Around the baptistry in our church there are beautiful wrought iron railings depicting flowing waters. In the midst of the waves there is another symbol, a spiral. The spiral is a symbol of life and energy, of growth and change. It is about being drawn back to the centre, to a place of truth and then moving outwards again strengthened by that truth, not just once but as many times as we need to.
I find it particularly appropriate that the spiral is there amidst the flowing waters of life at our baptistry. To me it is a sign that we are drawn back time and again to explore the meaning of our own baptism.
This Sunday, January 8, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. We have been here before and there is a danger that we get weary of repetition, that we stop listening. If we are invited to renew our own baptismal promises are we doing so with energy and conviction? Are we thinking about what we are committing to? Or are we just going through the motions?
What are we being asked? What is this baptism about? I would suggest that baptism is:
- The source of our belonging within the Christian community.
- The call to be the Body of Christ in our world – lived out in the daily bits and pieces of life.
- The root of discipleship and ministry – not just for priests and religious but for every baptised person and that means you and me.
- The call to build community, to work for justice and to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- The affirmation of the family as the first place of encounter with God.
- The foundation of our joy and the place where our liturgy begins.
- Core to our identity and a statement of who we are throughout our lives.
- The beginning of a journey, growing in love and relationship with God.
- The entry point to all the other sacraments and to a life of faith.
- A touchstone that gives moral direction to our lives.
When we are invited to renew our baptismal promises this is what we are saying yes to. It is easy to say we believe in something – words do not cost a lot. I can tell you that I believe we should protect our natural environment but still run the tap and waste water every time I brush my teeth. I can tell you that I believe we are all created in the image and likeness of God, while walking down the street trying desperately to avoid making eye contact with that person I have decided is a bit odd.
At some point words need to be translated into action. That is what happens at the baptism of Jesus. God’s voice from heaven affirms ‘This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him’. Baptism marks the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus lives out his ‘yes’ to God.
Everything that Jesus does, his preaching and teaching, his healing and reconciling, the meals he shares with people and the relationships he builds – everything is built upon his baptism, his acceptance of his own identity as the Son of God.
So too in baptism we are invited to accept who we are as sons and daughters of God, accept it not just in the words we say but in the lives we live.
In the parish, when we are working with children and young people, preparing them for First Eucharist and Confirmation, we always begin with baptism because this is where our identity as Christians first takes root. We want the children to take ownership of their baptism not as a once off event, in their past, but as a reality to be lived each and every day.
The spiral form of the liturgical year brings us all back to this point, to reflect upon baptism. We are offered anew the opportunity to live our ‘yes’ to God in the bits and pieces of our everyday lives.