“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3)
The greatest joy of my priesthood is to lift up a newborn infant, naked as at birth, holding him above the holy water before plunging him or her down as though in liquid burial and raising the child washed clean and given a new, spiritual birth. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!” If only it were possible to keep the child that way – without knowing sin, never being tempted by it.
The poet Wordsworth described what happens in the process of growth and the way that sin influences a person, infecting him or her so that the ideals and visions of infancy disappear in time:
The youth who daily from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended,
At length the man who perceives it dies away,
And fade into the light of common day.
The baptized person goes “daily from the east,” where the font is located, a newborn Adam in charge of Nature, offering like a priest prayers to God, attended by angels as he or she walks in splendor with a vision of purity, innocence and light. All this because in Christ with Whom he was baptized, then in the holy Chrismation sacrament “Blessed with every spiritual blessing,” meaning she or he has been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit on all the orifices of the head, on the breast, back, arms and feet. Must it: “die away And fade into the light of common day”? The youth matures into teenage and adulthood, never having the possibility of remaining as he or she was, but who “Must travel” on the journey of life, accepting, dealing with and enduring every challenge on the way to the Kingdom of heaven.
Wordsworth was among the Romantic poets who believed that infants come from heaven pure and without sin. Ours is a more realistic understanding of birth and life thereafter. Baptism restores a condition which man had originally received but then forfeited. We believe that we are born into a paradise lost because of our ancestral sin, which is why we baptize and chrismate our infants, so that they are liberated from sin from their early days. We know all too well what St. Paul means when he speaks of being “dead in sin.”
The initial experience of sin is that it kills our innocence. If only life were an endless attention from a loving, consistent, eternally patient parent – but it’s not. And when that ends, when what the world calls “reality” smacks us hard, we retain an eternal memory of the anguish that comes with misfortune. We adapt. Life is a continual process of adjustments; however, lost innocence can never be recovered. Purity is muddied up with mixtures of happiness and sadness, good times and bad. Whatever ideals we once dreamed of are compromised by an uncaring world. Mentally we become hybrids, allowing ourselves to imagine a perfect world, but living in a meanwhile, so-called “real world.”
The tragic irony is that while we proceed through a lifetime of adjustment to sin and suffering, seemingly with no recourse but to endure and hope for better conditions, all the while we have Christ nearby – better, within us, waiting to be called upon to guide and reinforce everything good, noble and sacred, treating us with the love of a perfect Son of the heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit blessing our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our lips to praise and our hearts to feel the warmth of divine grace reaching out to enfold us within a sacred embrace.