A substantial part of the Pope’s Sunday Angelus address is worth thinking about: the reality of Baptism. Why? Because I think many of us have yet to grasp some of the essential points of what the Catholic Church believes and teaches. What I notice, as you may have, that even the clergy have a faulty understanding of what the sacrament of Baptism is meant to do for the person. It is not a social event for the family. It is not an opportunity to quiet the screams of family members (grandma) regarding “the way it is done in this family”, etc. Baptism is about a life in Christ. Period.
BUT what is the sacrament of Baptism all about? At the time of baptizing children or baptizing adults we are given a supreme gift by God: love. Let me briefly explain what baptism is and what it gives to us. These points don’t exhaust the teaching and the conversation of what happens when one is baptized:
A. there’s a forgiveness of sins –the baptized person “dies to sin” (Romans 6); for the adult person there is repentance and deliberate renunciation of personal sin, AKA, conversion;
B. there’s a configuration to Christ, that is, a person comes to a close union with Jesus: baptism unties the Christian with Christ–it is a union of mind and will; the person is made new; the the baptized person is a sharer in Christ’s own paschal mystery (life, death, resurrection and ascension, Romans 6:1-11); the soul is changed permanently, which we call sacramental character;
C. the baptized person is given the gift of the Holy Spirit–he or she is “re-generated” in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13); the gift of the Holy Spirit is personally present and dwelling in each person; the Holy Spirit gives eache person the grace of becoming sons and daughters of God the Father, also the Spirit gives each person the power to say, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6): St Paul is clear, by the Holy Spirit we can utter the holy name, Jesus Christ and call Him “Lord”;
D. as baptized persons we have a new relationship with God the Father as adopted children of God; this new relationship speaks of our destiny–God wants us to be saved–He offers each person salvation through Jesus Christ AND His Church;
E. baptism gives each person membership in the Church, not like a membership at a gym or a country club or Sam’s Club; we are brought into, incorporated in the Church as a communion of faith and a communion of saints; in the Church we receive grace AND we work out our salvation through the worshipping community and together as a community in mission to realize the Gospel.
And now the Pope’s address:
The Baptism of the Lord [the feast celebrated this past Sunday, Jan 10] suggests quite well the general sense of the Christmas festivity in which the theme of “becoming sons of God” thanks to the only-begotten Son’s taking on of our humanity constitutes a dominant element. He became man so that we could become sons of God. God is born so that we could be re-born.
These concepts continually return in the liturgical texts of Christmas and constitute a powerful motive for reflection and hope. We think of what St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4-5); or again, of St. John in the prologue to his Gospel: “To those who received him he gave the power to become sons of God” (John 1:12). This stupendous mystery that is our “second birth” — the re-birth of a human being from “above,” from God (cf. John 3:1-8) — is realized and summarized in the sacramental sign of baptism.
With this sacrament man really becomes son — son of God. From that point the goal of his life consists in arriving at, in a free and conscious way, that which from the very beginning was his destination as man. “Become what you are” — represents the basic educational principle of the human person redeemed by grace. Such a principle has many analogies with human growth, where the relationship between parents and children passes, through separation and crisis, from total dependence to the awareness of being children, to recognition through the gift of life received and to the maturity and capacity to give one’s life. Born to new life through baptism, the Christian too begins his journey of growth in the faith, which will carry him to consciously invoke God as “Abba — Father,” turning to him with gratitude and living in the joy of being his son.
A model of society is also derived from baptism: that of being brothers. Fraternity cannot be established through an ideology, much less through the decree of just any power that has been set up. We recognize ourselves as brothers through a humble but profound awareness of being sons of the one heavenly Father. As Christians, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit received in baptism, we have the gift and task of living as sons of God and brothers, to be like “leaven” in a new humanity, united and rich in peace and hope. We are helped in this by the consciousness of having, besides a Father in heaven, a mother too, the Church, of whom the Virgin Mary is the perennial model. To her we entrust the newly baptized children and their families, and we ask for all the joy to be re-born every day “from above,” from the love of God, that makes us his children and brothers among ourselves.