Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Most Important Day of Your Life

St. Louis

(Baptism of the Lord (C): This homily was given on January 10, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Titus 2: 11-14; 3: 4-7; Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22; John 3.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Baptism of the Lord 2016]

What has been the most important day of your life thus far (leaving aside the day you were physically born into the world)?

If someone asked you that question, how would you respond?

What has been the most important day of your life thus far?

I can tell you with almost complete certitude how King Louis IX of France would have answered that question, had you posed it to him when he was walking around on planet earth back in the 13th century.

He would not have said it was the day that he got married.

He would not have said it was the day that he and his wife had their first child—or any one of their other 10 children.

He would not have said it was the day that he became the king of France in the Cathedral of Reims.

He would have said—without any hesitation whatsoever—that it was the day when he received the sacrament of Baptism!

In fact, for all practical purposes he did say that when he was once asked why he signed everything “Louis of Poissy” and not “Louis IX, King of France” (which would have been the traditional way for him to sign letters and documents as king).

He answered by saying that Poissy was where he was baptized.  Then he added, “I think more of the place where I was baptized than of Reims Cathedral where I was crowned.  It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom. This last I shall lose at death but the other will be my passport to an everlasting glory.”

I guess it won’t surprise you to know that Louis IX of France is now known to the world as “St. Louis.”  (I wonder how many people in Missouri know that!)  He’s one of the few earthly rulers in history to be canonized a saint by the Church.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a few leaders like this in our world today?

St. Louis, pray for us—and for our world leaders.

So how would you answer that question … What has been the most important day of your life thus far?

In all honesty, there was a time when I’m quite certain I would not have said it was the day I was baptized!  That’s because I have often been guilty of taking this first and foundational sacrament for granted.

And I suspect many of you have as well.

So why is Baptism so important?

Well, very simply it’s because without the grace of Baptism in your soul—which is the grace that Jesus won for us by his passion, death and resurrection—you can’t get into heaven!  As our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

“Water and Spirit” signifies Baptism.

And this is what we mean when we say that Baptism takes away original sin.  Original sin, remember, is not like the personal sins we commit every day and then confess in the confessional.  Original sin is actually the lack of something: the lack of sanctifying grace!  Original sin means that we come into this world without sanctifying grace in our souls.

And, as I indicated earlier, we need this grace in our souls if we want to be able to pass through the pearly gates when we die!

Sanctifying grace: Do not leave earth (that is to say, die) without it!

St. Paul said it perfectly in today’s second reading from Titus 3 when he wrote, “God 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.”

Notice that Paul says there that through Baptism we become heirs in hope of eternal life.  “In hope” means that it’s not a done deal and it’s not magic!  We receive sanctifying grace into our souls at Baptism, but we can lose it.  We lose sanctifying grace if we commit a mortal sin.

Which is why the Lord gave us the sacrament of Penance!  Confession restores what mortal sin takes away.

Of course, it also needs to be mentioned that when a person is baptized after attaining the age of reason, the sacrament also takes away all their personal sins as well as the temporal punishment due those sins. 

That’s a tremendous gift of mercy—as anyone will tell you who’s been baptized as an adult!  This means that, when a person makes his first confession sometime after his baptism as an adult, he only has to confess what he’s done SINCE THE DAY HE WAS BAPTIZED!  Everything before that was forgiven at the baptismal font.

We had a teenage girl baptized here at St. Pius a couple of weeks ago, and after the ceremony I told her that at that moment she was the holiest person in the church building.

Because she was!

The early Fathers of the Church used to say that, when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Jesus “sanctified the waters”.  In other words, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, because he had no sin.  He received the baptism of John (which had no power to forgive sin in and of itself) to give us an example.  He did it as a sign of what he wanted his followers to do after his resurrection, and as a sign of the fact that the Christian sacrament of Baptism would have the power to forgive any sin and every sin!

Furthermore, as it says in paragraph 1265 of the Catechism, “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

It also makes us a member of the Church; it imprints an indelible spiritual mark on our soul; it gives us a share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ; and it opens us to the possibility of receiving the other sacraments.

These are the things that King Louis IX knew and understood—and this is why he said that the day of his baptism was far more important than the day he was crowned the King of France.

Let me now conclude by asking you to do something.

Do you know the date of your baptism?  Mine was May 5, 1957.

If you don’t know the date of yours, then do some research and find out when it was.

That’s your homework assignment.

And then make a resolution to celebrate the anniversary of that event each and every year!  Resolve to do something special on the anniversary of the day when you were “born again of water and Spirit”—just like you do something special on the anniversary of your physical birth each year.

And make that resolution even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t do anything special on your physical birthday.

I’m happy to say that lots of people all over the world celebrate the anniversary of my baptism every year.  I think they call it “Cinco de Mayo”.

How nice of them to have that annual celebration in my honor!

But, remember, the anniversary day of your baptism is also worth celebrating—even if the rest of the world doesn’t celebrate it.