Saturday after the Epiphany at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings:  1 Jn 3:11-21; Jn 1:43-51

Today’s readings from John prepare us for the great feast tomorrow of the Baptism of the Lord. It does this because it causes us to stop and think about our own experience of baptism. It sanctifies us and to be sanctified is to have our character determined by our basic commitments and beliefs about God. We are who we are by the kind of beliefs and reasons we use to determine that which we do and do not do. 

Water washes away what is incompatible with cleanness. Cleanness makes a thing or person receptive to its purpose, usually a purpose determined by someone else. Water cleans away what doesn’t matter. But it only works if one consents.

In baptism the water and the washing are symbols of what is going on interiorly. What is going on interiorly is the washing away of old intentions in living that don’t really matter. They’re temporal or short-lived rather than eternal. They’re often ordered to self-satisfaction rather than usefulness to God and neighbor. In the baptism of Christ we are given a new intention. John the Baptist says, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.” But again, it only works if one consents.

Being given a new intention is a very important thing. It means we can be self-determining instead of being determined by whatever is currently in fashion or “cool”. Here is what we consent to: We can determine who or what kind of person we shall be and what actions or way-of-life will express that. We can order our desires, affections, and actions according to certain reason rather than others. We select a community to associate with that lives out a story that promotes being that kind of person. Baptism, taken seriously, does all that…with our consent!

In monastic life we undergo two baptisms, two washings away of what doesn’t matter: one occurs during the first year or two of formation; the other occurs all the time after that! (with our consent…)