In early spring, the world is bleak and brown—whipped by a cold wind. Perhaps it is like that with faith. When the world seems wintry, people of faith grip the bedrock, and from that common core, they surge into new life. We reach down into roots sunk so far in tradition we cannot see their source. But we know they are there.
If we try to go it alone, we quickly discover our impoverishment. To ignore God’s graciousness is to risk condemnation. To count on it is to take our place among the great ones who went before us. While we like to amuse ourselves with fantasies of martyrdom, we all face less dramatic realities. When we do so with faith, we transform them to holy ground. The irritating colleague, the whiny child, the boring job, the repetitive housework: all represent the place to which Christ calls us, the arena where belief becomes action.
Do we believe that the stuff of our lives can help shape us for greatness? Or do we relegate holiness to apostles and saints? Just as we can neglect belief, so we can make the mistake of distancing the grace of Baptism to a past event. But we can draw on its power today. Any gardener knows that roots need water. So, too, the baptismal symbols offer a fresh start, full of freedom, vigor, and potential.
When we bring that symbolism into each day, we discover that we are washed not only in water, but also in a new way of seeing. On the natural plane, we can all appreciate rain after drought or a hot shower after dirty work. The psalmist describes our profound yearnings for God:
O God, you are my God—
for you I long!
For you my body yearns;
for you my soul thirsts,
Like a land parched, lifeless,
and without water (63:2).
Jesus referred to himself as an exuberant fountain quenching this thirst: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37).
The post-baptismal anointing is an ancient act of strengthening. In the fourth century, St. Ambrose described the attraction of fragrant oils: “We shall run following the perfume of your robes.” If the perfume/lotion industry can capitalize on lovely scents, Christians can recognize more profound overtones: We are marked with the symbol of God’s beauty.
We who fret over problems at 3 a.m. know they become less formidable in the daylight. On his deathbed, the blind writer Goethe pleaded, “More light!” Jesus speaks to our dread of darkness: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5). One gift of Baptism is the presentation of a burning candle with the words: “Receive the light of Christ.”
Clothed in Christ
We know the difference clothing can make and how we feel when a new shirt or suit rates a compliment. Garment imagery runs throughout Scripture, where we read: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27). Wearing the garment of identification with Jesus can make us more courageous and compassionate.
A name change in Scripture signaled a new person (Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, Cephas to Peter). So our baptismal name gives us a new identity in Christ. We know the security of the Good Shepherd calling us by name. The Book of Revelation adds, “I will write on you the name of my God” (3:12).
The gifts of Baptism renew our best selves so we can get on with the business of recreating the world. Energized by shared beliefs that root us firmly, graced by symbols that ground our identity, we can focus on dreams and hopes—not fears and anxieties.
How could we neglect such a vibrant source of renewal?