“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Beach trips were a normal part of my Southern California childhood. I was never an especially strong swimmer, but I was capable enough to take on the waves confidently. On one frightful occasion, I was pulled under by a breaking wave. Looking back now, I’m sure that it held me under for just a few seconds. But in the surprise of the moment, having lost all control of my body and being tossed around at the mercy of the mighty ocean, it felt like an eternity. Would I ever be released? I opened my eyes to look for an escape, but I was so disoriented that I couldn’t find the surface. Panic rushed over me as I realized that there was nothing I could do to save myself, and at last I capitulated. I lived a good life, right? If it was my time, at least I was going to die doing something I loved. And then suddenly and unexpectedly, I resurfaced. With a gasp of air, I clung back on to life. If you’ve ever had a close brush with death, you know the sense of gratitude that follows. It usually comes with some sort of promise to never again squander such a dear gift. Mine was something like: “For as long as I live, I will never, ever, waste even a minute of the life I’ve been given!”
We are created to live. We are wired to survive, and when we stumble upon some existential threat, adrenaline is pumped into our body, our heart rate increases, and our senses sharpen. God “freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1). He created us so that we could participate in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity.
Despite this truth, it is only through death that we enter into new life. Death wasn’t part of the original plan; in fact, it was only through sin that death entered into human history. But in God’s goodness, He took death and made something more of it. By death, Jesus conquered death itself and rose to new life. In the sacrament of Baptism, we enter into communion with Christ’s death, are buried with him, and rise with him. We are made new creations and echo St. Paul’s words to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We put behind us our past selves, and flourish in Christ. Baptism literally means, “to plunge or immerse,” and part of the symbolism contained in the rite is being plunged into burial (the water) with Christ so that we may rise with him as a new creation.
Just the memory of being tossed around in the sea helps me to recognize the value of the life I have. How much more should our baptism do that! Through our baptism, we are cleansed of sin, restored to grace, and brought into communion with God as his daughters and sons. We celebrate our birthdays not because the date itself is important, but because of the great dignity of the life it signifies. How much more should we celebrate our baptism date! That’s the day we were made new creations in Christ. Many of us who were baptized as infants don’t remember it, but the reality is that it was the most important day of our lives. St. Louis Mary de Montfort believed baptism to be so important, he dropped his surname, Grignion, and prefered to be called by the name of the town in which he was baptized — even though he lived there for just the first two years of his life.
So as we come off of celebrating the Lord’s own baptism this past Sunday, make an effort to look up your own date of baptism. If your parents don’t know it, parishes keep records (because it is so important to know if one has been baptized or not!), and you can call their office to find your baptismal record. Mark it on your calendar. And celebrate. Through your baptism, you were made a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).