BØRNS Theology of Baptism

Emerald Pool at Zion National Park. i.redd.it

Baptism does not relieve the disease of original sin: it cures it, leaving its scars like trophies. Baptism does not offer a better set of therapies to soften death’s inevitability: it destroys death itself. Baptism does not confirm bureaucracy and status quo: it dissolves the first and overturns the second. Baptism does not insulate us against reality: it throws back the covers and kicks us out to dance naked with the real in the light of the moon. – Fr. Aidan Kavanagh

I gave a presentation back in September at a local parish on the Sacrament of Baptism. As part of my talk, I played the BØRNS song, 10,000 Emerald Pools, at the very end and gave them a copy of the lyrics. I asked those present to reflect in silence on how the lyrics might help them reflect on the theology I had presented. The results were stunning.

I had decided to use this song in my teaching after going to the BØRNS concert with my daughters last year, as his performance of this song lifted me to another world in the midst of a body-to-body packed mosh pit. The sense I had there and then of the “secular liturgy” of life that arises from Baptism washed over me and stayed for weeks afterward. I saw that every action of life, religious or not, is suffused with the potential of immersing us more deeply in the mystery of God and drawing the world we touch down with us into the “depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:10).

I was not expecting the depth of reflections that followed that night. I had to stop us at 20 minutes because we had already gone overtime for the evening. One man wrote me an email the next day, “I just want to tell you that your presentation plus the song and then silence equaled my having an experience of prayer I have never had. I never think about my baptism in any way but now it’s all I think of. All of that in me?? Why in the world doesn’t every Catholic know this???…”

I am beginning to think if I just speak on Baptism and its effects, I can say everything I need and yet never have had sufficient time to say it all…

This pool is life
that floods the world;
the wounds of Christ
its awesome source…

I’ll dive in deeper, deeper for you
Down to the bottom, 10,000 emerald pools
Down to the bottom, 10,000 emerald pools
Under water
Time is standing still
You’re the treasure
Dive down deeper
Still, all I need is you
You’re all I need to breathe
All I need is you!

I’ll make a living, trying to get away
10,000 fathoms, under a tidal wave
It can never pull me away
No way!
Under water
Time is standing still
You’re the treasure
Dive down deeper
Still, all I need is you
You’re all I need to breathe
All I need is you!
You’re all I need to breathe
Down to the bottom, 10,000 emerald pools
You’re all I need to breathe
I’ll dive in deeper, deeper for you
You’re all I need to breathe

All I need is you!
All I need is you!
It can never pull me away
Time is standing still
Dive down deeper
Still, all I need is you
You’re all I need to breathe
All I need is you!

Mary the Poor

Conception of the Virgin Mary. Yes, that’s the elderly Sts. Joachim and Anne readying to re-enter the nuptial chamber… lauraclericiicons.webgallerydesign.com

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

Last night I gave a talk at a parish on Mary and Baptism. What a honor to have the opportunity to speak of the mysteries of God in her regard.

I was exhausted and ready to go to bed when the time for the talk came, as it had been a non-stop day. Though, to be honest, this is also the general sad state of my life in the “over 50 club,” I have found, as I am now ready for bed by 8:00 p.m.; just as my wife and kids are ready to party. Such a downer.

I mention this detail because it became part of the talk I gave — my exhaustion, that is. Oh, yes, and one other funny detail. My talk was right after Mass, and at the end of Mass I rushed to the cry room to use the restroom. Of course, there was a line. As I stood there waiting, I heard the pastor start introducing me from the ambo, only to then inform the congregation that I was delayed as I was relieving myself.


I spoke on the Sacrament of Baptism as an immersion into all of the mysteries that the Mother of God embodied in a singular way. Mary is not the great exception, I argued, but the great exemplar of all we are called to be in Christ.

In Baptism we are reborn as an immaculate new creation, washed clean and re-created to be God’s sons and daughters. I tried to hammer home the point that we are “born of God” in, as it were, God’s broken bag of water and blood (John 1:13; 3:3; 1 John 5:6). Our very being is changed as we are adopted into most secret intimacy of God’s inner life. Mary also was conceived as a new creation, reborn in the very act of coming to be.

In Baptism we are made temples of the Trinity, a living Holy of Holies, the abode of God and divine Glory’s point of entry into the world. At the Annunciation, Mary also became a Temple of the Most High God.

In Baptism we are joined to Christ’s Body, made “one flesh” and “one spirit” with Him (1 Cor. 6:17), allowing us, by grace, to share in all He is by nature. At the Annunciation, we might say that Mary cried out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this One shall be called Man, for out of Woman this One was taken” (cf. Gen 2:23).  At the foot of the Cross, she became “one flesh” with Him as He, the New Adam, called Mary “Woman,” the New Eve and mother of all the living in the new creation (John 19:26-27).

In Baptism we are plunged into Christ’s death and resurrection, dying to sin, living for God and being initiated into a divine pattern of self-sacrificial love. At her conception, at the foot of the Cross, and everywhere between, Mary died and rose with her Son. Yes, redeemed by her Son’s death before she existed. Here, we gawk in awe. O Time, swept up into the eternity of God, you are redeemed! Sing for joy!

Something like that. And I used a number of stories to illustrate my points.

Okay, so I gave this talk, but I can tell you it was not as clear as all that. In fact, I really don’t remember much of what I said. As I got into my car, I said a prayer of thanks and offered to God the frustration I felt over my exhaustion and the effect it had on my talk. I sat for a few moments in silence, and suddenly had a powerful phrase come to mind: “My greatest attribute is my poverty.”

I thought, whose poverty? God’s? Mary’s? And then I realized, it’s both. In her womb, Mary knew as no one else the poverty of a self-emptying God precisely because she was already poor. Empty of herself, i.e. sinless. Mary magnified the Lord because she, the lowly handmaiden, was created in the image of the God-Man who, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (1 Cor. 8:9).

It was as if God were saying to me, “Tom, only when you accept your absolute poverty, and join it to mine, can you magnify me, for my power is only made perfect in your weakness.” And then I wrote, “Yes, poverty is God’s supreme attribute because it is the nature of love to keep nothing for itself.”

Well, God, if weakness is what magnifies, my magnifying glass is immense. So please, Lord, feel free…

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the rose tree, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
Both ever-blest while endless ages run. Amen.



Advent is upon us. The season graced with longing for God’s coming to rescue us in time.

This is no abstract longing, no generic rescue. He came, He comes, He will come again to enter the details of my broken, bruised, weary world, now.

In fact, He longs to enter that world of mine. So in me, longing meets longing, and God’s desire to enter the world’s darkest spaces is so extreme He made this longing His forever-Name — Yēšūă‘, God rescues.

But He needs you to long for it. To want it. To seek it. To pine for it. To beg and plead for it without respite, day and night, without ceasing, for a lifetime until you have nothing left, your strength having failed and your voice grown faint.

Then, and only then will He know you want to be rescued. Only then will you be ready to be rescued, having at last exhausted all your own resources, dropped your faltering crutches, surrendered your pathetic props — your complaints and protests, your despondency and discouragement, your cynicism and rage, your arrogance and self-reliance, your apathy.

In sum, your lack of trust.

But once you surrender all, be ready. He will come. He will, but come as He came in Yēšūă.


And this rescue will be nothing as you imagined, as unexpected, as unlikely, as impossible and new as a Burning Bush in a desert waste. As crazed as a virgin conceiving. As bewildering as a glorious resurrection following an annihilating crucifixion.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

“It has been completed,” said the dying God

Christ the King. executedtoday.com

After several weeks away from blogging, I am preparing to restart in the next few days.

What a feast today! The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The ending of the liturgical year, reflective of the coming end of the ages that Jesus finalized on the cross when He said, Tetelestai, “It has been completed” (John 19:30).

Jesus Christ, the all-ruling King, “completed” fallen humanity’s royal-priestly vocation while hanging on the cross, but only at the very end when His love had reached its most extreme (John 13:1).

Our vocation was to transform the raw material of an unfinished creation into logikēn latreian (Rom 12:1), a living sacrifice of thanksgiving offered to the Father under the form of the daily grind of selfless love for God and neighbor (Rom. 12:2-21).

During Thanksgiving, a woman who has many children and grandchildren was joking with me about how she never gets the gratitude she deserves. But she ended her humorous comments with a comment for the ages, “But does that really matter? In the end it’s God who will judge whether or not my life was worthy of a thank you. Or was a worthy thank you.”


May we all live worthy of her tetelestai. Of His.

“Tell her that you will do it, because you can”

In Christ, and according to his example and no other, the Christian assembly is obliged to do its best. It was in the doing of his own best that he laid down his life for the life of the world –- not in cynical disgust or in limp passivity before the Human Problem, but for those of those who caused the Problem in the first place. His Church can do no less. The Church doing the world as God means it to be done in Christ is the greatest prophecy, the most powerful exorcism of all. — Fr. Aidan Kavanagh

I gave a talk last night on Baptism. I had worked on the notes for weeks, trying to decide what to say. The problem I always have is there is so much to say, and I am simply not good at choosing among the alternatives. Worse, after I finally get my notes sorted out, when I give the talk it comes out as entirely something else. A.D.D., I guess.

In any event, after my talk I went into the Chapel to give thanks. As I sat there, I was overwhelmed by an awareness within me of the energy, the dynamism, the vitality — I don’t know how to say — of divine life. Aware that Baptism made my body a tattered Tent for the Spirit to indwell. Such a real-time sense is overwhelming, disconcerting.

Then the image of the Spirit as pure bubbling water flooded my mind, and the sense that He was awaiting my Yes to allow Him to gush out into the deserts of the world around me — without my causing it, not knowing where it comes from or where it is going. I thought of Ezekiel 47:

Then [the angel] brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east.

Then of John 7:

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

And then of the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch that I have long loved:

…within me is the living water which says deep inside me: “Come to the Father.”

I thought of how this beckoning (a taste of the reditus of all creation!) was not an invitation for me to escape this world and fly off to the Father, but a call to permit the Father entry into our world of orphans — allowing His Fatherhood a free sacramental space within me. First, by allowing Him to adopt me, to love me as His son, so I can worthily join the Son in saying, “he who sees me sees the Father” (John 14:3).

All of this swirled in me, and was made complete when I heard these words:

You received without payment; give without payment. — Matt. 10:8

And then I remembered this news story from last year. This is why we are baptized…

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — Rom. 12:21


The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. — Shakespeare

During these days of trial in the church and the world, when the failures of humanity seem to tower, it is now, above all, that Christians must show to the world “the quality of mercy.”

Mercy is not the absence of justice, it is the fusion of justice and love. Mercy is what love becomes when it meets injustice. Mercy is not soft or weak, but is infinitely more fierce and costly than justice alone. Justice alone condemns and contains, rages and seeks the punishment of the evildoer in order to bring justice the wronged. But justice wed to love for the persecuting, reviling, evildoing, hating, cursing enemy seeks restoration, redemption and remedy for both victimizer and victim.

But mercy is infinitely more extreme than just “seeking” these things.

In Jesus the fusion of love and justice compels Him to embrace the Father’s command to identity with the innocent victim and the guilty victimizer, to bear their burdens that both might be saved. In the Passion He drank our poison to become our antidote. This is what made Him sweat blood and bargain with the Father in the Garden of Agony (Mk. 14:36). This:

For he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. — Isaiah 53:5

From the Cross, wholly identified with all innocent victims, Jesus pleads for the victimizers:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. — Lk. 23:24

In fact, He identified with evildoers in the most radical sense imaginable:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Cor. 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — Gal. 3:13

St. Paul, having himself become Christ (Gal. 2:20), embraces this same terrible logic of mercy in response to his (Jewish) people’s rejection of the Messiah:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. — Rom 9:3

In a most stunning passage from Pope Benedict, we see this explosive tension between justice and love erupts within God as a war:

God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

We who are in Christ, who have fallen deep into the paschal waters of Baptism, who dare sign ourselves with the Cross, who ingest the Food and Drink born of this war internal to God, must evince, must live out this same ethos of mercy. Seventy times seven times a day.

Whenever we embody this crazed love of our extremist God, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).

The world outside of Christ either condemns or canonizes evil, but Christians carry evil — and evildoers — on their backs as a Cross (Lk. 9:23), by every means possible. By prayer and reparative penance, by fasting, by forgiveness, by alms or by charity-drenched fraternal correction. And in a million other merciful ways.

In fact, if we resolve to be tough and fierce in the face of evil as disciples of the Christ, with heroic courage, we must don those most fearsome weapons of the Cross that alone cause hell to shudder in terror. These were the same weapons with which the dead Christ harrowed hell’s infernal abyss. These are the weapons by which martyrs conquer evil.

Are we courageous enough to wield these weapons in these dark times? Let’s dare…

…as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Feel truly **responsible** before the bread that gives life to the world

A priest friend of mine texted me this quote yesterday,

I read this from a homily on this Sunday’s reading by Oscar Romero, whom I’m becoming more convinced was fruit of Vatican II truly lived out: “Jesus, the Eternal Priest, celebrated the first Mass and shared communion with his Apostles but then told his followers: Do this in my memory. Thus the priesthood came into existence and the priests were entrusted with maintaining the Eucharist. This is our principal mission, but we must give the Eucharist its **fullest meaning**. This means that we do not simply distribute the hosts but must understand what it means to **redeem** people, to **save** people so that when they come to communion they feel as though they have truly been **developed**. It is for this reason that we insist that the sacraments must be celebrated with a greater awareness and that no one should come to communion unless they feel truly **responsible** before the bread that gives life to the world.”

This priest friend works with people who live on the edge of life, on the margins of society. They are people who more often than not were born into desperate situations and have tried to cobble together a life out of the chaotic rubble around them.

He and I met in a coffee shop not long ago and talked for a long time about his ministry. Near the end of the conversation, I told him about a course I am teaching this Fall on theodicy, the problem of evil and suffering, and how priests can minister in a redemptive manner to the suffering by bringing the power of the Cross to bear in their lives. I said, “The motto of the course is the last petition of the Our Father, ‘deliver us from evil.'”

He paused, seemed a bit surprised and was clearly moved by something I’d said. “My word,” he said, “that phrase is remarkable. It’s exactly what I hope for [named a man he was working with].”

We ended our conversation. As I drove home I thought on our exchange, and on those words from the Lord’s Prayer. They contain within them, in compressed form, all of the lamentations, all of the pained and desperate cries of humanity to Heaven, cries that are woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I thought of those remarkable words of Exodus 3:7-8,

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians…”

I have observed, heard, know. I have come down to deliver them. Running down the ages to pick us off the ground.

That is the exodus from Egypt, the Passover of the Lord. That is the Incarnation and the Cross, the God who became a condemned slave to rescue us slaves from our plight. That is the Eucharist, the Passover meal, the Slave’s self-offering to deliver us from evil, from the Evil One.

So when we eat the torn Flesh and drink the spilled Blood of the Deliverer, we receive our rescue and we pledge — Body of Christ. Amen. Blood of Christ. Amen. — to become His rescue to those enslaved around us. To live for the life of the world.

Like my priest friend, who loves these broken, spilled children of God so well.