SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | The physical and spiritual importance of water

Many saints, including St. Francis Assisi, have the gift of seeing the work of God visible in nature

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The great virtue of many saints is the ability to see God at work in nature. St. Francis of Assisi is one of the universally recognized saints, whose ability to recognize the beauty of God in nature has inspired thousands of men and women over the centuries to follow in his footsteps. At a time when the Church hungered for the simplicity of life as Jesus lived, St. Francis was a true reformer in pointing the way. Just after the time of Francis’ death, St. Thomas Aquinas used his gift of intellect pointing out that “grace perfects and builds on nature; it does not set aside or destroy it.” Through a different lens than what Francis had, Thomas Aquinas gave to us the ability to see God’s will revealed in the ways of nature.

About fifteen miles north of the city of St. Louis, the great Missouri and Mississippi rivers (the fourth longest river system in the world) converge. As I read that fact, my mind turned to the importance of water in our lives. Our existence on the Mississippi River is based on the trade routes the rivers provided and the travel that was made possible for explorers like Lewis and Clark, whose landmark expedition opened the Gateway to the West. The rivers provide both natural beauty and a practical means of transportation. These waterways have formed the basis for the growth of our cities and towns, trade routes and leisure activities. Yet in the midst of all the practical purposes, as Catholics, we also witness God’s hand at work in such a beautiful way through water — the cleansing of our souls and welcoming us into the community of the Church through baptism.

Many of us, baptized as infants, may not remember that day when our families brought us to Church for this crucial sacrament, opening our lives to the grace of God by cleansing us of original sin and preparing us for life in the Church. Yet, this foundational sacrament is the great gateway for us to live fully in Christ, who Himself was baptized in the River Jordan. Whenever I celebrate the baptism ritual, I remind the parents and godparents, as well as all of those present, that baptism does predispose us for living in Christ, but it is their example and teaching that will allow the sacrament to come to its fruition.

The great Catholic author, G.K. Chesterton, stated: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” In today’s world, so full of distractions and divisiveness, it is indeed a challenge to “live as Christ” that was given to us in baptism.

Yet, our city, communities, families and country sorely needs the witness of people who are committed to living the baptism we have received by God’s grace. Yet, that is our call in the world, especially today, to let our baptismal commitment shine forth in the way that we follow Christ in His Church.

May we all respond to the grace that God has given us through the holy water of baptism!

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