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REAL LIFE CONNECTION Sacrament of Baptism, and the Value of Human Person

In the Minor Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians in Charlotte, NC, the narthex holds a stone baptismal font, which was previously used as a “slave block” upon which people were sold as slaves. It was repurposed as a baptismal font, with a plaque that reads: ”Upon this rock, men once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of Baptism, men become free children of God.”

I thought this was so cool. It relates beautifully to Bakhita’s story. She experienced the sweetness of freedom after being a literal slave, but also experienced spiritual freedom in Baptism.

It’s easy to be horrified by slavery, because it was indeed so horrific. It’s also easy to think of it as a thing of the past, but sadly this is not the case. Slavery is still strong in West Africa, Haiti, Pakistan and India, to name just a few countries. There are a reported to be 14 million slaves in India, which would be the equivalent of the entire population of Pennsylvania being enslaved. Throughout the world, other forms of slavery are also common, including forced labor, prostitution, and human trafficking. Human trafficking happens in many places worldwide, and involves sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude, and organ harvesting. This can even happen in places most wouldn’t expect like the U.S. and Norway.

It is unfortunate that slavery has been a worldwide practice pretty much from the be- ginning. It happened in pagan and Jewish culture. It happened between different races, English enslaving Irish, Arabs selling Africans, Anglos owning Africans. It even happened that slaves were enslaved within their own country; Africans owned and sold Africans, Chinese owned and sold their fellow Chinese. These examples are limited, but give us a scope of how diverse and far-reaching the practice of slavery has been. Although Christianity did not put an end to slavery, early Christians did see slavery as incompatible with their doctrine. The fact that slavery has still not been completely eradicated shows how deep the roots of sin are in the world.

Most of us will not come into direct contact with human trafficking or slavery. We can however support organizations that combat these hateful practices, and furthermore make a daily difference in promoting the value of the human person apart from what they can do or provide. There are covert forms of “using” people and dehumanizing people that take place in our regular lives. The temptations have a wide range: liking people for their social status, doing whatever it takes to get ahead, being indifferent or unkind to others, only thinking of yourself, being exclusive with friendships, gossiping. These few examples create a slavery to sin.

St. Paul tells us: “Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin is not to have any power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.m What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Of course not! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your nature. For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.* But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification,* and its end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:12-23)

Josephine Bakhita’s story is one that reflects the triumph of the above passage.

Her victory over temporal slavery was amazing, but pales in comparison to her spiritual liberation in Baptism. She had awe-inspiring wisdom in seeing the gift she received, writing, “If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I’d kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman."

A beautiful testament to how God’s grace can trump the most difficult of circumstances, and lead us to the sweetness of salvation.

REFLECTION At St. Josephine Bakhita’s canonization, she was called a “shining advocate of genuine emancipation.” Take a few minutes to reflect: Are there people I can help who are in need of emancipation (literal or figurative)?

On a personal level, have I experienced “emancipation” in my life?

Do I need to be free of something that is keeping me from getting closer to God?

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