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7 Jun 2009

We just finished up our Confirmation catechism class for this year on Wednesday.  In the catechism of our church, all seven sacraments are discussed, but only the rite, the form, of baptism is described.  In catechism we never spend any time teaching how to perform a wedding, for instance, or how to celebrate the Mass, or how to anoint someone who is ill.  These subjects are taught in the Seminary to those who are studying to become priests of our church because only those who are Ordained can offer these sacraments.  Baptism is different though.  Everyone who has passed through the church’s catechism classes for First Holy Communion or Confirmation knows how to baptize another person.  They may not all remember, but they have all been taught.  I can teach all of you right now.  It’s not at all difficult.  You get a little bit of water; pour it over the person’s head while saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” just like Matthew told us to do at the very end of his Gospel.  That’s it.
The reason that everyone is taught how to baptize is that everyone who is baptized has the authority to baptize in case of an emergency.  Say that a baby is born gravely ill, that child can be baptized by any other Christian just in case that child may not make it to a church or even have a priest arrive at the hospital in time.  Baptism is that important.  Baptism marks a person as a Christian. We should remember that baptism is not defined as a negative, such as baptism removes original sin.  Baptism is a positive act.  It marks a soul as Christian.  We in our church teach that the human soul is created directly by God.  Other churches offer the teaching that a child’s soul is a creation of his or her parents.  Not unlike the way parents pass-on their physical characteristics to a child, so the teaching goes that they pass-on their spiritual characteristics, as well.  Any sin of the parent is, therefore, passed on to the child.  But since we teach that the soul is a creation of God all such possibility of inherited sin disappears.  Baptism of a child isn’t about reforming a sinner; it’s about naming a Christian.
This is important because the human soul is not born Christian.  The rite of baptism sacramentally marks the soul in the name of the Holy Trinity:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Baptism enters a person as a member of the universal, Christian church, the church we described last Sunday as born on Pentecost.  Denomination has nothing to do with it.  This is why in whichever Christian church a person is baptized other Christian churches recognize that baptism because it is performed in the name of the Holy Trinity on behalf of the universal church.  Churches have standardized forms to share when people transfer membership that notify the new church that a person has been baptized and that there is no need for re-baptism, and most all of the time this protocol is accepted by the new church.  This is the shared sacrament of all churches, of all Christian denominations. 
When we combine the teachings that every Christian has the authority to baptize if necessary and that it is the universally recognized sacrament of all churches, we can begin to see the unqualified importance of this sacrament.  Baptism makes a profound difference because it marks the faithful acceptance of the Holy Trinity, and in turn the Holy Trinity marks that person as a Christian.  It changes a person, even if the change is not visible to the eye.  I was reading an article about a TV program called “Time Warp.”  The show is all about the technique of super-slow-motion photography.  The usual television broadcast is transmitted at 30 frames per second.  The human eye isn’t sensitive enough to separate individual shots when they’re shown this quickly and what happens is we see it as a continuous motion.  The pictures become video.  Super-slow-motion photography, however, takes 325,000 pictures a second.  If we were to play through the entire video of that one second, all 325,000 frames, it would take three hours to play back:  One second of actual time broken down into such small increments that it would take three hours to watch.  When we can observe events with that kind of detail, a whole other world begins to appear, a world that was always there just unnoticed.  In this way something as mundane as a rain drop falling into a pond becomes exciting and new. 
In much the same way, faith makes us aware of the extraordinary nature of the common sacrament of baptism, a sacrament shared by all Christians.  Our being marked in the name of the Holy Trinity has changed us.  We may not give much thought to the fact that we have been baptized because everybody has been baptized, but just like with that super-slow-motion photography there is a beauty that exists in things-common.  It’s there if we go looking for it.  It’s missed if we take it for granted.  The physical can be opened up with ever more sensitive devices.  Spiritual gifts such as baptism become more revealed with attention and devotion.  This is why it is such a waste when baptism is left untended.  Baptism is the uniquely important sacrament and it should be treated accordingly.  Matthew’s Gospel closes with the command that Jesus’ followers go throughout the world baptizing people in the name of the Holy Trinity because it is so important.  Then Jesus promises in the very last sentence of the Gospel:  “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Baptism promises intimacy with Christ.  When we are marked in the name of the Holy Trinity, whose feast day is today, we can count on the nearness of God, and with all the uncertainty and perils of this life that is an unseen reality whose promise and power we should never want to overlook.  May this bond between Jesus and us through the gift of baptism always be seen not as something common, but instead as something extraordinary, for it has changed us and brought us into the church of Christ,  and for this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randy Calvo


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