exclaim that her vocation was love. She realized that even if we cannot do some things well or at all, and even if there is always someone better at doing the things we can do, we can all love. How wise she was! She realized that it was about the quality of our love, not the quantity or even the quality of our output. She realized that at Baptism she was given the gift of love and knew that she was called to a radical living of that love. And isn't any true living out of the vocation to love radical? If we truly love, putting the other person or persons before us, is that not radical? If we truly serve others, going the extra mile, loving the one who is difficult, being kind to the stranger, giving from our great or small means to those whose means are smaller, forgiving those who have hurt us, is that not radical? True love, the kind of love that Christ lived and calls us to live, is radical.
The Good News is that God does not expect us to do this on our own. He gave us the gift of Baptism for us to draw upon so that we never run out of the store of love, because He is the endless store-house. To use Jesus’ own example, God is the well of Living Water that never runs dry. So when our store of love seems to be dwindling in a difficult time or a time of loneliness, or we find that the well feels like it is running dry, we can turn to the graces of Baptism, the gentle cords of which are our bond to Him, and we will find the unending grace of love right there, already in our hearts. And that is also true of faith and hope and all of the other graces we receive from Him. All we need to do is ask and He will give us what we need in order for us to love, connected to Him throughout our lives and then forever in Heaven.
Today let us be glad for the gift of the Baptism we received no matter what age we were when we received it. In gratitude, let us re-commit to the gifts of faith, hope, and love by giving ourselves to the Lord each day as we try to share the gifts given to us with others. Let us truly embrace our vocation as a vocation of love, so that like St. Thérèse of Lisieux we can exclaim "My vocation is LOVE!" with everything we do. If we are baptized our vocation is love! It is a great gift given to us by the Lord of Love! May we be signs of that love to all we meet and especially those with whom we are closest. Let us continue to meet in the heart of our Lord of Love. Peace!
All pictures my own photography. Both of the photos in this entry were taken in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Heart Speaks to Heart