In today's Gospel, we hear the risen Jesus give some specific instructions to His apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Those who believe and are baptized, He continues, “will be saved,” but those who refuse to believe will be condemned for their lack of faith.
The apostles, then, have a twofold task. They are to preach the Gospel and then baptize those who decide to accept the Christian faith. Notice something important here. Jesus doesn't make Baptism optional. He presents it as part of the normal course of becoming Christian.
The Catholic Church has always followed Jesus' lead in this. Baptism is not something optional. In fact, it is the normal way in which new Christians receive the sanctifying grace that wipes away original sin and fills their souls with the indwelling presence of God Himself.
The Catechism elaborates, “Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ” (#1277). Further, the fruits of Baptism include, “forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into a new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, and a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (#1279). Baptism also serves as the doorway to other sacraments, including the Eucharist (in which we receive the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ), by making people members of the Church.
Because God dispenses all these wonderful gifts through Baptism, the Church allows even the youngest children to receive the sacrament. Which parent would deny his or her child the indwelling presence of God in the little one's soul? Even though children cannot yet believe for themselves, parents and the Church community hold the faith for them until they are old enough to learn and to say “yes” for themselves.
Baptism is the ordinary way of receiving the marvelous gift of God's saving grace. God works through His sacraments, for they are the means He has instituted for our salvation, and if we know about these sacraments, then we have both the blessing and the responsibility to make good use of them. When God gives us such excellent ways to meet Him, we must run to Him on those paths.
That being said, however, we do not put limits on God. He is not restricted by His gifts. He can distribute graces where, when, how, and to whom He wishes. So there can very well be a “backdoor” kind of grace that God uses to bring non-Christians home to Him. The Catechism explains that “all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill His will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized” (#1281). We leave the how up to God and His great love.
Those of us who have been blessed by the grace of Baptism, however, ought to be immensely grateful for this beautiful gift, which Jesus clearly says leads to salvation.
Tuesday – Grace, Mercy, and Peace
“[G]race, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” What a beautiful greeting St. Paul gives to Timothy in today's first reading! Let's examine it more closely.
Grace refers to God's favor, His gifts that He freely extends to His people. In giving His grace, God gives us Himself as well, drawing us into intimacy with Him and into His divine life.
Mercy is eleos in Greek. It means pity or compassion or forgiveness, but it also has a deeper meaning of covenant love and loyalty. God has made a covenant with His people in Jesus Christ. He has created a divine family, and He will remain faithful to that family for all eternity. He is a loyal Father. Even though He must often discipline His wayward children, He never stops loving them or welcoming them back with forgiveness whenever they repent and confess their sins.
Peace is much more than just a lack of war. It implies a wholeness. When we are at peace, everything is in its proper place: our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with ourselves. We are complete. All the necessary parts are in place both internally and externally.
This grace, mercy, and peace comes from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. They are gifts to us that we can accept and pass on to others. Indeed, let's do exactly that this week and greet others with a heartfelt “[G]race, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Wednesday – Which One Best Describes Your Heart?
Which of the following best describes your heart?
1. You hear the Word of God, but you don't pay any attention at all. Your heart is hard and has no room for anything except what you want to hear. The enemy quickly swoops down and swipes any possible benefits you might receive from God's grace because you have not accepted or guarded them.
2. You hear the Word of God, and you receive it joyfully, but you're a scaredy cat. You have no staying power. The moment something difficult comes up, some trial or disagreement, you scamper away back to your old life.
3. You hear the Word of God, and you accept it, but you're distracted. The cares of the world quickly close in around you, and your focus returns to money and possession or fame and honor or all of the above. God's message for your life and heart fades into the background and disappears.
4. You hear the Word of God, and you take it to heart. You make your best efforts to live it every day, 24/7, for you long to grow ever closer to God. You are ready and willing to make the changes and choices that God calls you to make. You know that if you are obedient, your life will shine with God's light and bear God's fruit.
So which one best describes your heart?