Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Baptism on Trinity Sunday

In the seminary we were taught to describe the various rites when we baptized babies. But we weren’t warned about what might happen if older siblings were attending. Not long after ordination, I did as I was told, and carefully explained that I was going to pour water on the baby, then anoint her, and then give her a candle.

The baby’s big sister looked up at me anxiously.

“Why do you have to annoy her—it’s going to make her cry.”

Just about an hour from now, I am going to baptize Avila Marie Ufford. I will do my best not to annoy her!

Three years ago I married her parents, Natalie and Chris. A year and a half ago I baptized their first child Noah. And I have known both sets of grandparents for many years.

So it’s fair to say that Avila might boast of her Catholic roots, if she were old enough.

Yet an hour from now, even such a great family tree will be of secondary importance to this little one.

Something else will matter still more: by water and the Holy Spirit she will receive the gift of new life from God, who is love. She will be welcomed into God’s holy people, called to live as a member of his body. Reborn in baptism, she will be called a child of God.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks about this in a lovely way: “Through baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death. … This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.” (YouCat, p. 116)

YouCat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out the key effects of baptism by saying that it unites us with Christ, incorporates us into his saving death, frees us from the power of Original Sin, and causes us to rise with Christ to a life without end.” (ibid.)

But it adds something that’s crucial: “Since baptism is a covenant with God, the individual must say Yes to it.” YouCat even capitalizes the word Yes.

This means that Chris and Natalie, as they present Avila for baptism, must profess the faith on behalf of their child. But it also means that faith must grow for all of us who are baptized. (CCC 1254)

Baptism is the beginning, not the end; it is a seed of faith from which the entire Christian life springs forth. (ibid.)

And today’s celebration of the Most Holy Trinity gives every one of us a good chance to move forward in faith. This feast celebrates a foundation of faith, what the Catechism calls “the central mystery of Christian faith and life… the mystery of God himself.” (CCC 234)

When was the last time we thought seriously about this mystery—when was the last time we paused in wonder as we made the Sign of the Cross?

Today’s a great day to stop and think about our belief in God as Trinity—one God in three Persons.

First of all, we give thanks that God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not a truth we could have figured out for ourselves. Today’s liturgy shows that God revealed himself over time. In the first reading, God gives Moses the Law, revealing himself as merciful, kind and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. But not as Trinity.

In the second reading, however, St. Paul closes his letter with what Jesus had revealed to his disciples: the truth of the Holy Trinity. It wasn’t Paul who figured out that the love of God was to be lived in the communion of the Holy Spirit and in the grace of Christ. Jesus had revealed the inner life of God during his earthly ministry, and at his Ascension had commanded his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Gospel today reminds us that this isn’t just highbrow theology. If we’re celebrating the truth about God today, we’re celebrating the fact that God is love. And one of the ways we see this is through the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

God isn’t solitary: he is the union in love of three Persons. The inner life of the Father, Son and Spirit is a life of love, love so great that it overflows and embraces each of us.

This love is so great that it moved God to send his only Son to save sinners, to save those who would otherwise perish and be lost.

Today’s Gospel puts the redeeming quality of the love of the Holy Trinity front and center. If we flip ahead to next year, the Gospel for Trinity Sunday recounts Christ’s commission to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We heard that Gospel two weeks ago on the Ascension, so I’d like to end with a brief look at that command.

Why did Jesus choose this particular formula for baptism? The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says it’s because “the baptized person ought to know to whom he belongs and whose life and example he has to follow. The divine Trinity is not merely an opaque mystery (as it is often portrayed to us), it is the way God wishes to make himself known to the world an especially to us Christians.” (Light of the World, 201)

If you want to know to whom you belong, ponder the Trinity. In this great revelation, we recognize God as our loving Father. In Jesus we recognize God as mercy see God as our merciful Lord. In the Holy Spirit, we welcome God’s own life into our hearts and know God as comforter and guide.

These things are not dry or abstract theology. They are truths that make a difference to daily life. They help us to grow in faith, hope and love through the Spirit who has been poured out upon us and who, marvelously, dwells in our hearts together with the Father and the Son.

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