Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Power of Baptism

St. Paul reminds us today of the power of Baptism. Listen once more to what he says in Colossians 2:12-14.

Brothers and sisters:
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.
And even when you were dead
in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
He brought you to life along with Him,
having forgiven us all our transgressions;
obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims,
which was opposed to us,
He also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

According to this passage, in the sacrament of Baptism, we are buried with Christ and then raised up with Him. We dip down into water, symbolically participating in Jesus' death, thereby dying to our old way of life and to the original sin inherited from our first parents. Then we rise up from the water in a new birth, symbolically participating in Jesus' resurrection. We are now new creatures in Christ. We who were once dead in sin now live in Him. 

Baptism, then, is a sacrament of forgiveness. When we are baptized, our original sin and any personal sins we have committed are washed away. We are clean and white, right with God, with others, and with ourselves. How can this happen? Jesus Christ, Paul reminds us, has removed the bond of our debts from us. He nailed our sins to the cross. He brought us forgiveness. Baptism allows us to access that forgiveness easily and thoroughly. 

To continue our reflection on Baptism, let's turn to the Catechism, #1213-#1284. “Holy Baptism,” the Catechism begins, “is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit..., and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.” In Baptism, we are “freed from sin and reborn” as children of God. Further, “we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission...” (#1213). Baptism, then, initiates us into the life of the Holy Trinity and into the Body of Christ, which is the Church. 

Quoting St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the Catechism continues, “Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift....We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship” (#1216).

In Baptism, we receive God's sanctifying grace, which His very divine presence in our souls, a presence that saves us, that makes us His children and heirs, that transforms us into members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit, that allows us to live in the Kingdom of God here and now in anticipation of the fullness of that Kingdom in Heaven (see #1265-66). Further, Baptism seals us with an “indelible spiritual mark,” indicating that we belong to Christ. As the Catechism says, “No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation” (#1272). Christians may lose sanctifying grace, and thereby salvation, through mortal sin, but we will never lose the mark of our Baptism. 

Sometimes our Protestant brothers and sisters will say that Baptism is merely a public announcement of a salvation that has already taken place internally. Catholics do not agree. For us, Baptism is so much more. It is the sacrament of salvation, given to us by God as a sure means of entering into His sanctifying grace. The Church, following Jesus, affirms the necessity of Baptism for salvation but also recognizes that God is “not bound by His sacraments” (#1257). In ways that only He knows, He can bring salvation and eternal life even to the unbaptized. Catholics, however, recognize the great gift and power of Baptism and hurry to accept it for ourselves and our children, inviting God into our souls as He graciously invites us into His Heaven.

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