It’s impossible, after twenty years of reading the Bible and attending church, not to come to a full understanding of and a clear idea of the importance of baptism for the Christian. Only a simple listing of a few scriptures will inform a person who is not certain or has never known Christian theology.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. [Mat 3:13]
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened. [Luke 3:2]
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. [Rom 6:4]
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:16]
But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. [Acts 8:12]
As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”…He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. [Acts 8:36, 38]
…for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name. [Acts 22:15-16]
In all of my conversations with priests and deacons, I could understand their desire to preserve their familiar and beloved path to baptism at the Easter Vigil Mass. What stumped me was their inability to identify with my deep longing as a Christian to be baptized…now…after twenty years…at the age of 63.
As if that were not enough to confound me, I wanted to literally go all the way up to the Pope to have him explain why a few drops of the water on the head of a baby…by virtue of an accident of birth to parents who were compelled by Catholic custom to baptize the baby…why this baptism trumped baptizing a true believer.
Yes, I could quote all the sacramental theological underpinnings of this conundrum. But one of the things about Christ as he taught us was that he never contradicted himself; he always made sense, even when the sense was mysterious to the human mind. I still have to accept on faith that a piece of bread is the body of Christ. It is a mystery, but it makes sense.
Yes, I could understand the Catholic “get out of jail free card” for catechumens who might die before Easter baptism. But baptism wasn’t intended for the dead. It is a sacrament given to the living. Was that not included in the Catholic Catechism? I pulled the book off my shelf.
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” [CCC 1213]
This sacrament is also called “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one “can enter the kingdom of God.” [CCC 1215]
Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans. Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi. and the narrative continues, the jailer “was baptized at once, with all his family.” [CCC 1226]
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, counting all the references to and justifications for baptism, these references will fill 11 pages with 4,841 words…baptism, says the Catechism, is the essential union of the Christian with Christ. As if the Bible were not clear enough, the Catechism cleared up any possible doubt.
The catechetical “get-out-of-jail-free” card could truly be written on a Monopoly card…all 35 words:
For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. [CCC 1259]
I could understand having an escape clause. But what about those who do not want to escape life on earth absent the real, actual, sanctifying joy of baptism? What about those who want the experience of waking each day, raising up in bed, and remembering the wonderful glorious day when they rose out of baptismal waters into the arms of Christ?
If the priest, the deacons and the Pope could not understand, in the depths of my heart, I knew Christ would.
And if not, I knew I would be forgiven.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
NEXT: My Baptism
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