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Last Word - May 2010

Our New Identity

With the Easter baptisms and the renewal of baptismal promises we make every Easter behind us, it is a good time to think a moment about baptism.

The reflection begins with Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. At about the age of 30 Jesus’ life takes a radical turn. From being a simple craftsman of Nazareth, unknown and hidden, ordinary, He suddenly crashes onto the scene as preacher, teacher and healer after coming out of the water of the river. Jesus comes out of the water a new man. He is no longer Jesus the carpenter the (putative) son of Joseph, not even Jesus of Nazareth, despite the sign Pilate had nailed on the cross. He is now Jesus the prophet; Jesus the one who is to come; Jesus the Christ; he is Jesus the beloved Son of the Father. We talk about being born again, about new life. It’s not some abstract thing. This is not some mystical thing (or at least not merely some mystical thing). His life actually changes dramatically. He lives differently. His life is redefined. His life is truly new after coming out of that water.

What of our own baptisms?

For us, too, baptism is a life-defining moment. It changes everything. We define ourselves in many different ways during our lives in a variety of situations. We define ourselves by such things as: gender, age, social status, educational background, race or nationality, family of origin, wealth of lack of it, our job, our relationship to a spouse or lack of a spouse. The answer to the question, “Who are you?”, may incorporate any number of elements from that list. But, as the Anglican Bishop and scholar Thomas Wright points out, “under the water, all these things cease to matter.”

From the moment of coming out of the water, you are a new person, redefined, with a new identity. The answer to the question, “Who are you?”, has changed. After baptism you are, first of all, son or daughter of the Father, you are disciple of Jesus, you are a member of Christ. You are not perfect. Baptism doesn’t make us perfect. But it sets us on a path following Jesus in the way of the cross to the way of resurrection glory. We have been publicly given a share in Christ’s dying and rising, and we are defined by that event for the rest of our lives. It is the defining moment of a Christian’s life. Everything else in life is judged, evaluated, ordered by that event. It is who you truly are.

And just as Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism, each of us is called to begin a life of ministry in service to the God and the Church after baptism.

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal