August 6, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Baptism is a call to holiness and helps us respond to the Gospel of Christ

For many of us, August signals the coming of a new school year and, in effect, represents a kind of beginning all around. New beginnings put me in mind of baptism, so I thought I would offer a few reflections about the meaning of this pivotal sacrament.

Next to the gift of our human life received from our parents, baptism is the greatest gift we have ever received. Yet it is easy to take this sacrament for granted, especially if we were baptized as babies.

When we were baptized, we became “adopted” sons and daughters of God the Father, the father who is like no other father.

And, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, we received “a new existential communion with Christ,” and we received “a new destination” (cf. Chrism Mass homily, 2009).

We also were infused with the gift of the Holy Spirit, making us a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The white garment given in baptism symbolizes this new status in our lives. The new union with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, however, is not merely symbolic. Nor is the new destination merely symbolic. We are ultimately on the way to the House of the Father.

This goal and the journey toward it are decisive for our human happiness and peace. We often describe the way to our destination and union with God as the call to holiness. And so we consider our baptism of utmost value and importance.

Jesus taught that baptism is necessary for salvation. In his nighttime visit with Nicodemus, he said: “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5).

After his Resurrection, Jesus met with the 11 Apostles and gave them the commission to preach the Gospel and baptize, telling them, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16).

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults tells us, “The word baptism in its origin is Greek and means ‘immersion’ and ‘bath.’ Immersion in water is a sign of death, and emersion out of the water means new life. To bathe in water is also to undergo cleansing. St. Paul sums up this truth when he says, ‘You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead’ ” (Col 2:12; p.183).

By baptism, we are forgiven the original sin which we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. In view of the new life won by baptismal forgiveness, we say we are reborn.

Forgiveness of the original sin does not, however, remove the inclination to sin, which is sometimes referred to as a darkening of the mind and a weakening of the will.

We do not always do the right thing. But once baptized, we also have available to us the sacrament of penance and the sacrament of the Eucharist, prayer and a life of virtue (cf. United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, p.192).

The new existential relationship to Christ is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark [character] of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated” (CCC, # 1272).

Baptism marks us permanently as belonging to Christ, whose image we bear.

Given the fact that we bear the image of Christ, it should not be surprising that baptism is a call to holiness. As this sacrament sets us on course, ultimately to arrive at the House of the Father, the route we take is, of course, the way that Jesus lived and taught us to live. In other words, we respond to the Gospel of Christ.

In Baptism, the role of the Holy Spirit is to move us to answer Christ’s call to holiness—a call to trust in Christ’s love and wisdom. When we are baptized, we receive a participation in the divine life, i.e., we receive sanctifying grace which enables us to live as Jesus lived and taught. Our part is to accept divine grace, and to respond to Christ’s call to live according to the Gospel.

The sacrament of baptism is crucial for our being able to fulfill the true meaning of the gift of human life. This sacrament gives us the privilege to participate in God’s divine life, and it gives us the means to reach our ultimate goal in life.

Without the grace of this sacrament, it would be extremely difficult to make a difference in our world, which our call to holiness empowers us to do. †

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