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08 October 2012

Baptism and Christianity, Part II

From yesterday, Part I.

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The next installment:


Baptism Received: The Sacramental Economy
In all these reflections, it serves the Christian well to remember that he is baptized.  Constitutive of baptism, or any sacrament for that matter, is its pure giftedness (Chauvet).  Even in the New Testament, Jesus is baptized by John, surrendering completely to him.  Echoes can be found here of Jesus’ kenosis (Crowe).  And so it is in our baptism: we receive baptism as gratuitous gift, not from our own merit but by what has been previously won by Christ’s victory over death.  Again, in this unmerited gift are Eucharistic overtones heard. 
The sacramental economy of Christian life mirrors baptismal life.  Sacraments take on a variety of meanings for Christians but it suffices to recognize sacraments as privileged moments of participation in the inner-life of God (Rahner).  This unmerited gift breaks through the all-too-real walls of sin and doubt, bringing the presence of the Living God into the life of the baptized.  Nevertheless, even in this Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments, the Christian realizes there is also an absence.  Here one finds the true verve of the Kingdom of God.  Christ’s sacramental presence preceding through the Father and manifesting itself in the gift of the Holy Spirit tantalizes, yet cannot be controlled.  Just as individual baptisms must be received, so too must all sacraments be realized to be unmerited, mysteries poured out from the very inner life of the Trinity (Mitchell and others). 
            This discussion of the sacramental economy and its embrace of radical presence and absence remains incomplete without a further recognition of the human-ness of Christian faith itself.  Baptism, as does any other official act of the Church, uncovers a whole series of issues regarding the language used in prayer and power and authority in the Church.  This is neither the time nor the place to examine such issues in detail; nevertheless, if Christian history is to teach contemporary believers anything, it is that these intra-Christian disputes cut to the very heart of the Christian message.  To minimize their import, or worse, pretend that they do not exist, is irresponsible.   However, for our purposes, we will bracket these problems from the body of the paper, not addressing them in detail.  In these moments of conflict, it is helpful to recall Rahner’s plea for a simple, articulable summary of Christianity.  This is what will be attempted here (Rahner).

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