Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Baptism and the Newness of Life

It’s the Advent season once again, and this always conjures up thoughts of baptism and new life in the Church.  It’s the beginning of a new Church year.  The stories of John the Baptist, his calls for repentance, and his rite of baptism in the Jordan River are heard in the Gospel readings at Mass.  There are many references to Baptism in Sacred Scripture.  The one reference that is mentioned most often in discussions about baptism is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3.  This is the dialogue Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Jewish leader who secretly met with Jesus at night.  The discussion is about being “born again.”  Jesus says that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from above, born “of water and Spirit.”  The Church understands this as a reference to the use of water in the rite of baptism, but it also means being born of the Holy Spirit and into new life in the Church.  Baptism takes away original sin and gives us a fresh slate to work with as we begin our new life in this Valley of Tears here on earth.  I like to think that our rite of baptism is similar to Jesus’ own Baptism in which water (from the Jordan River) and the Holy Spirit were involved.  The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended from heaven and a voice from heaven spoke:  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Some Christians believe that the use of water is merely a figurative reference to spiritual cleansing and is therefore not necessary.  They say that the Jesus’ reference to being “born again” refers to a moment in our life when we accept Him as our personal Lord and Savior.  But this phraseology does not appear in Scripture and directly contradicts Jesus’ own words that we must be born “of water and the Spirit.”  In addition, Scripture tells us that immediately after the dialogue with Nicodemus, His disciples spent time baptizing and John also, in Judea “where there was an abundance of water.”  So the Catholic teaching is that the use of water is required and that being “born again” does not refer to us, as adults “accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior” but rather to the rite (and sacrament) of baptism, ie., being born again “of water and the Spirit.”

Some Christians also object to so-called “infant baptism,” the conferring of the sacrament of Baptism on an infant.  The scriptural basis for infant baptism includes passages in which it is stated that “entire households” were baptized in the early life of the Church (Acts 15:16 and Acts 16:33).  So the Catholic Church, encourages baptism being performed as soon as possible after birth.  Then, later in life, after the person passes the “age of reason,” a second sacrament, confirmation, is conferred to freely allow the individual to profess his/her Christian faith at that point.

The photograph was chosen to depict one’s view of the “Valley of Tears” after receiving the newness of life in the sacrament of baptism.

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