Baptism: Reform and Rediscovery

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Baptismal Font at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, South Bend, IN

“Guess What I’m Thinking” is one of the few games still permitted in graduate-level courses.  BC Professors are particularly adept at challenging their students to this near-impossible task.  In my three years as a graduate student I have found that there is no strategy to winning this game, only a strategy for losing it:  overthinking.  In a particularly memorable instance of this game, one of my favorite professors, Fr. John Baldovin, SJ, asked our class, If someone came up to you and asked you what Vatican II is all about, what should you say?

Many adequate answers were given, e.g. “The Universal Call to Holiness,” “The Church in the Modern World,” and “Collegiality” to name a few.  Baldo, however, wasn’t satisfied with any of them.  THINK MORE SIMPLY!  Bearing the curse of most graduate students, we could not.  Finally he relented.  IT’S ABOUT BAPTISM!

If you’ve been keeping up with CatholicHow in our infancy–or only read a handful of our posts–you might feel inundated with the number of posts concerning this aqueous Sacrament.  Despite its centrality to the faith, Baptism is often a forgotten art or glossed-over conversation.  One could be put off or confused by the sort of imbalance we have here set forth.  Where is the conversation on the Eucharist?  Where is the conversation on the tough, pressing questions?

Without getting too ahead ourselves, I think it’s worth praising God that certain stars have aligned to give my colleagues the chance to reflect almost exclusively on Baptism:  both on its themes and on individual baptisms themselves (whether of the Lord himself or of recent newborns such as baby Mateo and the headline-grabbing Giulia, baptized by Pope Francis).  It is only when we begin at this moment so tragic yet so filled-with-grace that we can begin to understand the gravity and joy of living in a church semper reformanda.

Reform does not come about simply by changing answers to debated questions or ousting careerists from positions of power, but begins when the faithful of the Church “by God’s gift…hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received [in Baptism].”*  A group of adherents with the right answers does not the Church make:  that sounds more like intellectual Pelagianism.  Rather, “The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to his own purpose and grace…In the baptism of faith they truly become [children] of God and sharers in the divine nature.”*  As ministers and theologians we are gifted with the task of recalling and re-extending this invitation for the faithful to share in God’s Holy Life.

Only in a constant return to the beginning–a re-immersion into our unmerited relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–can we begin to understand why and how the Church reforms.  We are not simply keeping up with the era in which we find ourselves (although that is a certain and definite good).  We are rediscovering ourselves, reimagining what it might mean to live as a community born of God’s grace and mercy given in Jesus Christ.  At times this rediscovery may very well entail a change in protocol or doctrine, but before all that it demands a reorientation of ourselves and our Church towards a more prayerful and more practiced life in Christ.

*Lumen Gentium 40


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