“I’m 82 years old! Why am I only learning now about everything that happened at my baptism?” said the slightly perturbed woman who had attended a presentation I made in her parish a few years ago about what happens at baptism. While she was understandably disquieted to learn that she had lived mostly in the dark about her baptism for nearly 82 years, I have discovered repeatedly that many Catholics baptized in infancy are in the same boat, largely unaware of what really happened at their baptism.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist at the Jordan River. It seems a good moment to explore the meaning of our baptism. Most of us know some baptism basics such as 1) it washes away original sin, 2) I become a child of God, and/or 3) I become a member of the Catholic Church (or a member of another Christian denomination into which I am baptized). These are all important aspects of baptism. But there are other equally important dimensions of baptism many Catholics never learn about.
One of the most significant is that you are given three gifts (some call them ‘offices’) in baptism. The gifts are 1) priesthood, 2) prophecy, and 3) leadership. What are these gifts/offices and what do they mean for you as a baptized Christian? Let’s look at them briefly in turn. Priesthood: We often think of people like Frs. Jairo, Jim, and me as the “priests.” In fact, everyone baptized is a priest. Frs. Jairo, Jim, and I are ministerial priests but everyone who is baptized is a baptismal priest. Like ministerial priests, baptismal priests do two critical things: 1) worship glorify God and 2) pray for the sanctification of the people. Every time you worship or glorify God, be it at Mass, in your home at prayer, on a nature walk, looking up at the night sky, etc., you are exercising your baptismal priesthood. Worshiping God is the principal purpose of Sunday Mass. This is what all Christian priests do, both baptismal and ministerial. You also intercede to God for the sanctification (making holy/whole) of others. Lifting others up in prayer in their need is an exercise of your priesthood. This is what all priests do, baptismal and ministerial.
Prophecy: To be clear, you are not endowed at baptism with the ability to predict the future, the popular understanding of prophecy. Doing that makes you an oracle according to the Bible. According to the Bible, a prophet is someone highly in tune with the will of God for the world and for individuals who is sent as God’s messenger to proclaim that will and its consequences if not followed. The prophet alerts or forewarns so listeners can choose the correct path, according to the Lord, for their life. Parents who teach their children to be honest and to tell the truth is a good example and includes the remediation of their children when they are dishonest or untruthful because the consequences of these behaviors are always negative and destructive and not according to the will of God for them or the world.
Leadership: The traditional Biblical language used in baptism is associated with royalty, e.g., king. You are called to govern, to lead, but not in the way people generally lead in government today. Because you become a brother or sister of Jesus in baptism, you are called to exercise your leadership following his example: washing feet, serving others selflessly. Some refer to it as servant-leadership. The baptized lead by serving others and reflecting the model of Jesus’ leadership by example. Spouses do this when they make sacrifices for each other out of love. Parents do this for their children. Children do this for their friends and siblings. The best example of this leadership is when we do this for the least, the marginal, and especially the enemy. The baptized are to exercise these gifts/offices on a regular basis throughout life. But first the baptized need to know they have been given these gifts/offices. Part of a parish-wide project this year will explore the deeper meaning of our baptism so we may become aware of what has been given to us and how we are to use it. Stay tuned for more . .