Through Baptism it is as if a new, supernatural organism is grafted into human nature. A new life is grafted into one’s life. If a scientist were able to successfully transplant animal life into something that previously had only a vegetative life (for example, a plant), the world would be greatly amazed…..Meanwhile, this transplantation brought about it in the sacrament of Baptism is, beyond all imagination, much more significant that the above mentioned fictional transplantation of a new type of life…..Baptism…is the discovering of God’s call to be united with Him and to live with Christ in Him. (Tadeusz Dajczer, The Gift of Faith, 3rd ed. (Ft. Collins, CO: IAMF, 2012), 170.
When I read this passage over the last week or so, I was struck by two things: (1) We were celebrating the Baptism of Jesus Himself just this past Sunday, and (2) I just had gum tissue graft surgery last Friday, and am still in recovery. God certainly had my attention! So, as I sat and reflected, I asked God, “What are you trying to tell me in this?”
I had been postponing my consultation with the periodontist for some time. My dentist had been keeping an eye on my receding gums for nearly 20 years, but now it was finally time to get them reinforced. I awaited the day of surgery with absolute dread. Not exactly my first pick in how to spend a small fortune. But alas, the date had been scheduled and I begged prayers of family and friends. They did not disappoint! I was pleasantly surprised that my body was not shaking from the usual nerves I experience when waiting in a dental reclining chair. I was absolutely certain that grace was flooding me, as I waited in shock for an anxiety that never came.
For this Control Freak, I am often overly consumed by ideas of pain, discomfort, or the unknown. I am more worried about what I am going to lose, or what trials I have to face, rather than freedom I will gain, joy I will experience, or new life I can embrace. But the very definition of “graft” is “a piece of living tissue that is transplanted surgically” (www.oxforddictionaries.com). I think what I forget about is grace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1996 explains that “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” “The graces of Baptism are given to us for a lifetime. Nevertheless, we often squander them by submitting to evil. However, if we desire to progress toward sanctity, then by going through various stages of purification, we can once again reach this particular state of immaculateness that we have wasted by being unfaithful to the graces of Baptism.” (Ibid. 171).
Regarding the surgery, I was afraid of the pain, the discomfort, the price. I had forgotten about grace. But because God loves me as I am, He supplied the grace anyway! I experienced God’s mercy in that chair, and I believe He is calling me once again to remember the grace of my Baptism…to ask for the graces so readily available each moment to choose Him, to choose to respond to His love, to love His will.
But in order to ask for the graces, I need to desire them! How blessed I am that God revealed something else to me. After the surgery, I was to refrain from brushing near the surgical site for a time. The wound was covered by a common dental dressing, which gradually falls off as the tissue regenerates. Let me just say that even under normal circumstances, the mouth is not often a pleasant place regarding fragrance. Add to that the odors of surgery, and from time to time I panicked as to how I was going to wait two weeks for the sutures to be removed. I felt an overwhelming desire for cleanliness and healing. I became very aware of my physical stench, but am wondering about the stench of my soul. I wonder why I am not as consumed with the healing of my soul, for desire for cleansing, for desire for eternal life. Just as two weeks seemed interminable, and yet so desired, how do I look at eternal life? Am I using this time on earth to be purified and detached from everything but God alone? “Progress in our interior life depends on an ever stronger desire to actualize the graces of Baptism – graces of being molded into the image of Christ….Baptism is a mission for us that will not be completely fulfilled until the moment of our union with Christ. Then we will be able to repeat the words of St. Paul: “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). (Ibid. 171-172)
I guess when all is said and done, I see the purpose of my life as communion with Christ - of becoming aware of my weaknesses with a sense of gratitude so that I can see my need for God, and discover the abyss of His merciful Love. I thank my parents and godparents and Christ Himself for the gift of my Baptism, initially a gift given almost 40 years ago, but also, and most importantly, a continuous gift for each and every day. I thank Him for so graciously grafting His life into mine. And I thank Him for knowing my needs so well that He introduced me to His mother. I beg her to remind me to return to the vast supply of graces provided at the moment of my Baptism, so that I can remain in Him.