Baptism Bridges the Chasm Between Our World and God's

Author: Mary Beth Bonacci


By Mary Beth Bonacci

"At some point Christ entered your lives and invited you to a greater awareness of your baptismal consecration; with God;s grace and the help of a believing community you grew in understanding of your Christian identity and your role in the Church and society." -- Pope John Paul II, Youth Forum Mass

I don't remember when I was baptized, but I do remember my second brother's baptism. I was 5 at the time, and he was basically zero. Actually, I think he was probably about a week old. A few days beforehand, I had asked my parents what baptism was and they told me that it was cleansing him of original sin. From that point on, I figured he was lying in his bassinet, thinking evil thoughts about how he wanted to kill everybody. I wanted to get on with the baptism before he got big enough to do anything about it. I was relieved afterward, figuring now that he was filled with the Holy Spirit he must be thinking nice loving thoughts about how wonderful everybody was.

OK, so my theology was a little flawed. I was only 5. But I think today a lot of people older than 5 lack a real understanding of what baptism is. They see it as an excuse to get their friends together, or as a rite of passage. Sometimes they don't see it as much at all and they don't get around to doing it until the "baby" can practically drive himself to the church.

Baptism is a big deal. It's important -- fundamentally important -- to our relationship with God. It's our "ticket" into that great, protective Church.

The need for baptism goes back to Adam and Eve. That story tells us that from the very beginning, man disobeyed God, caused a rupture in our relationship with Him. We have, as a result of that disobedience, a natural tendency to sin. There exists a great chasm between our world and God's. We've all seen that rupture, in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We've seen that people can tend toward evil. We've noticed that societies need to be policed to keep people in line. We've noticed that, left to our own devices, selfishness can be a lot more attractive to us than selfless giving.

That rupture, that chasm, was the reason Christ came into the world in the first place. He came to repair the damage, to reconcile the world to God. He knew that we ere miserable. He came to fix things.

But how was He going to do that? Well, there are a lot of ways He could have done it. He could've just wiped out the tendency in everybody. Of course, He wouldn't have to come down for that. He could just make the adjustment from where He is, like making an ATM transfer. But we wouldn't love God freely then. We would love Him because we were programmed to. Who wants to be loved by someone who has to love you? He made us to accept or reject Him, so rejecting Him has to remain an option for us to remain free.

But this original sin makes accepting difficult. So He gave us help -- big help. He gave us a way to transform ourselves, to overcome that tendency to sin. "I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly." He came to show us the way, through His power and His strength, to heal the rift.

But that healing doesn't happen automatically. We need to accept it, to buy into it. God gives us the way and the power to reconcile our lives with His, but we need to act, to do it, or rather, to actively allow Him to do it.

So how do we get that help? We know that Christ founded a Church and that He stays with it. We know that power to reconcile must have something to do with that Church. We know the Church is His instrument of salvation. But how do we tap into that power and that protection? Do we have to join? Pay dues? Go through an orientation seminar? Is it enough to just show up?

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). The key to accessing God's power, the key to getting to God's side of the chasm, is baptism. It places us squarely in the middle of His Church, His instrument of salvation. It puts us on the path to sanctity. It erases the past (all seven days of it, in my brother's case) and gives us access to the grace which makes union with God possible. It makes us new creations. It's the first step to abundant life.

So why do we baptize little babies? Are they choosing God? No, but without help, how will they? Baptism is no guarantee that a child will grow up loving God and living a holy life. But baptism places them on the right side of the chasm, where they can have the grace they need to choose Him. Those choices don't start when they are 11 or 12. They start when they decide to obey or disobey or whether or not to share. They need to learn about God early, and they need the grace of baptism to do that well. Union with God is not just for grown-ups. Christ said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me." He wants them with Him. And not all babies live long enough to become adults. Baptism places them in the Church, God's instrument of salvation, from the start.

When Pope John Paul II wanted to inspire the youth at the youth forum Mass, he didn't refer to some "new" inspiration happening in their lives. He pointed back to an old one, the original one. When Christ enters our lives and speaks to us, He's drawing on the first time He entered our lives -- baptism. The Holy Father urged the youth to draw on those graces, with the help of the believing community. Whenever we do good, whenever we participate in the Church, whenever we grow in holiness, we are acting on the graces of our baptism.

Do you act on the graces of your baptism? Do you ever reaffirm that baptismal commitment to God? And most importantly, do you work to stay on the side of the chasm that baptism put you on? Baptism gave you a tremendous grace and power to repair a rift that could never heal another way.

Don't forget those graces. Don't take them for granted, and most importantly, don't lose them. You still need them, even after all these years.

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on chastity.

This article appeared in the February 9, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.