Published on Those Catholic Men
Baptism is a big deal in the Christian life, and for good reason. The Catechism states that baptism “is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments,” (CCC 1213). This is pretty profound in its own right, and it really sets the tone for the significance of baptism. But how can we keep our baptismal promises — perhaps made on our behalf — later on in our lives? Yes, of course, it’s good to be baptized, but how do we continue to respond to being given such a precious gift days, months, or even years after the rite? After such an extended period of time, I think it’s easy to view our baptism as something we just have rather than what it is: a gift from God. As we mature into adulthood, we take on increased responsibility and are entrusted with the care of our Christian soul; we are therefore called to become “custodians” of our baptism.
To illustrate this, we’ll look at a simple analogy. I heard it said recently that the Scriptures evoke an image of the Father as the designer and architect of a home for all people, and of Jesus as the carpenter. Following along in this metaphor, God the Father draws his plans for the salvation of his people then passes them to his Son so that the work may be completed. The blueprints detailing the communion of creation with God’s divine life are given to the only one who is qualified to make them a reality, and thus Jesus the carpenter, with the wood of the Cross, builds his Father’s house on Earth so that we may dwell within it. This house is what we receive through our baptism. It is given to us, who are devoid of the merit to receive it, free of charge. Perfectly designed, masterfully built, and, because we have been given free will, this house is ours to care for as we see fit.
In any home, layers of dust and grime will settle over everything if left unattended for an extended period of time, no matter how clean it starts out; and if left in neglect, this coating will get thicker and thicker until what’s underneath is unrecognizable and repugnant. In the same way, through the toil of everyday life, one’s soul can become soiled by a buildup of spiritual grime, so to speak. Through the accumulation of sin, whether venial or mortal, the subsequent weakening or even severance of one’s relationship with God is analogous to allowing a thick layer of filth to settle over one’s home, covering the luster of the finery within. But a proper custodian would not let that kind of a buildup to occur in such a beautiful and resplendent house as the one we have been given in baptism, and neither should we allow such a condition to settle over our souls.
It’s only natural that, because we have received such a tremendous gift in our baptism, we should try our hardest to cherish and protect it at all times; but how is this done practically? Well, since baptism removes the stain of original sin from our soul, it seems that living a life free from sin would be the best way to preserve our unblemished baptismal garments; this doesn’t turn out to be such an easy task, however. Although baptism washes us clean from both original sin and the sins committed before baptism, we are still left with our concupiscence which is “an inclination to evil” (CCC 405). As a result of this predisposition toward sinful behavior, it is very likely that we will, at times, fall into sin and away from God. So if it’s likely that we are to sin, and it’s necessary for us to maintain our state of grace given to us in our baptism, isn’t it a great act of mercy that Christ has instituted the sacraments, especially those of Holy Communion and Reconciliation, for the forgiveness of sins and the outpouring of sanctifying grace? By participating in these sacraments, our sins are forgiven and our life in God, our baptismal gift, is kept in a state of purity.
As we have seen, baptism is the door through which the divine life comes to us. Should we not, therefore, keep this threshold free of obstacles and stumbling blocks? Should we not maintain a state of order and cleanliness within ourselves since we are temples of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)? It is up to us to keep our baptismal promises, but we cannot follow Christ or the promptings of the Spirit if we cannot see the beauty of what lies beneath the filth and grime of sin covering the radiance of our baptismal soul. Through our participation in the sacramental life of the Church, we act as custodians of the house designed by the Father and built by Christ. It is our responsibility as custodians to preserve and maintain the magnificent gift we have been given either in infancy or later in life. To do this effectively, we must strive to live a life free from sin to sustain the purity of our soul, and when we fall short, we must seek reconciliation from God through prayer and the reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as frequently as possible. In so doing, we will be acting as custodians of our baptism and stewards of the mysteries of God (cf. 1 Cor 4:1) until the day we are united with Christ and the other “holy custodians” at the eternal heavenly banquet.