The Book of Joshua is an interesting book of the Old Testament. It starts in the thick of things. Moses has died, and the children of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land. Before they do, they must cross the Jordan River, but they have no way to cross. It is at this point that they must look to the power of God over nature. In Exodus, the Lord parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape Pharaoh. In the Book of Joshua, God parted the Jordan River so His people could enter the Promised Land. Some in the early church saw a parallel of this journey with baptism.
Joshua 3:17 states, “The priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the Jordan riverbed while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until the whole nation had completed the crossing of the Jordan.”
The early Church figure, Origen of Alexandria (184-253 AD), wrote a brilliant Christian commentary on this passage relating it to the Sacrament of Baptism. Through Baptism, he said, we part the waters and are led by the New Moses, which is Jesus Christ (Origen, Homilies, 52). It is Christ through His priesthood who leads us into the future.
This is an important insight for those who are being baptized, says Origen.
God has shown over and over what He can do in the natural realm. He parted the Red Sea, He provided manna from Heaven, and today He begins a new work in you. Through Baptism, you step into the water, just as the twelve tribes did in the book of Joshua, and the waters part. You now follow the priests of Christ into the land of our inheritance. (53)
Plunging into the Depths of God’s Passion
Through Baptism we die and rise with Christ. This is a great responsibility and a great honor. Christ is exalted when we come to the baptismal waters. Baptism urges us to follow Christ and keep Him close. We dread falling back into sin and becoming like the Egyptians who were swallowed up by the Red Sea.
For those who were baptized at the Easter Vigil, there is a special significance to the ceremony, and the journey of faith is just beginning. It is a great time in the Church as we welcome new members. The catechumens answered the call to Baptism and were obedient to Christ, but what happens after that? It is a joyous moment, but sadly, it is also the last we see of some of our new members.
The simple fact is that some treat the Easter Vigil like a form of Catholic graduation after a long preparation process. Origen’s imagery concerning Baptism is insightful. Baptism is the journey across the Jordan River into the Promised Land of the Church. Those who receive Baptism are in a state of grace as all sin is washed away. Now is not the time for complacency. Now is not the time to return to Egypt!
Some may call me a buzzkill for pointing this out, but I have been there. When we become complacent, we are a prime target for Satan. He is looking for every opportunity to take us away from Christ. I am a convert to Catholicism, and that was me within three years of coming into the Church, so I want to provide some guidance to anyone who is wavering in their faith commitment.
Necessity of Prayer and Scripture Reading
First and foremost, it is imperative that you establish a prayer life. Prayer is our communication with God. Some struggle and think that we need elaborate words or requests, but that is not the case. There are many forms of prayer: reflecting on a passage of scripture, the Rosary, Lectio Divina, or sitting in a quiet space reflecting on God.
Whatever you choose is up to you, but try to have a dedicated space and time set aside every day for prayer. Make it part of your routine. There is really no better way to start the day than talking with our Creator.
Secondly, make it a habit to read scripture. The bible is the Word of God and is given to us for instruction. I read an acronym recently that called the bible “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”.
Within its pages you will learn about some of the great men and women of faith who have preceded us. By reading scripture you will learn more about the life of Christ and how to live the Christian life. It is a discipline that will help you draw closer to the Lord.
Participate in the Church Community
Thirdly, find a way to get involved in your parish. You are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, and you have a skill and gift that will benefit your parish. People are often hesitant to contribute because they think that what they are good at is insignificant. No way!
The Church is a family, and each member of the family has a part in its success. You can join a parish prayer group or bible study, or you can volunteer to clean the sanctuary. It all matters and is all important. When you get involved, you make friends with like-minded people who will support you and love you in difficult times.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the point is that it is just the beginning. Although we can receive Baptism and Confirmation only once, we must often reaffirm our faith commitments as reminders that our journey is never ending. In fact, it will only end at the conclusion of our earthly lives.
Remember the imagery of Origen: the Israelites crossing the Jordan is an allegory for Baptism. Once they entered the Promised Land, they didn’t remain for the rest of their lives on the far shore. They forged ahead, and that is what regularly receiving the sacraments and being involved in the life of the Church allows us to do.
Origen, et al., Homilies on Joshua, Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2002.