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Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 28

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 11

 

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”
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Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 27

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 10

 

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Effects of baptism: forgiveness of sins

If this unhappy person continues in his sinful hatred after baptism, but not at a later stage repents, he is not rebaptised; rather, the graces of baptism, which his hatred had blocked, are now able to flow freely. St Augustine continues:

What was given before [in baptism] becomes then powerful to work his salvation, when the former deceit is done away by the  truthful confession.

If the sins forgiven by God in baptism included actions for which justice demanded that amends be made or at least attempted (for example, returning what one had stolen, trying to restore someone’s good name which one had damaged), the responsibility to do this would of course remain after baptism. It is to be hoped that the new life which begins at baptism would render the sinner more sensitive to the harm he had done in the past, more resourceful about how to put it right with the injured party, more alert to avoiding such hurtful actions in the future.

 

Effects of baptism: freedom from original sin

We tend to confine the terms sin, guilt and forgiveness to deliberate sinful acts, but there is also the whole area of human nature which through heredity, bad experience, frailty, fear or panic has responses less than the best. This flaw in human nature is what is known as ‘original sin’: it separates us from God even when there has been no personal, deliberate sin. Jesus Christ did not have this flaw.

The only other human being who did not have this flaw was the Virgin Mary, but this does not make her any less redeemed than other Christians; rather, it is by Christ’s action that she had from the first moment of her existence the complete freedom from sin which will be ours only in the world to come. For his part, God the Son accepted his situation of separation from God (both by becoming a finite creature, and by experiencing the loss of God’s felt presence) as an act of sacrificial love. By raising him from the dead, God made him the first fruits of the new creation, the beginning of the new order which is his plan for the entire human race. We are to make the same passage from death to eternal life as he did. The liturgy of baptism speaks not of “washing away the guilt of original sin” but of being set free from original sin, being brought out of the power of darkness (see the Prayers for Exorcism in the Rite of Baptism for Children). What happened literally in the death of Christ, happens sacramentally to his disciples. “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. You who were dead in

Original Sin:  Following the fall from grace of our first parents when they chose to go their own way rather than God’s, they passed to their descendants a wounded human nature, susceptable to sin. The state is called ‘original sin’. (The Faith of the Catholic Church, CTS).

trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Col 2:12-13).

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 26

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 09

 

Effects of Baptism: salvation

 

“If a person has been baptised, even if he afterwards lives a life unworthy of his baptism, the baptism is not undone.”

 

The rite of baptism is not just the individual’s profession of faith, or a ceremony symbolizing his reception into the Christian community. It makes an objective difference to the person receiving it. In a sermon probably preached in the second half of the fourth century AD, St Cyril of Jerusalem, speaking to the newly baptised, says:

 

What a strange and astonishing situation! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we did not really hang from a cross and rise again. Our imitation was symbolic, but our salvation a reality. Christ truly hung from a Cross, was buried, and truly rose again. All this he did gratuitously for us, so that we might share his sufferings by imitating them, and gain salvation in actuality.

 

If a person has been baptised, even if he afterwards lives a life unworthy of his baptism, the baptism is not undone. A person baptised as a baby, who grew up ignorant of the faith and who then discovered Christ as an adult, could not be rebaptised. He would instead undergo a suitable period of instruction and formation in the Christian life, with a view to receiving the other Sacraments of Initiation (Confirmation and Holy Communion) and becoming a full member of the Christian community. As St Paul says regarding the Israelites, the Chosen People who did not accept Christ, “The gifts and call of God are irrevocable” (Rm 11:29). As long as baptism was carried out properly, and the person receiving it did not inwardly deny the faith he was outwardly professing, the baptism was real and all its power is, as it were, there for the taking. This ‘objective difference’ made by baptism is called by theologians a character; it is like the inscription on a coin which may be obscured by dirt but which can never be removed.

Linked with the term ‘character’ is the seal (in Greek, sphragis; in Latin, signaculum). It is used of God the Son in the Letter to the Hebrews: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp [sphragis] of his nature” (Heb 1:3) and St Paul applies it to the Christians: “God has put his seal upon us” (2 Co 1:22). It was originally used for the mark of ownership branded on animals or the tattoo on an enlisted soldier, for the seal on legal documents or the imprint on coins. A baptised person is no longer his own property; he belongs to God. Theodore of Mopsuestia, preaching to his converts around AD 420, told them: “You carry the identification mark of a soldier of Christ our Lord.”

 

Effects of baptism: forgiveness of sins

By baptism all the sins of one’s past life are forgiven by God. They are like Pharaoh’s armies who were drowned in the Red Sea while the Israelites escaped: “Not so much as one of them remained” (Ex 14:28). Referring to her baptism, the Sudanese ex-slave Blessed Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) used to say: “The Lord must judge me only from my eighteenth birthday onward. Before that, there is nothing to judge, because God has wiped all away my sins, “St Augustine, in his treatise On Baptism (c. AD 400), even discusses the extreme example of someone who presented himself for baptism without truly repenting of his past sins, comparing him to the unjust steward in the parable who, forgiven by his master, nonetheless refused to forgive the debts of his fellow-servant (see Mt 18:23-35):

Yet the fact that he had not yet forgiven his fellow-servant did not prevent his lord from forgiving him all his debts…So the grace of baptism is not prevented from giving remission of all sins, even if he to whom they are forgiven continues to cherish hatred towards his brother in his heart. For the guilt of yesterday is remitted, and all that was before it, nay, even the guilt of the very hour and moment previous to baptism, and during baptism itself.

 

to continue…

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 25

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 08

 

 

Jesus’s Baptism foreshadowed in Old Testament

Christian baptism, of course, links the person being baptised with Jesus’ own baptism by John Ephraim the Syrian has a long poem beginning:

 

The Spirit descended from the heights

and sanctified the water as it hovered.

When John baptised Jesus

it left all and settled on one,

but now it has come down and settled

upon all who are reborn in baptism.

 

The other and even greater ‘baptism’ in Jesus life is the baptism of his suffering, death and rising from the dead, and Christian baptism is a participation in this. St Paul tells the Romans:

All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were buried with him in baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rm 6:3-4).

Christian tradition also identified events and ideas in the Old Testament as ‘types’ or pointers towards baptism. First and foremost of these was the Exodus from Egypt and the passage through the Red Sea. In a homily on the Baptism of Christ, probably preached on the feast of the Epiphany AD 383, St Gregory of Nyssa Wrote:

The people itself, by passing through the Red Sea, proclaimed the good tidings of salvation by water. The people passed over, and the Egyptian king with his host was engulfed, and by these actions this

“All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were buried with him in baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm 6:3-4).

sacrament was foretold. For even now, whenever the person is in the water of regeneration, fleeing from Egypt, from the burden of sin, it is set free and saved. But the devil with his own servants (I mean, of course, the spirits of evil) is choked with grief, and perishes, deeming the salvation of men to be his own misfortune.

Another great ‘type’ of baptism is the creation of the world. At the Easter Vigil we hear the creation story where “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gn 1:2). God’s effortless work of creation, when his Spirit seemed to fertilise the formless waters, so that they brought forth living creatures, is from this point of view a foreshadowing of the re-creation of Christians in the waters of the font. In his sermons On the Sacraments, around AD 370, St Ambrose comments on this passage:

 

For you it was reserved that water should bring you forth to grace, as that other water brought forth creatures to natural life.

Other ‘types’ of baptism are the Flood, in which those with Noah in the ark are saved (Gn 6:5-9:17; cf 1 Pt 3:81-22), Moses’ being saved as a baby in a basket in the bulrushes (Ex 1:15-2:10), the Israelites’ passage over the Jordan into the Promised Land (Jos 3:7-4:24),  Naaman being cured of leprosy in the Jordan (2 K 5:1-19).

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 24

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 07

 

The seven sacraments of the Church

 Sometimes Catholics speak of “the seven sacraments” as if they were seven different recipes for obtaining God’s grace, as one may list apple pie, apple crumble, apple turnover and so on. It may be better to think first of the Eucharist as the sacrament par excellence of Christ’s presence; Baptism and Confirmation as the initiation of members into the community which celebrates the Eucharist; Anointing of the Sick and Penance (Confession) as the means of resorting to that community members weakened through illness or estranged by sin; Holy Orders (Ordination) as the means of forming and nourishing the community, by preaching the Gospel and celebrating the Eucharist; Marriage as the pre-eminent sign of the faithful union between Christ and the Church, bringing forth new life.

The sacraments involve a visible element which anyone can see – for example, water being poured, bread being shared – and an invisible element, the share in God’s own life, which can be perceived only with the eyes of faith. The Scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages tried to analyse them in terms taken from the philosophy of Aristotle and therefore identified in each sacrament its ‘matter’ (a symbolic gesture or thing) and its ‘form’ (words which bring out its significance, make explicit what is already there). In the case of baptism its matter is the pouring of water over a person and its form is the words “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Another way of reflecting on the sacraments is to consider them in terms of three levels of reality as follows:

the visible rite, which symbolises and brings about the sacramental reality which is known by faith and which in a person of good disposition brings about the final reality – ‘final’ in the sense of what it   is ultimately aimed at.

In the case of baptism, we could say that the visible rite is the pouring of water with the formula mentioned above, the sacramental reality is the incorporation into the Church and the final reality is rebirth to divine life through the Spirit of love.

  1. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES BAPTISM MAKE?

Baptism introduces the new Christian into a whole new order of being, in which past, present and future are joined together. All the sacraments can be said to look back to the early life of Jesus (and to the history of Israel which led up to him), to have an effect in the present and to look forward to, and even hasten, the completion of God’s plan in the coming of the Lord Jesus at the end of time. Baptism initiates a person into this process, opening up for him a whole new way of being human and offering him a destiny beyond anything that he could achieve on his own.

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 23

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 06

 

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The Church, Sacrament of Christ

      Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead and for some time could be seen and touched by the disciples but this period came to an end with his ascension. We are now in an interim phase, when Christ’s work has been accomplished but we have yet to see its full effects. As St Gregory Nazianzen says, “The dispensations of the Body of Christ are ended…and that of the Spirit is beginning” (sermon given for Pentecost, probably in AD 381). Human beings are present to each other by their bodies, so during the earthly life of Jesus his visible body was his way of being present to the people around him. We believe that his body is risen and in glory, but our present experience of it is a kind of absence. What we see and experience is the presence of each other.

There are two ways Jesus promised to be with his followers after his death and resurrection: in the poor and oppressed (“As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”: Mt 25:40) and in the believing community of his disciples, that is, the Church. In the believing community he is most truly present when they fulfil his commands, praying (Mt 18:20), pondering his words (Jn 14:23), receiving and handing on his teaching (Mt 28:20), and most of all when they celebrate the Eucharist (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; see also Jn 6:52-58 and 1 Co 11:26).

The Church itself is “a visible sign of the invisible saving action of God, a sign which itself contains and furthers that saving action” and can therefore be called a sacrament. It may sometimes appear a rather poor sign, but we view it with the eyes of faith that believe it is quickened by the Spirit whom Jesus promised to send, invisibly uniting all holy people who have ever lived, and pleading for and obtaining from God forgiveness for the less holy, including those currently contributing to the poverty of the sign. At the baptismal ceremony (and everywhere else) we have before our physical eyes only our limited and mortal human bodies; it is our hope not that we shall be delivered from these but that they will be transformed in ways beyond all imagining, so that the limitations of nature, death and sin are taken away. It is because of this hope that the Church has rites called sacraments or mysteries, whereby our limited and mortal bodies make contact with the risen body of Christ. If we had lived in Palestine in the time of Jesus our mortal bodies would have been present to his mortal body; when the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness our transformed bodies will be present to his risen body. In the time of the Church, that is, the period between Jesus’ resurrection and our own, the sacraments of the Church make our mortal bodies present to his risen body, making his power present to and efficacious for us. As St Leo says:

He made an end to his bodily presence in the sight of his disciples on the fortieth day after his resurrection. He was to remain at the Father’s right hand until the time predetermined by God for fulfilling the number of the children of the Church should come, and he would return to judge the living and the dead in the same flesh with which he ascended. What was to be seen of our Redeemer has passed over into the sacraments of the Church (Sermon for the feast of the Ascension, AD 445).

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 22

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 05

 

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Jesus, Sacrament of God

A Christian fasts not because food and the process of digestion are in some sense disgusting but in order to keep in mind alert for prayer, and perhaps so as to have something to give to the poor. He resists the temptation to have an affair with his secretary not because the act of sex is in itself bad but because the affair would demean the significance of sex in his exclusive union with his wife. The religious practice of Catholic Christians uses physical things – water, oil, bread, wine, and other things perceptible to the senses such as music or incense – in the confidence that they come from God and will help in making contact with God.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary…?

The second question the candidate or his parents is asked is:

The created world may be good but its limitations are clear. It is insufficient to satisfy the longings of man’s heart for union with the Creator himself – creation is subject to death and decay; man himself inclines towards selfishness which, unchecked, causes misery to himself and to others. It is the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is God made man in order to deliver man from this threefold limitation of nature, death and sin. As St Leo told his congregation in Rome, on Christmas Day in AD 441:

To you once cast aside, to you driven out from the thrones of Paradise, to you dying from long exiles, to you scattered into dust and ashes, who no longer had any hope of living – to you has power been given through the Incarnation of the Word. With it, you can return from far away to your Maker, can recognise your Father, can become free from slavery can be made again a child rather than an outsider. With this power, you who were born of flesh that is subject to decay can be born again from the Spirit of God and can obtain through grace what you do not have through nature.

If God gave his Son in this way and for this purpose, Jesus in his earthly life, in his teachings, actions and most of all in his suffering and death was the best image, the best expression of God’s attitude to mankind, the best indication of what God is like, and actually was God’s presence for those who could see and touch him. He was, in fact, a visible sign of the invisible saving action of God, and by his visible presence and actions he both contained and furthered that saving action. The theological term (which will be discussed more fully later) for a visible sign of the invisible saving action of God, a sign which itself contains and furthers that saving action, is sacrament, and thus it can be said that Jesus of Nazareth is the pre-eminent sacrament of God.

The Church, Sacrament of Christ

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

The third and final question in the profession of faith is:

This may sound like an untidy list of extra doctrines, unconnected with each other, listed separately because they do not fit into the first question, about God the creator, or the second, about Jesus. It is in fact a question about our present situation and our future hope, and intimately connected with the other two.

to continue…