Reunion Weekend is Almost Here

Join us Friday, May 31 – Saturday, June 1! Events are open to all alumni and celebrating milestone anniversaries for classes ending in 4 & 9.

Saint Ignatius High School

The Key to the Kingdom

In "The Key to the Kingdom," Jim Brennan '85 illuminates the profound significance of Baptism during the Easter season. Through symbolic rituals and reflections on ancient traditions, he reveals Baptism as a transformative journey of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ.
The Key to the Kingdom

Although store decorations may have shifted from Easter to Halloween (or whatever holiday marketing departments are emphasizing now), we Christians know that we are firmly in the middle of the Easter season. Like Christmas, Easter is “celebrated” in our secular world in the run-up to the day, when in reality both of those holy days mark the start of their observances. We will be chanting “Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia” at the end of Mass through Pentecost as we gratefully acknowledge the One Who conquered sin and death.

Careful observers notice that the Liturgy takes a slightly different tack during these weeks: in addition to a surfeit of “alleluias” during Mass, the priest opens the celebration by blessing the congregation with holy water, and in the sanctuary is the lit Paschal candle—the candle which was consecrated and first lit during the Easter Vigil. After Pentecost the candle will stand next to the baptismal font and be aflame only during baptisms and funerals, reminding us that as Christians we die and rise with Christ.

These symbols and the accounts from the Acts of the Apostles in our first readings at Mass remind us of the connection between Easter and Baptism. In the earliest days of the Church, catechumens would be baptized at the Easter Vigil after a period of preparation that could last as long as three years. Under the guidance of Campus Ministry chair Ed DeVenney, and taking a little less time, three Wildcats—freshman Nash Aldrich and juniors Noah Griffith and Noah Johnson—were baptized into the Catholic Christian faith during this year’s Easter Vigil. (Completing their initiations into the Church were also staff members Joe Goodwin and Kim Palsa, glory be to God!).  

So it is right to reflect on Baptism during Eastertide—the baptisms of our newest Christians and our own. Ask most Catholics what happens at the sacrament of Baptism and one will most likely hear “you’re cleansed of original sin”—an absolutely correct answer. As far as it goes.

But while we are indeed washed clean of original sin and enter into a state of (sanctifying) grace, there is much more to this sacrament than we often give credit. 

Baptism is about dying. In his Catechetical Lectures, St. Cyril of Jerusalem noted the effects of the sacrament:

Having gone down dead [into the baptismal pool] in sins, you come up quickened in righteousness. For if you have been united with the likeness of the Saviour's death (Rom. 6:5), you shall also be deemed worthy of His Resurrection. For as Jesus took upon Him the sins of the world, and died, that by putting sin to death He might rise again in righteousness; so thou by going down into the water, and being in a manner buried in the waters, as He was in the rock, art raised again walking in newness of life. (CL #3)

We die to sin—but we rise in grace. Anyone who has seen a full-immersion baptism of an adult would appreciate the power of that symbol: it looks like someone is drowning. (At the Easter Vigil, many parishes, like St Brendan’s, pay homage to this method of baptism by asking the elect to kneel in a baptismal pool). Having “died,” they emerge from the water (their “tomb”) into a new life. At this point the newly-baptized are dressed in a white garment, further symbolizing their spiritual purity and rebirth. This was the effect of baptism Church Fathers such as St. Irenaeus of Lyon emphasized as they referred to the baptismal font or pool as a womb.

King Louis IX of France hit well on the life-giving aspect of the sacrament when he reflected: 

I think more of the church where I was baptized than of Rheims Cathedral where I was crowned (as King of France). It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom.  

Contrary to the custom of the time, he also refused to celebrate his birthday as a public holiday, choosing instead to celebrate his baptism day. Perhaps this is one reason why the monarch has gone down in history less as “King Louis IX” and more as “St. Louis.”

What Louis saw, and we should remember, is that Baptism is about new life. It is about being brought, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into a new, intimate kinship with Christ and through that relationship to be made one with the family that is the Church. And with God the Father.

Louis’s spiritual genius was in recognizing that we are called to something greater than any earthly realm, that we are meant to be children of our Heavenly King: His heirs.

And Baptism is the key to that Kingdom.

A.M.D.G. /B.V.M.H.