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First But Forever

by Timothy J. Cronin

Have you ever been really, really thirsty, with the kind of thirst where you'd give just about anything for a tall glass of cool water? Following a hot practice session of soccer or basketball, have you ever felt bummed out, tired and in need of a shower?

Or after a sunny day at the pool, have you found yourself burned and needing the relief only a soothing ointment could provide?

Have you ever had your self-confidence lifted by a new outfit that made you feel like a new person?

Hold these memories! This Youth Update invites you to an understanding of a sacrament you probably celebrated as an infant. Chances are you don't remember. Your recollections of times when you've been thirsty, dirty, in need of ointment or of a new outfit will help you appreciate your Baptism—foundation of all the sacraments and of your life as a Christian.

This Youth Update reviews how your Baptism was celebrated in hopes that you will better understand what it means to say you were plunged (dramatic, but true) into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You will also be challenged to plunge anew into life as a baptized believer.

The word baptism means to "dip" into the water (quite a contrast to dipping either chips or tobacco). Your parents, godparents and parish community acting on your behalf dipped you into the very life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a baby, you couldn't object to such an awesome and life-changing commitment.

Today, as a teenager, you probably don't want your parents to choose your friends, your clothes or your movies. Yet your parents, godparents and parish community chose the most important thing of all for you: Baptism. They marked the name of Jesus Christ on your forehead forever, claiming you for Christ! This marking is permanent, unerasable. They chose this without your approval or consent.

What's in a Name?

Your name: How important is it to you? I suspect you care just a bit. You like to see your name in the school newspaper, getting credit for your accomplishments. You're proud when your name lands on the academic honor roll. You also demonstrate how important your name is when you seek to have a "good name," protecting it from being used in a bad way or in an unfavorable place, such as the police log in the newspaper!

Because your name is so important in the celebration of Baptism, it's the very first question to be asked of your parents: "What name do you give your child?" Indeed the name given you at Baptism is the one known to the Christian community of which you became a part, and the name by which you are known to God.

Names matter to God who knows us each by name. The baptism of Jesus was met with the words, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). The first ritual at your Baptism was the giving of your name.

Once you had a name, your parents and godparents promised that your Baptism would be lived out and that they would show you by their own lives what it meant to be baptized.

Their promise made, you were welcomed with real joy. The priest or deacon presider claimed you for Christ by tracing the cross on your forehead. He invited your parents and godparents to do the same. You were marked with the cross of Jesus and marked forever as belonging to him.

Back in the first century, St. Paul wrote: "Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

Telling Our Stories

Are stories important in your family? As a child, you may have enjoyed opening each window of an Advent calendar to recall a story which prepared you for Christmas. Perhaps your family has a tradition of recalling the story of Christmas as you set up your crib scene each year. You might still enjoy telling scary stories around the fire at summer camp. Today, you might be among the millions of teenagers who are hooked on the stories of Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark.

Stories are so essential in Christian life that the celebration of every sacrament requires storytelling. The telling and retelling of the stories is called the "Liturgy of the Word." Those who assembled for your Baptism listened as the stories were told, the Scriptures proclaimed.

The readings for the celebration of your Baptism, like all Scripture, recalled God's faithfulness in the past, connecting this to God's promise of faithfulness to you. The God of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David and Jesus became your God too.

Those called upon to support you and be with you included important saints like the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, Sts. Peter and Paul and your own patron saint. These friends of the Lord began pinch-hitting for you from the first moment you were baptized. They continue to inspire you, pray for you and support you.

Next followed a prayer asking God to set you free from Original Sin and to make you a temple where God will live forever. It was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the very death and resurrection you were about to be plunged into, that freed you from Original Sin.

Original Sin can best be understood as our being separated from God. Such an unhappy state was not for you! Your parents and godparents and the gathered community, in plunging you into the waters of Baptism, immersed you in the very life of God.

Glistening, Glowing

After a day in the sun, have you ever found your skin burned and in need of a soothing ointment? Or perhaps you like to use aftershave or body lotion. These items protect our skin and make us feel and smell better.

One of your first experiences of this was when you were anointed with the oil of catechumens. This is the special oil blessed by your bishop at the cathedral during Holy Week, the week when the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord is recalled and celebrated. You were anointed with this oil, with prayers that Christ would strengthen you for your journey of faith.

Water, Water Everywhere

Maybe you've participated in an autumn sport that required demanding preseason training under a hot and sweaty August sun. If so, you know just how incredibly thirsty a person can get. The waters of Baptism can satisfy your spiritual thirst forever.

In John's Gospel, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that "whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14).

Those assembled to celebrate your Baptism were reminded that, at the dawn of creation, the Spirit breathed upon the waters. They recalled the great flood in the Noah story and the Passover event when Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea. Many powerful New Testament passages use the image of water: the baptism and anointing of Jesus in the Jordan and the flowing of blood and water from the side of the crucified Christ on the cross.

The Holy Spirit was called upon the waters in which you would be baptized with the plea that you who are "buried with Christ in the death of Baptism rise also with him to newness of life!" This water is often held in a font, which not only means the type designs used in this publication, but also the place where baptismal water is held.

The role of your parents and godparents is so important that they were asked a second time if they would be an example to you of what it means to live the life of a baptized believer. On your behalf, they renewed their own baptismal promises, rejecting sin and professing the faith of the Church. Then a third time they were asked if they desired for you to be baptized. With this yes, you were immersed or poured over with water three times, baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All Dressed Up and Ready to Go

Just as Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so were you anointed once again, this time on the crown of your head with chrism. Such a royal anointing required royal clothing! You had become a new creation in Christ and were clothed with a white garment, a sign of your new status or dignity.

Have you ever had your confidence boosted by a new outfit? At Baptism, you were clothed in Christ! This new white garment was placed on you with the words: "With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven."

After you were decked out in your white outfit, newly washed and anointed with the finest sweet-smelling oil, your father or godfather lit a candle for you from the Easter candle, that great symbol of the risen Christ whose life you now share. A great hope was expressed: May you always walk in the light of Christ and keep the flame of faith alive in your heart.

As a great climax, you were presented to the gathered assembly as their newest member and you were probably welcomed with enthusiastic applause.

For most Catholic teenagers, your baptismal ritual occurred when you were an infant, before you could say yes on your own. Hopefully, your parents, godparents and parish community have followed through on the promises they repeated three times to support you on your journey of faith, especially by good example. But now you are a young adult and it's up to you to say yes to the life of Christ into which you were plunged and pledged.

Mentors Matter

You were not brought to the waters of Baptism alone but came already connected to people who loved and cared for you—your parents, godparents and parish community. You need mentors and elders, people you can trust and respect and who can guide you along the way. As a child, you probably saw a parent, neighbor or older brother or sister as your hero. Teachers, coaches and Scout leaders gave you the mentoring you've needed as well. As mentioned earlier, you have the example of the saints, especially your patron saint, to be your guide and role model.

You may be among the fortunate who've had godparents who have taken their responsibilities seriously and been a source for you of support and strength. But if you haven't been close to your godparents, why not start now?

Your godparents represented the entire Christian community. They were significant as you began your life in Christ. As a young man or woman, you can now make an effort to connect with them. You might begin with a simple thank you!

Now What?

When you were baptized, your parents, godparents and the Christian community welcomed you with great joy. They decided to give you the greatest gift possible—the gift of Jesus Christ. With continual love and support, living your Baptism is now up to you. There's an old question, "If it were against the law to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

How can you tell if you are living your Baptism? It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that holds both the challenges and the answers. Do you turn the other cheek? Do you pray for your enemies? Are you willing to forgive over and over again? When something is demanded of you, do you offer even more than what was originally expected? Are you fair and just? Are you willing to die and rise over and over again? Are you a source of peace and hope for those who know you? Are you willing to ask for forgiveness and try harder—again and again?

These are tough questions which lie at the heart of what it means to live out your Baptism, to be plunged again and again into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Timothy J. Cronin was baptized at Sacred Heart Church in Youngstown, Ohio. His godparents were Robert and Ann C. Chambers. He is the proud godfather of T.J. Arnoto and Jonathan Sauline.

Keith Borchers (17), Nick Meyer (17), Katie Pohlman (18) and Eric M. Rosenbeck (18), members of St. Remy Church in Russia, Ohio, met over pizza to discuss this issue. Dee Monnin, youth minister, gathered the group, which offered many helpful observations.


Find Out More About Your Baptism 

Ask Your Parents or Godparents

Was I baptized as an infant? Why or why not? Where was I baptized and why there? Why did you choose my godparents and what qualities did you see in them? When did my Baptism take place? What do you remember about it? Was my Baptism done by full immersion into the water? Was there any special family significance to the white garment in which I was dressed? Who baptized me? How did family and friends continue the celebration following the liturgy of Baptism? Are there any photographs or mementos of the day you could share with me?

Look It Up

Why were you given your name? Is your name important in the traditions of your family? Who is your patron saint? Butler's Lives of the Saints may be found in your parish library or in the public library. This is a chance not only to learn about your patron saint but also to begin to form a relationship with him or her. (You may need to look up your middle name to find your patron saint.)

Visit the Parish of Your Baptism

You may still be a member of the parish where you were baptized, or it might still be convenient to visit there. Better still, you may consider worshiping there on a Sunday. When you go there, take a moment to notice the baptismal font. Baptismal fonts are sometimes referred to as "the tomb and womb of the Church." It was in the living waters of this font that you were plunged into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—your share in the Easter Mystery.

Celebrate the Anniversary of Your Baptism

As a Chrisitan, the day of your Baptism is more important than the day of your physical birth. Find out the date of your Baptism (the parish where you were baptized has your record) and celebrate each year by making a more conscious effort on your anniversary to live as Christ in whose life you were immersed. End a quarrel, visit someone who can't get out, babysit for free, volunteer at a soup kitchen, tell your parents you love them.



Were my parents able to decide on their own to have me baptized—or were other people involved?


Being part of the Church means that other people are always involved in the celebration of the sacraments. Nevertheless, the request to have you baptized had to come from your parents. Canon law (the law of the Church) prohibits the celebration of any of the sacraments with children except with parental consent. Sometimes parents who are minimally involved with the Church are pressured by family or friends to have their baby baptized. Parents should not request Baptism for children unless they are willing to show their children—through their lives—what it means to be a committed Catholic.


Baptism sounds so important, but not everyone is baptized. How can I—and should I—stress its importance to others?


Baptism is, like all the sacraments, ultimately a gift from God. We believe that those who are baptized and brought into the Church are there because God has desired it. The decision to be baptized and to enter into the life of the Christian community is never private (the sacraments are always the public prayer of the Church), but it is personal. Reaching out and inviting others to be part of the Body of Christ is the responsibility of all Christians. How do we do that? First and foremost, by the way we live. There is an old saying, "Your life and mine may be the only gospel that your neighbor ever reads." It's an awesome responsibility.


Why is water emphasized so much in this sacrament?


Water is a universal symbol. This means that it has common meaning across many different times and cultures. Think about what water does for us and to us and how our human experiences with water apply to Baptism. Water is absolutely essential for all life. Also, water cleanses and restores. So it is with Baptism, which gives us new life and cleanses us. But Baptism involves death, too. Thousands drown the world over every year, and water can destroy in the form of flood and torrential rains. In Baptism, we die to our old sinful selves in order to be restored and resurrected in the new life of Christ. Water is the ideal primary symbol for Baptism.


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