A Letter to the Newly-Baptized

To the Newly-Baptized:

You may already feel it—the fact that this journey you are on made a significant transition when you were baptized. Though you remain on the same path towards Christ, your landscape and means for getting there have radically changed. In this post I will discuss three ways in which your Baptism marked a significant moment in your journey, changing you irreversibly, and then speak to the continuing nature of your journey.

First, in Baptism you were adopted into a new family, one of choice. Though you were born into a birth family many years ago, Robin Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity notes that “unlike a birth family, this was a family one chose” (57). Tertullian exhorts the one being baptized saying:

When you come up from that most sacred washing of the new birth and for the first time you raise your hands with your brethren in your mother’s house, ask of your Father, ask of your Lord, for special grants of grace and attributions of spiritual gifts. (58)

You now have a new mother and a new father, many new sisters and many new brothers. Reach out to your new family now! You will never be alone in this world now—you are a part of a community that will always look out for you. You have been incorporated into the community like a sheep incorporated into a flock. These sheep, symbolic of you now, “were protected and cherished, rescued when in danger, and persistently herded toward their place of safety” (90), like the sheep in the image below from the fourth century.

[caption id="attachment_6563" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Shepherd with sheep. Baptistery of Sta. Restituta, San Giovanni (Fonte, Naples). Late 4th c.[/caption]

Second, at your Baptism your journey shifted forever because you were given the gift of knowledge or enlightenment through the Spirit, opening your eyes to see the truth of this world more clearly. Justin Martyr describes Baptism as:

a means to transform Christians into children of choice and knowledge (rather than of necessity and ignorance) and he goes on to explain that ‘this washing is called illumination because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understanding. (113)

The story of Jesus healing the blind man can be seen as an image of receiving this knowledge, as the blind man was transformed from blindness to an ability to see. In the same way, Ambrose says that you have received “the spiritual sight of faith and so perceive the light emitted by the sacraments” (122). Your sight is not the same as before—you can now see more clearly with the eyes of faith as the blind man being cured in this image.

[caption id="attachment_6559" align="aligncenter" width="540"] Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna), 5th c.; Photo: Lawrence Lew, OP; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.[/caption]

Third, you are radically different now than before your baptism because you have in a very real way died and risen again. In your Baptism, “the former, sinful self is symbolically crucified and buried in this baptism water” (138). Not only is this death and rebirth tied with the death of your former self, it is also linked to the death and resurrection of Christ. This is great news- though you shared in Christ’s death at the font, you will also share in his resurrection. Since “by figuratively dying in the font, the initiate receives the benefit of Christ’s saving sacrifice”, you can rejoice in your resurrection with Christ. This parallel can be seen in the familiar story of Jonah- Basil interprets Jonah’s “three days in the fish’s belly as symbolizing the triple immersion of the neophyte and identifies Jonah’s font with the belly of the sea creature” (154).

[caption id="attachment_6561" align="aligncenter" width="834"] Sarcophagus with Jonah, Noah, and the Whale; 3rd c.; Pio-Cristiano collection, Vatican Museum[/caption]

Lastly, though your Baptism marked a complete transformation of your journey, it did not mark the end of it. Having risen from the waters of Baptism, you have joined the rest of the congregation and “realize that [you] have been allowed only a glimpse of paradise” (213). This glimpse is a “promise that this is [your] future and not [your] present reality” (213). That means you still are still moving on your journey, with the images of the promised land seen at your Baptism as your inspiration. Your continued existence here on this earth is “proof that the journey is not yet over, that Baptism is only the beginning step toward a final, happy ending” (213). Continue on your journey, newly baptized one, with all of the inspiration that your new eyes, new family and new birth accord! Just as Jonah was completely transformed through his time in the whale, for you too “the renewal is a total transformation of the self” (175). Your journey is different now than before because you are different, because you have now died and risen in Christ.

[caption id="attachment_6564" align="aligncenter" width="519"] Deer coming to the stream. Baptistery at Bir Ftouha (Carthage), Tunisia, Tunis. Late 4th or early 5th c.[/caption]

Featured Image: Baptismal font, San Giovanni (Fonte); Photo: Didier Descouens; CC-BY-SA-4.0 International.


Timothy O'Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley is the Director of Education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life, where he also serves as Academic Director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy. He teaches and researches at Notre Dame in the areas of liturgical-sacrmental theology, catechesis, and aesthetics. He is the author of numerous articles and books, most recently, the forthcoming Divine Blessing: Liturgical Formation in the RCIA.

Read more by Timothy O'Malley