Tattooed You: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Pat GohnImitate Jesus.

That's the best resolution I can suggest to Christians and others looking to make a fresh start in the New Year.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which officially concludes the Christmas season, is a perfect transition into the Ordinary Time of both the secular and liturgical years. As feast, it is also a perfect foundation upon which to support a resolution to imitate Jesus, because it comes with a built-in advantage that our secular resolutions lack: Grace.

The grace of baptism is God-directed inspiration and spiritual power, meant to both animate the ordinary times and seasons of our lives and to assist in our re-creation as Christ-followers. Our truest imitation of him begins with our fully comprehending our baptism; what we have been baptized into; to whom we belong, and therefore who we are.

Those of us who were baptized as infants rarely spare a thought for our baptisms and often fail to appreciate the singular gift poured over us in the sacrament. Thanks to the Church calendar, however, we are invited to revisit and ponder this mysterious, invisible mark that claims us for Christ:

And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt. 3:16-17).

The dramatic opening of the heavens allows a glimpse of the Spirit, as the voice of the Father acknowledges love of the Son. We see the Triune God, wholly present in one powerful snapshot captured by Matthew. Jesus' true identity is acknowledged, and his mission—his "eternal messianic consecration" (CCC, 438)—set in motion in a public, and momentously transparent, fashion.

Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father's beloved son in the Son and "walk in newness of life [Rom. 6:4.]." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 537)

How magnificent! God, in the Trinity, not only shows up, he transforms the human person, coming to live within them! At Christmas, Emmanuel came to "set his tent" with us. Now, the omnipotent and Most Holy Trinity takes residence in human persons as they are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Baptism announces our Christian identity as beloved adopted sons and daughters of God. This is not earned; it is a pure gratuitous gift of purification and mercy meant to free us, that we may receive Jesus and grow in likeness to him; it consecrates our mission in the Body of Christ, the Church on earth, as it anticipates our promise of heavenly resurrection.

The Gospel invites us to contemplate these things anew; being called a son or daughter of God is not some meaningless platitude designed to make a Christian feel "special." No, it is a fast reality.

We are God's beloved, always.

God brands a soul in baptism—like a soul tattoo. The Church calls this a "mark" or a "character."

Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation . . .

The Holy Spirit has marked us with the seal of the Lord ("Dominicus character") "for the day of redemption" [Eph. 4:30; cf. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:21-22]. "Baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life." The faithful Christian who has "kept the seal" until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life "marked with the sign of faith," [see Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer I], with his baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed vision of God—the consummation of faith—and in the hope of resurrection. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1272 and 1274)

In other words—signed, sealed, delivered. We're his.

But our baptism must be lived out, "practiced," if you will, in a formed, instructed faith. Without formation it is difficult for many to grasp this wild notion that God loves us and would like to be joined to us forever.