It has been five months since we celebrated Easter, and today’s first reading gives us a booster shot to remind us what Christian life is really all about. Today’s reading from Paul, coupled with yesterday’s, is based on what is probably a 1st century Baptismal homily. Easter is the premier time for Baptism, since it is precisely Jesus’ death and rising to new life which we recreate in Baptism. Hence it is not surprising that these readings have strong overtones of Easter. (Yesterday’s first reading, in fact, is also heard on Easter Sunday morning.) The new members of Christ’s body are reminded that they have died with Christ and that they now live by Christ’s life. Paul describes the behaviors of one so inspirited. However, while Baptism has made that new life a reality, the individual still has to make it his/her own by daily conscious choices.
It is hard, I think, for contemporary Christians to appreciate what really happens in Baptism. As played out in our parishes and our family lives, Baptism is a religious ceremony we do for our children. It has sociological significance. It helps define who we think we are. Unfortunately religion, as we experience it in American life, is something we too easily put on or take off. But Baptism isn’t like that. Once you’ve been Christened, you can never again be an un-Christian. You may be a poor Christian or a fallen-away Christian. But you will always be Christian.
We seem able, only faintly, to glimpse that the sacrament produces a profound, existential change in the recipient. We use terms such as “die” and “rise” and “live”, but often they seem metaphors rather than literal expressions of what really happens. If we took them literally – as we should – God would grab hold of our lives and create in us something totally new (that’s why creation is repeatedly emphasized in the Easter Vigil readings). That’s what God wants to do if we will let Him. Paul describes what these re-created new lives would/should be like. His phrase “Put on compassion, kindness, humility . . .” evokes the putting on of the Baptismal garment. But it is not just clothing, it is a whole new way of acting we put on – a whole new life. When we were children our parents often chided us, saying “Act your age!” As Christians, our job as Paul stresses throughout his letters, is “Be what you are”.
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