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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. As the Church celebrates the feast of the Lord’s baptism, my mind returns to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land I made a few years ago. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the banks of the River Jordan, to where Jesus was baptised by John all those years ago. During our visit to the Jordan, we renewed our baptismal promises. It was a very memorable and spiritual experience that brought home to me a number of important truths about who I am as a baptised Christian. Here I would like to single out just one of those truths that is truly good news for everyone who has been immersed in the waters of baptism. Because of our baptism, our lives have meaning.

There is broad agreement that a lack of meaning in human lives creates a crisis of identity and purpose. But not everyone agrees that such meaning exists. For many atheists, there is no God and therefore no meaning to anything. For the English scientist Richard Dawkins, ‘the universe has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’ (River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life). As many people drift away from religious faith, this inevitably leads to a loss of a sense of meaning and a drift towards the scary conclusions of Dawkins. And when this happens, our sense of purpose in life, our reason to live and even our mental health can be affected negatively. According to psychiatrist Andrew Simms: ‘Profound suffering in the lives of many with mental illness is caused by a feeling of meaninglessness…Lack or loss of meaning in life is probably the most frequent spiritual symptom voiced by our patients (Is Faith Delusion?: Why Religion is Good for your Health).

For most of us, our baptism was a once off that happened when we were infants and that we have mostly forgotten about. To illustrate the point, we say things like ‘I was baptised’ instead of ‘I am baptised’. In our minds, our baptism is something that happened once rather than something that defines us now. For all of us who have forgotten the gift we have received at baptism and find that our lives lack meaning, it is time to re-discover the clarity and meaning of who we became on the day we were baptised.

At our baptism we were anointed as priests, prophets and kings. On that day, we were initiated into a wonderful enterprise greater than ourselves, the plan of God that the kingdom of heaven be realized on earth. On that day, we were consecrated to God and his service, set apart for his work and dedicated to him in love. In the words of the Rite of Baptism, with the sign of the cross, we were ‘claimed for Christ our Saviour’. This means that God has first claim on our lives, that our lives are not about us but about God’s purposes for us. On the day we were baptised, we received a vocation from God, a unique calling to undertake in life, a special mission to accomplish. In the words of St John Henry Newman: ‘God has created me to do him some definitive service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission’. In order that we might accomplish that mission, God has given us a variety of gifts to enrich the life of the Church and the world. He has given those gifts to us now. These are the gifts that God never takes back.

They are given forever but also given for the time when they are needed. Because this is true, the life of every Christian is marked by meaning and purpose. If I am a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a priest, a religious, a single person, a student or a child – my gifts and my life are at the service of his kingdom. This holds true even if even if we are sick, feel we can’t do much or have not much to contribute. Based on the Gospel miracle of the loaves and fish, we must never underestimate what God can do with limited resources. What matters is that we give to God all we have with love in the confidence that he will grant the increase and make his kingdom grow.

Remember your baptism, cherish it, celebrate it. On that day the seeds were sown for a beautiful life that is unfolding every day as we ‘walk together in newness of life’ (Rom. 6:3-4).


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