Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We Get a Name in Baptism

Occasionally I pull a copy of a book by Thomas Merton off my shelf and flip through it. I'm almost always amazed by what I find. Even if it's a passage I've read many times before, it speaks to me in a new way. The following passage does that for me by offering a fresh angle of interpretation for what it means when a priest or bishop marks the forehead of a newly baptized Christian with oil of chrism while saying the words, "N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 308).

When suffering comes to put the question: "Who are you?" we must be able to answer distinctly, and give our own name. By that I mean we must express the very depths of what we are, what we have desired to be, what we have become. All these things are sifted out of us by pain, and they are too often found to be in contradiction with one another. But if we have lived as Christians, our name and our work and our personality will fit the pattern stamped in our souls by the sacramental character we wear.

We get a name in baptism. That is because the depths of our soul are stamped, by that holy sacrament, with a supernatural identification which will eternally tell us who we were meant to be. Our baptism, which drowns us in the death of Christ, summons upon us all the sufferings of our life: their mission is to help us work out the pattern of our identity received in the sacrament.

If, therefore, we desire to be what we are meant to be, and if we become what we are supposed to become, the interrogation of suffering will call forth from us both our own name and the name of Jesus. And we will find that we have begun to work out our destiny which is to be at once ourselves and Christ.

Thomas Merton, No Man is An Island (1955)

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