This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Lord’s baptism, which took place in the Jordan river.
The Son of God freely humbled Himself at the hand of John the Baptist and assumed the sins of the whole world, burying them in the waters of the Jordan.
For Catholics, baptism is the door to all of the other sacraments — and perhaps the one with the most intense and lasting impact on our souls.
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Let’s try to unpack the importance of the symbols and grace proper to this special and sanctifying sacrament.
1.) Baptismal candle. Christians are called to be the “light of the world and salt of the earth.” Perhaps the image of “walking bonfires” would be more appropriate, in that we are called to bring the penetrating warmth and spark of Christ’s love into the hearts of so many broken and disoriented souls.
2.) Baptismal garment. This white garment is a symbol of purity and holiness, reflecting the state of our souls after receiving the cleansing power of this grace.
Frequenting the sacrament of Confession removes the stains that we accumulate along the way, with the goal of presenting ourselves to Our Lord at the end of our journey with this same innocence of heart.
3.) Baptismal fountain of water. The church fathers remind us that as Jesus Himself immersed himself in the waters of John’s baptism, He thus sanctified all the waters for use in the church’s Sacrament of baptism.
Water purifies, cleanses and refreshes the soul from the burden and stain of original sin, and in the case of an adult baptism, any other venial or mortal sin as well.
4.) Baptismal name. The baptismal name for a Christian marks both an identity and a mission. There is age old wisdom in giving a Christian name that could inspire your child in their life journey.
5.) Godparents. Chosen by the parents to be guardians of the faith in case anything happens to the parents, but also to be a role model and sure guide along the way, godparents are crucial to those of faith. Everyone should give this decision serious thought, and not simply to ask a family member or friend as a favor or privilege to that person, especially if that person’s private life could cause scandal to the godchild in any way.
6.) Baptismal grace. The grace proper to the sacrament has a purifying and missionary thrust, thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Similar to Michelangelo — who could see images like “Moses” within a particular block of marble and strive to bring it out with his chisel and tools of the trade — the Holy Spirit sees the image of Christ buried within our souls and inspires us to act and feel in a way that reflects this core identity.
Evangelization always begins with our personal holiness, and at times words are necessary as well.
7.) Baptismal seal. This sacrament leaves a mark or seal on our soul, which creates an immediate relationship with God — not so much as our Creator but as our Father.
There is a constant look of paternal love, and a pledge of His protective providence, working effectively at all times.
Baptism is both a gift and mystery, and a moment of unique graces in which a creature becomes a Christian, with a mission and a commitment from God to help us and those entrusted to us reach our eternal goal.
Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group.