Homily for Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2020
Pope John Paul II was once asked by a reporter, “What was the most significant day of your life?” There could be lots to choose from – the day he was ordained a priest, or elected Pope, or the day he was shot but survived, or the day that Communism finally fell. But he responded, “My most important day was the day of my baptism.”
The day of his baptism – St. John Paul II realized that baptism was the start to his relationship with God, and therefore it was the most important day of his life.
Most likely, everyone in this Church has been validly baptized. Would you say it is the most important day of your life? Do you even remember your baptism date? (I’m ashamed to say I don’t know mine!).
There is a big difference between a valid baptism and a fruitful baptism. In all Sacraments, validity means that we do what the Church asks of us. So a valid baptism means that water is poured on your head while someone says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” That is all that’s needed for a valid baptism. But for any Sacrament to bear fruit, it must be received with a spirit of faith and lived out.
So let’s look at the three main effects of baptism – and see if it has borne fruit in our lives.
The first effect of baptism is that it takes away original sin. The worst effect of original sin is that it separates us from God. Because of original sin, we are born empty – we have no grace within us.
Imagine if someone carried around a wallet that had no money in it – you’d say, “What’s the point?” Imagine if a kid showed up at school with a backpack that was completely empty – you’d question, “Why bother?” The whole point of a wallet is to fill it with something; the whole point of a backpack is to put something in it. In the same way, our soul – and even our bodily life – would be useless without being filled with God’s divine life (otherwise known as sanctifying grace).
So – have you kept that sanctifying grace in your soul, and increased it? Or have you lost it through mortal sin? The first effect of baptism is that it makes fills us with sanctifying grace – make sure never to lose that! St. Theresa of Avila said that if we saw a soul in the state of grace, we would be tempted to bow down and worship it – that’s how valuable grace is to our soul! It makes is like God!
The second effect of baptism is that it makes us a son or daughter of God. We all know many wonderful people who were adopted – perhaps they came from a foreign country where their lives would have been filled with suffering and poverty. What a blessing, then, to get out of that country where they would remain poor and alone, and enjoy the richness of a family here in America!
Likewise, without baptism we would have had a life full of spiritual poverty, despair, and loneliness. But now that we are adopted into the family of God, we have all the rights and dignity of being the son or daughter of the King, destined to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven!
But this, too, requires a response. Just as it would not be fitting for Prince Harry to eat out of a dumpster, it would not be fitting for a son or daughter of the Most High God to wallow in the filth of sin. Sometimes we prefer the trash of this world to the glories of eternity – and that is beneath our dignity! For we are sons and daughters of God!
A third effect: baptism makes us a member of the Church. Have you ever belonged to an exclusive club? Just this week I got my Stamford beach pass for this new year, which fills me with an exorbitant sense of superiority – “Oh, look at me! I have the exclusive right to park at Cove Island, unlike the rest of the riffraff in Stamford!” Of course I am kidding, but when you join a club or an organization you have certain privileges and honors.
By being a member of the Church, you now have access to the greatest treasures known to humankind! You can receive His Body and Blood; you can receive forgiveness of sins; you have the saints and angels as your friends; you have access to all the treasury of graces and prayers and teaching!
But this, too, demands a response. No one likes that guy who joins the Knights of Columbus but doesn’t ever come to meetings; no one should buy a gym membership and then never go. Likewise, to be a member of the Church means that all of us have a responsibility to build up the Church – through our prayers, through our service to other believers, through attending Mass and other events here at St. John’s, through financially supporting the Church, through bringing other people to Christ. Being a member of the Church has many rights – and many responsibilities.
My friends, baptism can and should be the most important day of our lives. It is the day when we became citizens of Heaven. But baptism is not an automatic magic charm – it is something that must be lived out. It gives us sanctifying grace, but we must then live in that grace; it makes us adopted children of God, but then we must live as His children; and it makes us a member of the Church, but we must then build up the Church. Baptism takes a little water and a few words to be valid – it takes a lifetime of cooperation with God’s grace to be fruitful.