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January 12, 2014

A Catholic priest said to a Baptist pastor whose church practiced immersion baptism, “If I immerse somebody just up to his ankles, is that enough?” “No,” answers the Baptist. “How about up to his knees?” “Nope.” “How about up to his shoulders?” “No sir!” “You mean I’ve got to get the water over the top of his head?” “That’s right,” said the Baptist. “Good,” said the Catholic. “That proves that it’s the top of the head that’s the important part to get wet and that’s what the Catholics prefer at baptism: pouring water over the head.” (That is why at baptism, to replace immersion, I pour water over the baby’s head as much as I can. By the way, we don’t have the baptismal font yet).

Baptism is called the gateway to new life, a rebirth in the death and resurrection of the Lord, the gate of other sacraments, and the entrance way to God's family, the Church. All the promises of salvation, converging from various biblical sources, become real in baptism. The baptism of Jesus is found in four Gospels, each with a different shade of meaning. But more than the baptism of Jesus is recounted; the revelation of God at his baptism points to our own baptism as well. The Father acknowledges Jesus as Son and favored one, upon whom God's Spirit rests. In this recognition, there are echoes of the First Servant Song in the first reading from Isaiah. In the reading from the Acts, there is emphasis on the access to salvation now open to all people.

The New Testament catechesis on baptism is addressed to people who understand or understood the step to be taken. Baptism brings together the promises of God from the distant past and the redemption brought about by Christ and actualises them in the life of the person accepting the faith. It is the key and central sacrament, the door to the future, the transition from death to life. Unfortunately, it is all too often little more than a cultural reality, something that every child is born into, a 'must' in one's life regardless of what the future holds. In other words, it is simply a given! How do I understand my own baptism? What does baptism mean for me?

There are certain days, such as anniversaries, that we like to mark with special attention. Usually our birthday is one of them. But if we really thought about it, we would be more likely to celebrate the anniversary of our baptism. The trouble is we all know our birth date, but few of us are sure of the exact date of our baptism. And yet our baptism was probably the most important date in our lives, because not only did it make us children of God, but made us capable of being receptive of all the other important spiritual aspects of our lives.

For instance, before I was ordained priest, I had to give some proof of my baptism, because I could not be ordained unless I was baptized, and so with other sacraments, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, all require proof of prior baptism. So you see, baptism has affected the lives of each one of us. If we have not been baptized our lives would have been totally different. That is why it is good on the feast of our Lord's baptism to give some thoughts of our own baptism.

Last year we baptized 71 babies, children and adults, but we also postponed some. Baptism is one of the best gifts from God. Because it is a free gift, it should not be postponed or denied, but it also should not be taken lightly. Some people asked me to baptize their children because they wanted their children to attend a Catholic school. I told them that I would introduce their children to a Catholic school but I would not baptize them unless the parents realize that baptism is a very serious thing to mark a child for life with the indelible sign of belonging to God.

Too often babies were brought to the Church just as a matter of form to be baptized, or just a celebration that needs to be done. Often little thought was given to the true meaning of what was entailed. Parents, godparents and community should be aware of the serious obligations we are assuming on behalf of the child. We are marking a lifelong commitment for the child and we are bound to do what we can to see that the child is raised in such a way that he or she will have no problem in ratifying that commitment when the time comes.

We see that the baptism of Jesus was a commitment on his part, marking the beginning of his public ministry, his call to mission, the recognition that he was moved by the Spirit, as God's chosen servant and son. Jesus' new beginning is God's new beginning. Through the person of Jesus, God will reach out to us in a new way. Whatever Jesus does will be accomplished by the power of God's Spirit in him. That is the significance of his baptism.

Most of us were baptized as babies. At that time the same Spirit of God reached out to us. When we were carried to the font of baptism in the arms of our parents or godparents, our commitment was spoken for us, our future was promised to God. We spend the rest of our lives trying to make good out of these promises and commitment. It should make us realize that our baptism was not just a one shot deal, it faces us each day as God's expectation of us. Whether we like it or not, our baptism influences everything we do or say. We must ask ourselves "How well are we living up to our baptismal commitment. Am I proud to be a child of God and do others recognize this in me?