New Life in Christ
by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB
Effects of baptism: rescue from power of the devil
Not only are human beings flawed, they lived in a flawed world. Other ages or societies, including the world in which the New Testament was written, were more at ease with the concept of devils, invincible intelligent beings who pitted themselves against men’s efforts for good. No doubt some phenomena, such as mental illness, were once ascribed to demonic activity, which today’s scientific knowledge analyses differently and probably more accurately. Nonetheless these remains a realm which does not seem to fit into the category of neurological malfunctioning or even human sins. Prior to baptism, for both adults and babies, there are prayers of exorcism which ask God’s protection against the powers of this realm. This is not to deny the free will or goodness of the candidate, but simply to acknowledge that he is operating in a spiritually polluted environment.
Effects of baptism: gift of the Holy Spirit
Any good person is unwittingly acting according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but by baptism the Christian becomes a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells (cf 1 Co 6:19). Preaching during Lent AD 390, St John Chrysostom told the candidates for baptism:
By the words of the Bishop and by his hand the presence of the Holy Spirit flies down upon you and another man comes up out of the font.
Effects of baptism: membership of the Church
Before baptism an adult convert may have often gone to Mass with his Catholic friends; and unbaptised baby may have been taken by his parents. Unbaptised, however, he was present as an outsider, at best a welcome guest. After baptism he truly belongs. He is part of the “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9) whose job it is to declare God’s wonderful deeds and to offer the sacrifice of praise. St Edith Stein (1891-1942), a philosopher whose faith journey was from Judaism, through atheism, to baptism as an adult, explained this in an essay on the Prayer of the Church:
In baptism and the sacrament of reconciliation, Christ’s blood cleanses us of our sins, opens our eyes to eternal light, our ears to hearing God’s word. It opens our lips to sing his praise, to pray in expiation, in petition, in thanksgiving, all of which are but varying forms of adoration, i.e. of the creature’s homage to the Almighty and All-benevolent One.
As a member of the Church, the baptised person puts into practice the faith he professes, aiming to be a living copy of the Gospels for all who have not seen them. One recent example of someone who lived this to the full was Archbishop Oscar Romero, champion of the poor in El Salvador. A few months before he was assassinated while saying Mass on 24 March 1980, he said in a sermon:
If they kill all the priests and the bishop too…everyone of you must be a messenger, a prophet; the Church will always exist in the world for as long as there remains one baptised person;
and that last baptised person who remains in the world, it is he who has before the entire world the responsibility to maintain the flag of our Lord’s truth and divine justice flying high.
|“ in baptism renewal is
brought about in one moment
by the remission of all sins”