From the HouseTops, Catholic Magazine

Saint Benedict Magazine




By Father Leonard Feeney, M.I.C.M.

A baptism shell

There are seven sacraments, and each effects an alliance between the spiritual and material world so as to give us visible contact with the divine. But let me speak of just one of these sacraments, the first, the simplest and most fundamental, the child’s sacrament: the sacrament of Baptism. Through Christian Baptism, right here on this Earth, we are adopted into a divine childhood by the power of God wedded to one of our noblest and simplest substances, water.

When, on the head of a little child, we pour water and say, as we were told to by our Lord, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” we will, by some, be praised for having performed a worthwhile religious act; we will be ridiculed by others. Those who ridicule do so for a more subtle reason than appears on the surface of what they say. It is not that they want to ridicule God (because, generally, they believe in no God at all); it is because water has never meant anything more to them than a few drops of moisture that drip into a sink when you turn the faucet. The unreligious have never once looked on water for what it is, that marvelous raiment of wonder and refreshment with which God has clothed the world.

The pagans respect water because they have religions. Among them, libation is a sacred ritual and every pool has been adopted as a deity. But sentimental Christians, or rather people in whom Christianity survives not as a set of truths and facts but as some sort of take-it-or-leave-it emotion indefinitely identified with Christ, despise water when used for any purpose higher than the washbasin.

Water does look very prosaic and uninteresting if you hold a little of it in a glass, or dry a little of it from your hand with a towel. Water has neither taste, odor, color, nor even shape, for it takes the shape of that into which you pour it. It would be impossible to describe water to one who had never seen it. Water follows a most freakish physical law when it cools, for at 32°, on its way to becoming solid, instead of continuing to contract as other substances do, it starts to expand, so that ice may be lighter than water, and float. Instead of sinking and freezing the world to death, it may rest on the surface and be mercifully melted by the sun.

Water is the one thing without which it is impossible for us to live for any length of time. When men lie on the hot sands of the desert, parched and feverish, they do not cry out for money or gold or diamonds or any fantastic forms of food. They cry for water, for we are mostly made of water, and death is nothing more than a drying up of our resources.

Water has a noble history: in the Flood, in the passage of the chosen people through the Red Sea; and in all journeys, discoveries and explorations. It is impossible to spoil water, for no matter how much filth you pour into it, you need only drop it on the Earth and let it sink into the ground, and it will purify itself and return to you in the spring and fountain, as pure and virginal as it was originally created.

Indescribable as this essentially colorless, odorless, tasteless, and unshaped substance is, God lets it roam through our world in all manners and varieties so as to give interest and color and light to our thoughts. A dehydrated human mind cannot function physically, cannot think imaginatively. Water supplies us with a whole reservoir of thoughts and words.

Water is the brook and the well and the spring and the fountain and the pond and the lake and the river and the gulf and the strait and the bay and the sea and the ocean. Yes, and water is the whirlpool and the eddy and the falls and the torrent and the geyser. It is surf, foam, breaker, wave, roller, brine, mist, dew. It is hail, snow, frost, slush, and sleet. It is ice, icicle, and iceberg; rainbow, cloud, and steam. The swimmer dives and splashes in it. The sailor travels on it. Water is what makes things damp, wet, and soggy; and it sprinkles the world, laves it, and rinses it, for there is never an end to what it can do. Water is one of the world’s greatest natural mysteries. And when God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, entered our world to talk our language and take us on our own terms, He used, as the first instrument of our sanctification, that which was most natural for us to know and understand. He saw water all around us and did not despise it. He turned it into the child’s sacrament. He took water and sanctified it with spiritual power. He transformed it into the sacrament of Baptism, by the union of water and the Holy Ghost.

Most of us are going to remember that water
has nineteen hundred years of sacred Christian history,
and that spiritual wonders are wrought with it
when we use it as Christ wants it used.

You may say, all this is poetry. But, poetry is not its own preservative. Poetry is never religion, but it is the illustration of religion, and without religion it ceases to be even poetry. If we cannot do something more with water than give it to poets to wash with after they have written a lot of unintelligible verse, then let us give it back to the pagans. The pagan poets are religious. They respect water.

But most of us are not going to give it back to the pagans, for Christ has given it to us, to do with it what no pagan ever dreamed of. Most of us are going to remember that water has nineteen hundred years of sacred Christian history, and that spiritual wonders are wrought with it when we use it as Christ wants it used. Most of us are not going to let Christian Baptism be dried up by a couple of wars and a few despairs. As in the material world, so in the spiritual; with water we are going to refresh the world.

God imparts to our souls the adoption of a divine childhood and the fruits of redemption by the honest, simple, clear, affirmative way of the sacrament of Baptism, the way of His own institution and choice, which we are free to reject, at our peril.

Book by Leonard Feeney

Bread of Life is a book comprising a series of lectures by Father Leonard Feeney, MICM., founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Many spiritual writers have written on the Holy Eucharist– the Bread of Life– but no one has presented this dogma and Baptism and the question of Salvation with such sound doctrine and yet in such an attractive and appealing manner. The one book offers a whole panorama of the basic truths for all who love the Faith or for those of good will who are seeking it.      Paperback. 200 pages.