Then, in another moment, we were not.
What happened? St. Paul tells his young friend, St. Titus, about this moment:
“when the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Ti 3:4-5).
This “bath of rebirth and renewal,” of course, is our Baptism. In that moment, our eternal relationship with God began, and to this very moment, that relationship continues. We’ve all had some experience of Baptism – beyond our own, I mean. Perhaps we are a godparent or sponsor; or we are parents or relatives or friends present at a Baptism; or maybe we happened into a Mass where there was scheduled a Baptism during that celebration. Whatever our connection to those moments, we are privileged to be present for a remarkable event: a moment of rebirth into eternal life and the start of a person’s life in Christ.
But what does this life require? Once baptized, what is next – if anything? Yes, this is a religious ceremony, a beautiful occasion celebrated with family and friends; but when the cake is gone and the ice cream melted and the baptismal gown packed away, what is required of us in this relationship that finds its root in that Sacrament?
Pope Benedict XVI has had a lot to say about Christian Baptism. He goes beyond the Sacrament celebrated to the Sacrament lived:
“Baptism is not only a word; it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God's action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action” (Homily, 1/7/07).
However, not only is the common element of water made an agent of rebirth and renewal, but the baptized person themself is transformed - made "another Christ" through conformity to His death and resurrection. Therefore, that divine action is not only a bestowal of grace from above, but also the new action of that "alter Christus" in the world. “Divine action”: that is, now that we share in the divine life of God through Baptism, we also share in the action of God. Our life must reflect this relationship always. How do you tell if someone has been baptized? Is there any distinguishing mark? Do we need to wear a special hat or T-shirt?
Christians are known by their actions. Christian life received means Christian life lived. This means that we are responsible actors in our world – actors who show forth that relationship in which we are rooted. When we are baptized, we become sharers in the intimate life of the Holy Trinity – that relationship of Love that is God Himself.
If our actions define us as Christians, then there is a sense of responsibility that is connected with our Baptism – even when we were baptized as infants. Through our Baptism, we are made responsible actors, making use of our freedom within the relationship we share with God. Therefore, as free, responsible actors in our world, this life – this relationship – of Baptism carries with it a moral sense. As sharers of that intimate life of the Trinity, everything we do is to be a reflection of that Love that is God.
John Paul II wrote in his encyclical on the moral life, Veritatis Splendor, how life in Christ means a life of following Christ.
Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us. …
To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for man by his own strength alone. He becomes capable of this love only by virtue of a gift received. As the Lord Jesus receives the love of his Father, so he in turn freely communicates that love to his disciples: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love" (Jn 15:9). Christ's gift is his Spirit, whose first "fruit" (cf. Gal 5:22) is charity: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). Saint Augustine asks: "Does love bring about the keeping of the commandments, or does the keeping of the commandments bring about love?" And he answers: "But who can doubt that love comes first? For the one who does not love has no reason for keeping the commandments". …
Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept, because what they demand is beyond man's abilities. They are possible only as the result of a gift of God who heals, restores and transforms the human heart by his grace (JPII, Veritatis Splendor, nos. 21, 22, 23).
Thus, tonight, I won’t give you a laundry list of precepts that must be followed in order to “really” live out your Baptism. This law – the law of Christ – is already written on your heart. You can follow it because God has given you each His grace to make “all things possible.” Baptism, fully lived, means loving; and all love – true love – finds its root in God.