Originally hailing from Houston, Texas, Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora writes a series of articles on Baptismal Consecration. She holds an S.T.B., S.T.L. in Dogmatic Theology, and S.T.D. from the Pontifical Gregorian University, specializing in Bonaventure and Ecclesiology. She soon serves in Vatican City for The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
In our last issue, this column focused on the fact that, at our Baptism, Jesus Christ claims us for His own. No longer do we belong to ourselves, but we BELONG TO CHRIST. We noted, however, that to think of ourselves as belonging to Christ might make us wonder if, deep down, we count for anything at all. If it is indeed “all or nothing” and we, at the end of the day, are “nothing,” must we obliterate ourselves in order to belong to Jesus? Or worse, does Jesus really obliterate me in order for HIM to prevail in me?
While these questions might seem irrelevant or even irreverent, much pastoral experience both in and out of the classroom has taught me that many, if not most, Christians struggle with these questions, particularly when we are /were young. So let’s take a moment to reflect on what the Tradition teaches us about belonging to Christ.
St. Paul is the first to articulate what it means to belong to Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). In saying that he has been crucified with Christ, he communicates Christ’s having consecrated him through his Baptism into Christ’s death, a consecration St. Paul received from Jesus Christ in the Spirit and lived with energy. Do we live our Baptisms as Jesus’ action in our lives? Or do we live them as our action in the Church?
St. Paul goes on to say “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” With this observation St. Paul communicates the profundity of his baptismal experience /consecration: Paul is no longer “the one” living, but rather, it is CHRIST who lives in Him.
“But Sister, this sounds an awful lot like Jesus obliterated Paul!” Yes, it does. In his struggle to communicate the depth of his baptismal experience in words, St. Paul makes it seem as though he is a zero. If we keep reading, however, we see that St. Paul says: the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2.20).
St. Paul still lives his own biological, historical life. He is still a tentmaker and a preacher to the Gentiles. But now that he belongs to Christ, his biological, historical life (just as it is) has become soil for divine life in the Spirit. St. Paul has been transformed so completely that the entirety of his biological and historical life has become an “real presence” of the living God. In light of the reality of Christ’s presence living within him, St. Paul enthusiastically acknowledges and chooses his nothingness so that he might choose Christ! Choosing our nothingness frees us up to choose Christ, our ALL.
One of the “signatures” of Catholic thought is our focus on Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. We draw attention
to Catholic teaching regarding the real presence, focusing on the transformation of bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Biologically and historically, bread and wine still look, smell, taste and act like bread and wine. However, after they have been consecrated, they become Jesus Christ’s own body and blood.
St. Paul’s teaching in his letter to the Galatians speaks to just as profound and radical of a transformation of the Baptized into Jesus Christ. Biologically and historically we remain ourselves . . . we remain parents, teachers, engineers, bankers, business owners. All of this human reality is taken up and transformed by our Baptism.
Indeed, it is not too much to say that what Jesus is by nature, He makes us become by the grace of our Baptism. Baptism changes everything. By the divine life that has been planted with us at our Baptism, we believe that we will not stay dead, but that, like Jesus Christ, we will bodily rise from the dead. That is indeed an amazing and total transformation… let’s beg the Lord Jesus to deepen our experience of our Baptismal consecration. The next time we are at Mass, let’s pay attention to the Eucharistic prayer. As the priest calls the Holy Spirit down on bread and wine to transform them into the Body and the Blood of Christ, let’s beg the Holy Spirit to come down upon us, to renew within us the life and love given us at our Baptism; to complete our transformation into fully transparent icons of Jesus Christ.