The First Promise: A New Identity (Part 1)
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Editor's note: Father Knight had many talents. Unfortunately, computer file management was not one of those talents. Thus, I have so far been unable to locate Fr. Knight's reflections on the daily readings from today until Feb 22 (Ash Wednesday). Consequently, starting today, I will post selections from The Five Promises of Baptism on weekdays. (Full copies of the booklet are available here.) On Sundays, I will post reflections on the Mass readings -- if I can find those files! Pray for me! ~~ Lynne Marie
"It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."
The first thing God promised you at Baptism was a new identity. He promised you would be "transfigured"- made glorious, something like the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white Suddenly, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased" (Matthew 17:1-5).
When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, he wasn't changed. He was already divine. His glory just became visible. And the Father identified him as his "Beloved Son."
When you were "transfigured" at Baptism, however, you were changed. You became divine. But the glory of this did not become visible. In appearance you were the same. But in fact you became the "beloved son," the "beloved daughter" of the Father.
You became Christ.1
Suppose at your Baptism, that change had become visible. Suppose the glory of your divinity-of the divine life within you, given to you at Baptism, had shone out, just for a few seconds. Suppose all present had seen your face "shining like the sun'' and heard the Father's voice speaking out of a bright cloud that overshadowed them: "This is my son, my daughter, the beloved, on whom my favor rests." Would anyone ever have looked on you in the same way again?
Would your image of yourself be different? Would your Baptism be something you would celebrate as the turning point of your life, the most significant day in your existence?The day you received a new identity. The day you became Christ.
On the day you received your new identity-the day you were incorporated into Christ as a member of his body and became, in him, a true son or daughter of the Father and a "temple of the Holy Spirit"-the first promise of your Baptism was fulfilled. But to enter fully into that promise, you have to understand what it includes.
What does it mean to "become Christ"? What does it empower you to do? What experiences of "life to the full" does it open to you? How does it change what you are in the eyes of God? In your own eyes? To what does it entitle you? To what does it commit you? And what other promises accompany this new identity?
The phrase, 'You became Christ" may have shocked you. If so, it just bears out the point that something may have been lacking in the way we were evangelized. Four of the last popes have expressed concern that the Christians of today may not have really heard the Good News. Four popes have called for a "New Evangelization."
To quote just one of them, John Paul II called us to set ourselves and the world on fire again:
Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now. We need to rekindle in ourselves the driving force of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.2 We have "become Christ."
The first promise of Baptism sounds like the first and most fundamental temptation of the human race: the promise Satan made to Adam and Eve in the garden: "You will be like God."
The temptation was so strong because, in fact, this is what human beings were created for. The mistake-and sin-of Adam and Eve was not in wanting to be like God, but in wanting to achieve this in their own way, by their own power.
To "be like God" is the fruit of "grace" a word that means simply "gift." The "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" is the gift of sharing in God's divine life. It is the gift of "becoming God:' This is the first promise of Baptism. This is what Baptism gives.
The basic mystery of Baptism is that through this immersion we "become Christ." These are not words we are used to. What do they mean?
St. Augustine says, speaking to the baptized, "Let us rejoice and give thanks, for we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!"3
Fr. Michael Casey, a Trappist monk of Tarrawarra in Australia, says it more strongly than that in his book, Fully Human, Fully Divine:
According to the teaching of many Church Fathers, particularly those of the East, Christian life consists not so much in being good as in becoming God. We have been reborn [through Baptism] into a different sphere of existence. We are products of God's new act of creation [Christian life is] a journey to become fully human and fully divine.
St. Paul brings it down to daily living:
It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain (Galatians 2:20).
The mystery of our Baptism is that through incorporation into the body that died on the cross, we died with Christ and in Christ. Then we rose with him and in him to live now, not as what we were, but as the living body of Christ himself.
To explain that is the task of our reflections over the next several days. (See you tomorrow!)
1 This is the teaching of St. Augustine, quoted by John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth, no. 21: Having become one with Christ, the Christian "becomes a member of his Body, which is the Church" (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27). By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it "clothes him" in Christ (Galatians 3:27): "Let us rejoice and give thanks;' exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, "for we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!"
2 John Paul II, At the Beginning of the New Millennium, January 6, 2001, par. 40.
3 Quoted by John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth, no. 21.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry