In the early Church, when most Christians in Rome were baptized at Easter, they used to celebrate the “annotinum pascha,” the anniversary of their baptism, during the Easter season.

What the first Christians saw more clearly than we do is that our baptism is the defining day in our lives.

It is a challenge in our culture because the world tends to give us its own definitions. The world tends to define us by our occupation, or by our status or function in society. Of course, we all have jobs. But we are not our job; we are not what we “do” for a living. We are spouses, we are parents, we are sons and daughters. But even these essential relationships, these are not our first identity.

Before all else we belong to Jesus. Before all else we are God’s children, his creation. And our belonging to God comes in baptism.

There is that beautiful scene in the Gospel, when the heavens are opened, the Spirit of God comes down like a dove, and there is a voice like thunder speaking, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

This is who we are, this is our true identity. You are a beloved son, you are a beloved daughter. God claimed you for his own when you were baptized.

I was thinking about this word, “beloved,” during the Christmas season. In our daily readings during Christmas, we read from St. John’s first letter, which is a love letter, a letter about love.

John refers to the Christians he is writing to as “beloved.” This is our “name.” Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Each of us can say that we have been loved with the greatest love. Jesus has handed himself over to death for me, for you. That is how much we are loved.

We need to really believe this. We need to live with this constant awareness that our God loves us with such a tender love, that we are precious to him.We need to live in that love, we need to trust in his love.

This is why our baptism is so important. In baptism we come to see that we were created out of a special love and that our Creator has a magnificent plan for our lives. 

In baptism, God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so we can know him as our Father, so we can live in his presence always, as his children.

Again, it is a real challenge to live this truth in our society, where every day we breathe the air of secularism and materialism. But we know that this material world, the visible world, is passing; this is not all there is to our lives. 

With the eyes of faith, we can see the Spirit of God working in every earthly reality: in people, in events, in everything that happens to us. We can live our whole life in his holy presence.

My great hope, as I have said before, is that all of us, that every Catholic, will rediscover the meaning of our baptism. To me this is vital for the renewal of the Church, and in many ways for the renewal of our society. 

Baptism gives our lives their purpose and direction. Baptism gives us a vocation and a mission: in our homes, in our families, at work. We belong now to God and we share now in the life of Jesus and the mission of his Church to sanctify the world, to fill the world with God’s loving presence.

Our mission is in the service of God’s beautiful plan of love. What God has given to us, we are called to give to others. We are called to share this new life that God has given us with every person, and we are called to help others see the presence of God in their lives.

And again, we do this naturally in the course of our daily lives. By the choices we make, the priorities we set, by our words and deeds, by the way we treat other people, we testify to the love of God that is in our hearts. When people see this love in us, they are drawn to God.

Pray for me this week, and I will pray for you.

And let us try to live with a new awareness that we are God’s beloved children. Let us try to keep in mind, in every moment, that in everything we do, God is with us and that he loves us.

And may our Blessed Mother Mary help us always to know our true identity as children of God and followers of her Son, and may she guide us so that we can know him and love him and lead others to him.