|POPE BENEDICT XVI BAPTISES A CHILD IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL|
"UNLESS A MAN......."
We saw in our last post that the ONLY way to gain an authentic personal relationship with Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, is to be a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church He founded. To be authentic, our relationship with Jesus Christ must be founded on the basis He determined, and be nourished by the means He provided.
Indeed, God's very purpose in crashing through from Eternity into time , was to achieve the Salvation of Man through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of His Divine Son. It was this Divine Son, Jesus Christ, Whose project for continuing His Salvific work on Earth, after His Ascension, is the Catholic Church - the very Kingdom of God of which He spoke so often.
This is a fascinating concept.
No. More than that, as an act of God upon Earth - a theophany - it is an electrifying miracle. Not just another institution, the Catholic Church is wonderfully unique. God did this.
God did this, for us - she, the Catholic Church is His gift of Love to mankind.
In what character did God give Her to us? She knows herself well, thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit which Jesus Christ Himself sent to guide and inspire her - and she tells us she is "Mater et Magister" , Mother and Teacher. And so it is that God's faithful children gather at her knee to learn in humble and loving simplicity.
But, But, you say........ how does one come into this happy family of God, this Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ Himself, God made Man, has words for you, as you might expect. We recall with reverent awe the occasion of the visit by Nicodemus , a member of the ruling Jewish elite, probably a member of the Sanhedrin. In Saint John's Gospel 3:1-12 we are told Nicodemus came to Jesus " by night". We assume that this powerful man, though he had the germ of Faith at least, did not want it known abroad that he had spoken to Jesus. No. This was to be a private, indeed, a secret visit.
But it was to this weak reed that Jesus revealed the absolute necessity of Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. So important is it, that Jesus, God Himself, uses twice in a few sentences, His most earnest affirmation of His statement using His sacred formula : "Amen, Amen I say unto thee..."
Now you might think that would be sufficient to establish the fact forever and aye. But so essential, so vitally important is this, that later, following His Resurrection, at the time of the Great Commission, Jesus sent forth His Apostles, charging them to : "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I Am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world."
And those words Jesus had prefaced with these:
"All power in heaven and on earth is given to Me."
Now God does not waste words. He has no time for small talk. He did not even respond to praise of the Temple and it's magnificence - save to foretell its destruction. But here, He goes to the trouble of underlining that ALL power in heaven and on earth is His, only to proceed to insist yet again , on the inescapable importance of Baptism! Once again we have water and the Holy Spirit.
Here we have it in the classic formula : a visible sign, instituted by Christ , to give Grace - it is a Sacrament.
Saint Paul elaborates on the nature and operation on the Sacrament of Baptism in Ephesians 4 : 1-6, when he says :
"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, exhorting you to walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called, with all humility and meekness, with patience , bearing with one another in love, careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the abound of peace: one body and one Spirit, even as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism........" There it is again. fundamental, essential Baptism.
There are seven Sacraments entrusted by Christ to His Church for her ministry and protection. Baptism, of its very nature, is the first administered, for it initiates the non- Catholic into the family of the Faith, making them a child of God.
They must as yet work out their Salvation "in fear and trembling" as Saint Paul tells us, and their Faith will be dead without good works as Saint James tells us, but by Baptism they are entitled to hope that, sustained by the seven Sacraments and with sincerity of heart, they might at last reach the Kingdom of Heaven, and Eternal Life with Jesus Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit.