The Mystical Role of the Angels in Baptism

In recent weeks I have been teaching a series at the Institute of Catholic Culture on the mission of the angels. Angels are ministering spirits mystically present and active throughout creation, in the events of Scripture, in the liturgy, and in our lives. Over the next few days my posts will summarize the talks I presented. The fundamental source for these reflections is Jean Cardinal Danielou’s book The Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. The references to the Fathers in my posts are fully footnoted in his book, but some of the scriptural references are my own additions.

In today’s post we ponder the role of the angels in evangelization and baptism.

Preparation for Baptism and the Role of the Angels – Prior to baptism itself, there is of course the need for souls to be gathered to Christ. Even in the baptism of an infant, the child must first be drawn to Christ through parents, the parish, and others. In a wider sense, the gospel needs to go forth to all the nations:

Go, therefore, unto all the nations and make disciples of them, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have taught you (Matt 28:19-20).

The Fathers of the Church envisioned that just as the apostles were sent visibly to all nations, so too the angels are sent invisibly to prepare the many for the gospel and to gather the faithful into the Church. Indeed, Scripture says,

And He will send out the angels to gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (Mk 13:27).

While some see this text only in relation to the end of the world, others see it as a reference to the age of the Church wherein God is sending apostles and angels to gather in the full number of the elect.

And thus:

  • Eusebius remarks that the mission of the angels to draw souls into the Church and unto baptism is also a battle against idolatry and the demons who hold souls captive.
  • The Sacramentary of Gelasius has a prayer for catechumens begging that the Lord vouchsafe to send His holy angels to preserve His servants and lead them to the grace of baptism.
  • Origen records this prayer: “Come, angel. Receive him who has been converted from his former error and the doctrines of demons … Receive him as a careful physician; warm and heal him … Receive him and give him the baptism of second birth.”

 So, the angels perform a preparatory role, working invisibly alongside the apostles, evangelists, missionaries, parents, and catechists. It is consoling to know that we are not alone in this work of winning souls!

The Presence of the Angels in the Liturgy of Baptism

There is a hint at the role of angels in baptism in a passage from John’s Gospel that prefigures the healing power of baptism. It is the passage about the paralyzed man by the sheep pools at Bethesda. It was said that an angel stirred the waters there every so often and that the first one into the water after that would be healed. Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am on my way, someone else goes in before me” (John 5:7).

Thus, in some mystical sense, the angels brought a blessing to those waters to bring healing. In baptism, it is the Lord Jesus, our great High Priest who baptizes; it is He who makes the water holy, uniting it to the water that flowed from His pierced side. But as in all things, He ministers His graces and blessings through His angels. Scripture says of the angels,

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14)

Thus, angels are present and active at our baptism.

  • Tertullian speaks of the role of angels in baptism: “Cleansed in the water by the action of an angel, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit. Thus, an angel is set in charge of baptism.”
  • Origen says, “At the time that the Sacrament of Faith was administered to you, there were present heavenly powers, the ministration of the angels.”
  • Ambrose says, “After Baptism you began to advance [out of the font]. The angels watched, they saw you draw near, and they suddenly beheld the splendor of your state … Thus, they asked, Who is this coming up from the desert shining white? (see Song of Songs 8:5) The angels are lost in admiration! Do you want to know how great their admiration is? Listen to the Apostle Peter as he tells us that we have been given what the angels longed to look upon” (see 1 Peter 1:12).

It is indeed a beautiful insight by Ambrose that the angels should marvel at the transformation and beauty of our soul at baptism. Would that we could see it as well!

In tomorrow’s post we will examine the role of the angels in the Mass.

Below is a video of my first presentation, which was on the angels and the Incarnation.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Mystical Role of the Angels in Baptism

Jesus Does Not Go into the Water Alone; He Takes Us with Him – A Reflection on the Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of Christ – Piero Della Francesca (1450)

This Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a time to reflect on not only the Lord’s Baptism but our own. In an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of His Body. As Christ enters the water, He makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. In these waters, He acquires gifts to give us.

Let’s examine the Gospel in three stages.

The Fraternity of Baptism – The text says, After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized …

Luke mentions Jesus’ Baptism in passing, in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps he, like many of us, is puzzled as to why Jesus would request baptism. John’s baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin, but the scriptures are clear that Jesus had no sin.

  • For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).
  • You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5).

Even though He never sinned, Jesus identifies with sinners. As He comes to the bank of the river, He has no ego concerns. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think Him a sinner (though He was not). He accepts the humiliation of being seen in the company of sinners. Jesus freely enters the waters knowing that anyone who does not know Him will count Him among the sinners.

Consider how amazing this is. Scripture says, He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). Elsewhere it says, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

Jesus ate with sinners, something many of the religious leaders found scandalous. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them (Lk 15:2). Jesus was known as a friend of sinners. He had pity on the woman caught in adultery. He allowed a sinful woman to touch Him and anoint His feet. He cast out demons and fought for sinners. He suffered and died for sinners in a manner reserved for the worst of criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and was assigned a grave among the wicked (Is 53).

Praise God, Jesus is not ashamed to be found in our presence and to share a brotherhood with us. There is a great shedding of His glory in doing this. Scripture says, [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Phil 1:3).

The Foreshadowing of our BaptismIn accepting baptism, Jesus does not enter the water alone. He takes us with Him, for we are members of His Body. As the Head of the Body, He goes where the members will follow. St. Maximus says,

I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed … But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people … At the time of the Exodus the column … made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism (de sancta Epiphania 1.3).

So what God promised in the Old Testament by way of prefigurement, He now fulfills in Christ. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt as the column led them through the waters. More wonderfully, we are delivered from the slavery to sin as the column of Christ’s Body leads us through the waters of baptism. God’s righteousness is His fidelity to His promises. In His Baptism and all it signifies (His death and resurrection), Jesus has come to fulfill all righteousness, and thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.

The Four Gifts of Baptism – The text says, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Scripture says, we are members of Christ’s body (Eph 5:30). Thus, when Jesus goes into the water, we go with Him. In going there, He acquires four gifts on our behalf:

  1. Access The heavens are opened. The heavens and paradise were closed to us after Original Sin, but at Jesus’ Baptism, they are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. At our Baptism, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says, Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand (Romans 5:1). Scripture also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17).
  2. Anointing The Spirit of God descends on him like a dove. Here, too, Jesus acquires the gift of the Holy Spirit for us. At our Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After our Baptism we are anointed with chrism, signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults, this happens at Confirmation, but even for infants there is an anointing at Baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
  3. AcknowledgmentYou are my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from His Father for the faith of those who heard it and to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Because we become members of Christ’s Body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism, the heavenly Father acknowledges you as His own dear child. Scripture says, You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26).
  4. ApprovalWith you I am well pleased. Jesus had always pleased His Father, but now He acquires this gift for us as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace, the grace to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:1-3).

Thus, at His Baptism Christ acquires these gifts for us so that we can receive them at our own Baptism. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. If you don’t know the date, find out. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ was baptized for our sake, not His own. All these gifts had always been His. In His Baptism, Jesus fulfilled God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It’s all right to say, “Hallelujah!”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Jesus Does Not Go into the Water Alone; He Takes Us with Him

Wood and Water Work Wonders! A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

On the first Sunday of Lent the readings have a baptismal theme. This makes sense, for it is common that on this day the catechumens report to the Bishop for the Rite of Election, who officially recognizes them as the elect of God in these final weeks before their baptism.

In today’s readings there are actually many themes; they seem to form the spokes of a wagon wheel, with baptism being the central hub from which they emanate. Arching over it all is the image of the rainbow in the sky, the great sign of God’s love and mercy upon us all. Even during Lent, as we take heed of our sins, we can never forget that though we have been unrighteous, unholy, unkind, undisciplined, and at times unreachable, we have never been unloved. Yes, God put a rainbow in the sky.

Let’s look at the baptismal theme of these readings from two perspectives:

The PORTRAIT of Baptism – Both the first and second readings today make mention of Noah and the ark in which he and his family were delivered from the flood. The second reading says, God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now (1 Peter 3:19-20).

While we quickly associate water with baptism, the image is really a double one: wood and water. If it were not for the wood of the ark, the waters would have overwhelmed them. So, too for us: the waters of our baptism are rendered effective by Jesus on the wood of the cross.

Indeed, by God’s plan we might be so bold as to say, “Wood and water work wonders!” There are numerous places in the Scriptures where wood and water—not just water alone—manifest God’s saving love. Here are five of them:

  1. Cleansing Flood – We begin with today’s image, one of the most terrifying stories of the ancient world: the great flood. The world had grown so wicked and sin had so multiplied that God concluded He had to literally wash it clean. And you thought it was bad in the 21st century! God went to a man named Noah, telling him that He was going to trouble the waters and that Noah should get ready. Build an ark of gopher wood, Noah! This was no small project. The ark was to be the length of one-and-one-half football fields (150 yards), 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall. Then Noah was to gather the animals: 2 pairs of unclean animals, 7 pairs of clean animals. You have to really trust God to put in all that work! Finally, God troubled the waters; the flood waters put an end to wickedness and made a new beginning of goodness. From troubled waters came a blessing, but first Noah had to wade in. Through water and the wood of the ark, God worked wonders (cf Gen 6-9).
  2. Trouble at the Red Sea – Many centuries later, Pharaoh had relented and the people were leaving Egypt after 400 years of slavery. Then fickle Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued them. With the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh behind them the people were struck with fear, but God would win through for them. How? By troubling the waters. God told Moses to take up the wooden staff and to trouble the waters with these words: And you lift up your staff and with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two … So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided (Ex 14:16, 21). You and I know the end of the story but the people on that day did not. With water like two walls on either side them, they had to go forth; they had to wade in the waters. They had to trust God that the walls of water would hold. God brought them through and they were delivered out of slavery and into freedom. Are you noticing a pattern? With God, wood and water work wonders. The wooden staff and the troubled waters brought forth freedom.
  3. Trouble in the Desert – It is a fine thing to be free but thirst has a way of making itself known. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet (Ex 15:23). Once again, with God, wood and water work wonders. The wood of the tree and the troubled waters of that spring brought the blessing of survival.
  4. More Trouble in the Desert – As they journeyed further, there was more thirst. God said to Moses, Go over in front of the people holding in your hand as you go the staff with which you struck the sea, … Strike the rock and the water will flow from it for the people to drink (Ex 17:5-6). From troubled waters came forth blessing. With God, wood and water work wonders. The wood of the staff troubled those waters and they came forth with the blessing that preserved life in the desert.
  5. At the River Jordan– After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were finally ready to enter the promised land, but the Jordan was in flood stage, impossible to cross. Once again God had a plan; He was going to trouble those waters. God instructed Joshua to have the priests place the ark on their shoulders and wade into the water. Now the ark was a box made of acacia wood and covered in gold. In it were the tables of the Law, the staff of Aaron, and a ciborium of the manna. They knew that the very presence of God was carried in that ancient wooden box, just as it is in our tabernacles today. The text says, And when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap far off people passed over opposite Jericho (Joshua 3:15) So again, with God, wood and water work wonders! The wooden box of the ark troubled the waters and they parted, bringing the blessing of the promised land.

These Old Testament prefigurements bring us to the wood of the true cross. On that wooden cross the waters of our baptism come forth from the side of Christ. With Jesus our Lord and God, wood and water work the wonder of eternal salvation. We’re not being freed from an army, or from thirst, or from a flood; we’re being freed from sin and offered eternal salvation. The waters of our baptism are given the power to save by our Lord Jesus through what He did on the wood of the cross. You might as well say it, “With God, wood and water work wonders!”

The POWER of Baptism – Here we encounter more of the spokes of the wagon wheel radiating out from the hub, which is baptism. These spokes come largely from the second reading (1 Peter 3:17-22). The spokes speak of the power and the gifts that radiate from baptism. Let’s look at them.

Salvation – The text says, baptism … saves you now. The Greek word translated here as “saves” is σώζει (sozei); it means to be delivered from present danger. Yes, we have been snatched from the raging flood waters of this sin-soaked world and from Satan, who seeks to devour us.

If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped (Psalm 124).

St. Paul says this of Jesus: He rescued us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal 1:4).

An old gospel hymn has these lyrics: “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the master of the sea heard my despairing cry, and from the waters lifted me, now safe am I. Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, love lifted me!”

Yes, through baptism and the faith it confers on us, we have been saved by the outstretched arm of our God. If we hold to God’s unchanging hand, Heaven will be ours.

Sonship – The text says, Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Yes, Jesus has opened the way to the Father. He has reconciled us to God the Father by His precious blood.

In baptism we become the children of God. Isaiah says, For we like sheep had gone astray, every one to his own way (Is 53:6).

We were angry and fearful of God, unable to endure His presence and His love, but Jesus the Good Shepherd has gathered us and restored us to grace.

One of the great gifts baptism gives us is the grace to experience a tender affection for God the Father and experience Him as Abba (cf Gal 4:6, Rom 8). As we grow in the grace of our baptism, so does our tender love and affection for the Father.

Through baptism and the indwelling Holy Spirit, Jesus causes us to experience increasing trust in the Father and to obey Him out of deep love rather than servile fear.

Serenity – The text says baptism….is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience. While baptism touches the body, its current goal is the soul, the inner man or woman. In effect, this text speaks to us of the new mind and heart that Jesus confers on us through baptism.

In today’s Gospel Jesus refers to this new mind when he says “Repent!” The Greek word translated as “repent” is μετανοεῖτε (metanoeite), which means more literally “to come to a change of mind.”

Yes, the Lord offers us a new mind and heart, a whole new way of thinking—new priorities, new visions, new understandings, and new goals.

So much of the battle we face involves our mind. “Mind” here does not refer to the brain but to that deepest inner part of us where we “live,” where we deliberate and are alone with our self and our God. Through baptism the Lord begins a process that renews this inner self, day by day.

As our mind gets clearer and our heart grows purer, our whole life is gradually transformed. This leads to inner peace, to a serene conscience, confident and loving before God.

Spirit – The text says of Jesus, Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. As God, Jesus did not need or acquire the Holy Spirit; He was always one with the Holy Spirit. As man, though, He does acquire the Holy Spirit for us.

Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the very life of God, the love of God, the joy of God, the holiness of God! To receive the Holy Spirit is to come to a totally new and transformed life.

When Jesus rose it was not merely that His corpse was resuscitated. It was truly His body that rose, but He took up a wholly transformed human life and offers this to us.

In baptism we die with Him and rise to this new life. If we are faithful to our baptismal commitments, we become ever more fully alive; sins are put to death and innumerable graces come forth. Yes, new life, Life in the Spirit, comes to those who are baptized and remain faithful to their baptismal life.

Long before the rainbow was co-opted by groups within our culture for an unbiblical agenda, it was a beautiful image of God’s covenantal love for us.

Do you know what a rainbow is? It is a combination of fire and water. Yes, there it is: the water of our baptism and the fire of God’s loving Spirit shining through that very water, form the rainbow in the sky. It is the sign of God’s fiery love and the water of our salvation.

This song says, “When it looked like the sun wasn’t gonna shine no more, God put a rainbow in the sky.”

Parents: Don’t Delay Baptism for your Infants!

There is a trend that has set up for years now, and that is that Catholics are waiting many months to get their children baptized. I suspect that what we have here is a combination of a much lower infant mortality rate and, also, a less fervent practice of the faith by many. Further, there seems little sense among the faithful today that an unbaptized infant would be excluded from heaven.

As regards the last point, I think it is pastorally sound to trust in God’s mercy for infants who die before baptism. However, I do not think it follows that we ought to disregard or substantially delay a sacrament which Jesus commands, and which the Church indicates ought not to be delayed. The Code of Canon Law says the following:

Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay. Can. 867 §1,§2

The Catechism also states: The Church and parents deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250) So it seems clear that a higher priority should be given to scheduling the baptism of babies within the first few weeks after birth.

Protestant practice departs from the received Tradition – Another factor for American Catholics is that many are influenced by the Protestants. Protestants, (though not all of them) disagree with our Catholic practice of baptizing infants. They usually wait until a child is between 8 and 12 to baptize,  reasoning that the child will know and understand what is happening and be able to claim Christ for themselves.

But, I hope you see the supreme irony of this in the fact that the Protestants, who so emphasize that salvation does not come from works, delay baptism on the grounds that the infant has not achieved (i.e. worked up to) the proper level of maturity. To know, requires one to learn, which is a work. And we Catholics, who supposedly teach salvation through works (we do not), baptize infants who can work no work.

Novelty – Indeed, the Protestant denominations (mostly Baptists (another irony), Pentecostals, Fundamentalist and Evangelicals) who refuse baptism to infants, engage in a novelty unknown to the Church until recent times.

It is a simple historical fact that the Church has always baptized infants. Even our earliest documents speak of the practice. For example the Apostolic Tradition written about 215 A.D. has this to say:

The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. (Apostolic Tradition # 21)

Scripture too confirms that infants should be baptized if you do the math. For example

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 18:15-17 NIV)

So the Kingdom of God belongs to the little children (in Greek βρέφη (brephe) indicating infants and little children still held in the arms, babes).

And yet elsewhere Jesus also reminds that it is necessary to be baptized in order to enter the Kingdom of God: Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV)

If the Kingdom of God belongs to little children, and we are taught that we cannot inherit it without baptism, then it follows that baptizing infants is necessary, and that to fail to do so, is a hindering of the little children which Jesus forbade his apostles to do. So both Tradition and Scripture affirm the practice of baptizing infants.

Many of the Protestants who do refuse infant baptism also water down (pardon the pun!) the fuller meaning of baptism, no longer seeing it as washing away sins and conferring righteousness per se, but more as a symbol of faith that they claim to have already received when they said the “sinners prayer” and accepted Christ as their savior. But what a tragic loss for them, since baptism and particularly the baptism of infants, says some very wonderful things about the complete gratuity of salvation and the goodness of God. Consider these points:

1. The baptism of infants is a powerful testimony to the absolute gratuity (gift) of salvation. Infants have achieved nothing, have not worked, have not done anything to “merit” salvation. The Catechism puts it this way: The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant baptism. (CCC # 1250) The Church is clear, salvation cannot be earned or merited and infant baptism teaches that most clearly. Salvation is pure gift. How strange and ironic that some of the very denominations which claim that Catholics teach salvation by works (we do not) also refuse, themselves, to baptize infants. They claim that a certain age of maturity is required so that the person understands what they are doing. But this sounds like achievement to me. That the child must meet some requirement, seems like a work, or the attainment of some meritorious status wherein one is now old enough to “qualify” for baptism and salvation. “Qualifications….Achievement (of age)….Requirements….it all sounds like what they accuse us of: namely works and merit. To be clear then, the Catholic understanding of the gratuity of salvation is far more radical than many non-Catholics understand. We baptize infants who are not capable of meriting, attaining or earning.

2. The Baptism of infants also powerfully attests to the fact that the beauty of holiness and righteousness is available to everyone regardless of age. To be baptized means to be washed. Washed of what? Original Sin. At first this seems like a downer, “Are you saying my baby has sin?” Yep. All of us inherit Original Sin from Adam and Eve. We are born into a state of alienation from God that is caused by sin. The Scriptures are clear: [S]in entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12). So even infants are in need of the saving touch of God. Now why would we wish to delay this salvation and resulting holiness for 7 to 12 years? The Catechism says this,

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by Original Sin, children also have need of new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and be brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God….The Church and parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250).

St. Cyprian Bishop of Carthage in the 3rd Century was asked if it was OK to wait to the 8th day to baptize since baptism had replaced circumcision. He respond with a strong no:

But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day We [the bishops] all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. (Epist# 58).

So then here is the beauty, that infants are summoned to receive the precious gift of holiness and righteousness and that they are summoned to a right relationship with God by having their sin purged and holiness infused. Infants are called to this dignity and should not be denied it. With this done, some of the holiest and most innocent days of our lives may well be our first years. Then, as the will begins to manifest, and reason begins to dawn, the grace of holiness gives us extra strength to fight against the sinful world that looms.

3. The Baptism of Infants also attests to the fact that faith is gift for every stage of development– To be baptized is to receive the gift of faith. It is baptism that gives the true faith. Even with adults, true faith does not come until baptism. Prior to that there is a kind of prevenient faith, but it is not the Theological Virtue of Faith.

Now faith is not only an intellectual assent to revealed doctrine. It is that, but it is more. To have faith is also be be in a righteous and trusting relationship with God. An infant relates to his parents long before he speaks or his rational mind is fully formed. He trusts his parents and depends on them. It is the same with God. Thus the infant can well trust and depend on God and be in a right relationship with God, in an age appropriate way.

With his parents, his or her relationship of trust with parents, leads the infant to begin to speak and understand as he or she grows. It is the same with God. As the infant’s mind awakens, the infant’s faith grows. It will continue to grow until the day he or she dies (hopefully) as an old man or woman.

That faith accompanies us through every stage of our life, and develops as we do, is essential to its nature. An infant needs faith no less than an old man. An infant benefits from faith no less than a teenager or an adult. To argue, as some Protestants do, that you have to be a certain age before faith can exist, hardly seems to respect the progressive nature of faith which is able to bless EVERY stage of our human journey.

I have some very vivid memories of my experience of God prior to seven years of age and I will say that God was very powerfully present to me in my early years, in many ways even more so than now, when my mind sometimes “gets in the way.”

Too many Catholics are waiting months, even years to have their children baptized. Precious time is lost by this delay. Infant Baptism speaks powerfully of the love that God has for everyone he has created and of his desire to have everyone in a right and saving relationship with Him. Surely baptism alone isn’t enough. The child must be raised in the faith. It is the nature of faith that it grows by hearing and seeing. Children must have faith given at baptism but that faith must be explained and unwrapped like a precious gift for them.

Don’t delay. Get started early and teach your child the faith they have received every day.

Don’t build a bridge over troubled waters! Wade on in! A Meditation on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord’s baptism, but also on our own. For in an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of his body. As Christ enters the water, he makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. And in these waters he acquires gifts to give us, as we shall see below.

Why was Jesus Baptized – It has been asked in every generation why Christ sought baptism. For baptism of John surely pointed to sin, of which Christ  had none. The question has been well answered by the Father and many others. In effect, Christ descended to those waters, he troubled those waters, stirring them up to make them holy for our sakes. And by this descent, which points to the paschal mystery, to obtain manifold blessings for us. St. Maximus of Turin speaks Christ’s Baptism as this:

I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed……But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people….At the time of the Exodus the column…made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism. (de sancta Epiphania 1.3)

So Christ, as it were, opens a way for us by troubling the waters, just as he did at the Red Sea,  and obtains for us victory over our spiritual enemies.  He brings us forth to freedom on the other side. He is baptized for us. Ephesians 5:30 says we are members of Christ’s body. Thus when Jesus goes into the water we go with him. And in going there he stirs up, he troubles the water for us, acquiring gifts on our behalf.

Don’t be afraid of troubled waters, there is a blessing on the other side. A song writer one spoke of seeking a bridge over troubled waters. Biblically this is poor advice. For it is only by going through, or wading into, the troubled waters that the blessing is found. More on this in moment. For now simply observes that Christ wades in, he troubles the water, and he obtains blessings for us out of troubled waters.

And what are the gifts He obtains for us? The texts speak of them somewhat figuratively, but also clearly. In effect, there are four gifts spoken of in the Gospel descriptions of Jesus’ Baptism:

  1. Access the heavens are opened . The heavens and paradise had been closed to us after Original Sin. But now, at Jesus’ baptism, the text says the heavens are opened. Jesus acquires this gift of sanctifying grace for us. And by this grace, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, (Romans 5:1) It also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17). Hence the heavens are opened also at our own Baptism and we have access to the Father.
  2. Anointing the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove – Here too, Jesus acquires the Gift of the Holy Spirit for us. In Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After baptism there is the anointing with chrism which signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults this is Confirmation. But even for infants, there is an anointing at baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
  3. Acknowledgmentthis is my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from his Father. He allowed this to be heard by some of the bystanders for the sake of their own faith. But he also  acquires this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Since we become members of Christ’s body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism the heavenly Father acknowledged you as his own dear Child. Scripture says: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26)
  4. ApprovalI am well pleased . Jesus had always pleased his Father. But now he acquires this gift for you as well. Here too is another acknowledgment of the sanctifying grace that the Lord gives us in Baptism. Sanctifying grace is the gift to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:1-3)

Thus, at his Baptism, Christ acquired these gifts for us, so that, at the troubled, stirred up water of our own Baptism, we could receive them. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. Perhaps you know the exact day. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ is baptized for our sakes, not his own. All these gifts had always been his. Now, in his baptism he fulfills God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It’s alright to say, “Hallelujah!”

This video I put together shows that God has a way of bringing blessings when he troubles the Water.

He troubled the waters in the great flood to cleanse the earth,
He troubled the waters at the Red Sea to bring forth victorious escape and freedom from oppression,
He troubled the waters in the desert to satisfy the Israelites,
He troubled the waters of the Jordan so they could enter the promised land,
Jesus troubled the waters at his baptism and obtained many a gift for us,
And from the troubled waters of his pieced side came for salvation and the Holy Spirit.

So don’t build a bridge over troubled waters, wade on in! There’s a blessing on the other side.

What Does It Mean to Be Baptized With the Holy Spirit?

In the final lines of yesterday’s Gospel, John the Baptist says,

I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8).

Matthew and Luke add: and with fire.

We ought to consider, What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (and with fire)? In the first place we must be careful to indicate, right from the beginning, that Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not distinct, different, or later than our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Rather it is the unfolding and deepening experience of what the Sacrament of Baptism (and Confirmation) have effected in us.

In a strictly theological sense,  John the Baptist is distinguishing his Baptism, which was merely a washing that signified repentance, from the Baptism of Christ, which actually brings forgiveness and the bestows the very life of God, and all the graces of this new life to the believer. We are not merely washed of our sins in the Sacrament of Baptism, we are made new, and the seed of God’s very own life, love and grace are sown in us, to grow. We are actually sanctified and made new.

Some of the Fathers of the Church have this to say:

Theophylus – The baptism of John had not remissions of sins, but only brought men to penitence. He preached therefore the baptism of repentance, that is, he preached that to which the baptism of penitence led, namely, remission of sins, that they who in penitence received Christ, might receive Him to the remission of their sins.

Jerome – For what is the difference between water and the Holy Ghost, who was borne over the face of the waters? Water is the ministry of man; but the Spirit is ministered by God.

Bede – Now we are baptized by the Lord in the Holy Ghost, not only when in the day of our baptism, we are washed in the fount of life, to the remission of our sins, but also daily by the grace of the same Spirit we are inflamed, to do those things which please God

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

According to the Apostle Paul, the believer enters through Baptism into communion with Christ’s death, is buried with him, and rises with him: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by 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. (Rom 6:3-4) The baptized have “put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27) Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies (1 Cor 6:11). Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect. (CCC 1227-1228)

This quote from the Catechism then moves us beyond the merely Theological answer to the question, “What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?”  and opens also, the “experiential” question: What is it “like” to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Experientially, It means knowing what we have received in Baptism and Confirmation. But here, “knowing” does not mean mere intellectual knowing (οἴδα – odia in the Greek New Testament). Rather it means experiential knowing (γινώσκo – ginosko in the Greek New Testament). It is one thing to “know about” God and to be able to pass a religion test. But to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit is to “know” the Lord, personally, deeply, intimately. It is to be in a life changing, transformative relationship with the Lord. It is experiential faith.

Too many people are satisfied with with living their faith by inference, rather than by experience. In other words, they are content to go along saying what they heard some one else say. “Jesus is Lord and risen from the dead” because my mother says so, or my preacher says so, (or even), the Bible says so. All of this is fine, for faith first comes by hearing. But there comes a point when YOU have to say so, because you personally know it to be true.

And this is what it means to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is to be able to say, “In the laboratory of my own life I have tested the Word of God and found it to be true. I have personally met and know the Lord, I know Him for myself.”

In other words, it is having faith come alive! Faith that is real, tested and certain. It is knowledge that is personal. It is to be a first hand witness to the power of Jesus Christ to change my life, for I am experiencing it in the laboratory of my very own life. He is changing and transforming me. I am seeing sins put to death and wonderful graces come alive. I am more serene, confident, loving, generous and chaste. I am more forgiving, patient, trusting and patient. I love the poor more, and I am less attached to this world. My prayer is becoming deeper as I sense his presence and power in my life. Yes, God is working in my life and He is real. This is my testimony. What is yours?

But this is what it means, experientially, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (and with fire).

And this is also at the heart of evangelization. How are you going to convert anybody if you’re not convinced yourself? Parents, you want your kids to go to Church? Great, and proper. But why do you go? Because it’s Church law? Alright, fine, but shouldn’t there be a deeper reason? To be Baptized with the Holy Spirit is to go to Mass and make the Christian walk because you know and love Jesus Christ yourself, and you want to bring your children into that living, powerful and life transforming experience of the Lord in prayer, the Mass, the Liturgy, and the Sacraments. That’s what you’re after. And that’s what it means to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Pay attention to these word of St. John the Baptist. He, through the Holy Spirit, is teaching us about the “normal Christian life,” which is to be alive, joyful, confident, serene and thrilled at what God is doing in my life, at to know (not just know about) the Lord. “I baptize you with water, BUT HE, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” And he will light a fire in your life, a fire that never dies away, but that grows in intensity as it transforms your very self.

Let he who has ears to hear, heed what the Spirit is saying. Baptism is not a tedious ritual, it is a transformative reality.

Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh, 1962, The Books These are the Sacraments (By Bishop Fulton J Sheen).

Here is Father Francis Martin on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Sign Me "Off" For the Christian Jubilee: On the Disturbing trend of "De-Baptisms" in Europe

There’s an old song that says, Sign me up for the Christian Jubilee! Write my name on the roll!….I want to be ready when Jesus comes!  But, tragically there are some in Europe who are formally renouncing their faith through a process they call “de-baptism.” In effect they write to the parish where they were baptized and asked that their name be blotted out from the book of life, also known as the Baptismal Register. Of course the Catholic Church does not remove the names, but does make a notation that they have formally renounced the Christian faith, that they have renounced their baptism.

The video below depicts such “de-baptisms.” A young Belgian, named Damien,  is interviewed, and shown holding a document he has signed entitled Acte D’Apostasie A qui de droit. (Act of Renunciation (Apostasy) from the faith). You don’t have to know a lot of French to see the word “Apostasy” in the title. I had an opening and so offered Mass today for this man, for his return to the faith. I hope you’ll pray too for him and the over 1000 Belgians who have renounced their faith this past year.

Apostasy Association? There is actually an organization that exists to encourage and facilitate such renunciations. The head of this organization says many have renounced their faith due to anger over the sex-abuse scandal, though he admits there are other reasons too.

Red Herring – I do not know the particulars in Damien’s case so I cannot assess his personal motives. However, generally speaking, the abuse excuse, serious though the scandal was, is largely a red herring. People don’t usually leave the Church due to the Church’s sin, but rather, due to their own sins. People who leave (as distinct from those who drift away) are usually at odds with one or more of the moral teachings of the Church. And they are usually at odds with such teachings because they are breaking one or more of those moral precepts. They want to live as they please, and so they leave. In pointing to sin in the Church (real though it is) they get to tell themselves they are doing a noble, even conscientious thing. But in the end it is more usually a baser motive rooted in their own sin.

I’ve been re-reading Archbishops Sheen’s book Three to Get Married. In it he writes:

Every rationalization is farfetchedand never discloses the real reason. He who breaks the Divine Law and finds himself outside of Christ’s Mystical Body in a second marriage will often justify himself by saying: “I could not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.” What he means is that he can no longer accept the Sixth Commandment…..What is important is not what people say, but why they say it. Too many assume that the reason people do not come to God is because they are ignorant; it is more generally true that the reason people do not come to God is because of their behavior. Our Lord said: “Rejection lies in this, that when the light came into the world men preferred darkness to light; preferred it, because their doings were evil. Anyone who acts shamefully hates the light” (John 8:19, 20). It is not always doubt that has to be overcome, but evil habits. (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition Loc. 149-58).

In Damien’s case the specific reason is said by the interviewer to be anger over sex abuse. But Damien himself is less clear. He states, in effect, he doesn’t agree with what the Church is doing. It is not so clear that the abuse scandal is what he means, since this is not something the Church is “doing” but rather something she did not do. He more likely means he disagrees with some of her moral teachings. He also claims he never chose to join the Church anyway, since it was his parents who had him baptized.

Self-congratulatory apostasy?  – In the end he calls himself a “conscientious citizen” for getting de-baptized. Sadly, there is another word that more aptly describes what he has done and it is right at the top of his own letter: “Apostasie.” One can only hope his ignorance is so great that he does not really comprehend what he has done and will not face the full effects of his ill-informed choice.

Bad Idea! – But for the record, asking to have your name taken “off the roll” is a VERY BAD idea. Scripture could not be clearer;

  1. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…..If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15).
  2. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!  (Rev 3:4-6)

Someone may object  that a baptismal register is not the book mentioned, and that the image of “the book of life”  cannot be mechanistically reduced to inkblots on the page of some earthly book, etc. True enough. But the problem is not the earthly book, but what the earthly book indicates. It indicates baptism, not just membership. And to renounce baptism is to renounce faith in Christ Jesus. Thus, rejecting saving faith in Jesus Christ DOES affect the true and heavenly book. The earthly book is but a copy but it does point to the heavenly one and it is a very bad idea to go on record renouncing your faith, and asking that your name be “blotted out.” In Scripture Jesus says that the greatest gift is to have our names written in heaven: However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

And perhaps the scariest thing about all this is that Scripture also indicates very clearly that Jesus will ultimately abide by the decision of those who reject him and ratify it:

  1. If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mk 8:38)
  2. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:33)
  3. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us, if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Tim 2:12-13)

So please pray for this young man, Damien, and others like him. Do not simply presume invincible ignorance on his part. We often rashly presume that adults “don’t know any better.” Well, don’t presume,  pray for him. I offered mass for him today and others like him. Perhaps you might offer the fruits of holy Mass as well?

Pray, this is very serious. It is bad enough to drift away from the faith, but to formally renounce ones baptism is to really ramp things up to a mega-serious level. Pray, pray, pray.

The Bountiful Blessings of Baptism: A Meditation on the Baptism of the Lord.

Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord’s baptism, but also on our own. For in an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of his body. As Christ enters the water, he makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. And in these waters he acquires gifts to give us,  as we shall see below.

 Let’s examine this text in three stages:

 1. The Fraternity of Baptism – The text says Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying,  “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

John is surely puzzled about Jesus requesting baptism. And likely so are we. Why? John’s baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin. But the scriptures are clear, Jesus had no sin.

  1. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15 ).
  2. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5 ).

 So why does Jesus ask for baptism? He will answer this in a moment.

But first let’s consider this dramatic fact: Jesus identifies with sinners, even if he never sinned. As he comes to the riverside he has no ego concerns. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think him a sinner even though he was not. It is a remarkable humiliation he accepts to be found in the company of sinners like us, and even to be seen as one of us. He freely enters the waters and, to any outsider who knew him not, he would simply be numbered among the sinners, which he was not.

Consider how amazing this is. The Scripture says He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). It also says  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

Jesus ate with sinners to the scandal of many of the religious leaders: -This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Lk 15:2).  Jesus was known as a friend of sinners, had pity on the woman caught in adultery, allowed a sinful woman to touch him and anoint his feet. He cast out demons and fought for sinners. He suffered and died for sinners in the way reserved for the worst criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and He was assigned a grave among the wicked (Is 53).

Praise God, Jesus is not ashamed to be found in our presence and to share a brotherhood with us. There is a great shedding of his glory in doing this. Again, Scripture says, [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Phil 1:3)

2.  The Fulfillment of Baptism – The text says:  Jesus said to [John] in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

 The Fathers of the Church are of varying opinions as exactly what Christ means by fulfilling all righteousness.

  1. Chromatius links the righteousness to all the sacraments and the salvation they confer: “This is true righteousness, that the Lord and Master should fulfill in himself every sacrament of our salvation. Therefore the Lord did not want to be baptized for his own sake but for ours” (tractate on Matthew 13.2)
  2. Chrysostom links it to the end and fulfillment of the Old Covenant: He is in effect saying, Since then we have performed all the rest of the commandments, this Baptism alone remains. I have come to do away with the curse that is appointed for the transgression of the Law. So I must therefore fulfill it all and, having delivered you from its condemnation, bringing it to an end. (Homily on Matt 12.1)
  3. Theodore of Mopsuestia sees Christ to mean that he is perfecting John’s Baptism which was only a symbol of the true Baptism.  The Baptism of John…was perfect according to the precept of Law, but it was imperfect in that it did not supply remission of sin but merely made people fit of receiving the perfect one….And Jesus makes this clear saying, ‘For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’  (Fragment 13).

From another perspective,  the word “righteousness” refers, biblically, to God’s fidelity to his promises. Thus, is this sense, Jesus would mean that his baptism would be the sign of the fulfillment of God’s righteous promise of salvation. God had promised this and God is faithful to his promises. Jesus’  baptism indicates this. How?

St. Maximus of Turin speaks of the Old Testament prefigurement of baptism at the Red sea and then shows how Christ fulfills it:

 I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed……But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people….At the time of the Exodus the column…made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism. (de sancta Epiphania 1.3)

So what God promised in the in the Old Testament by way of prefigurement he now fulfils in Christ. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt as the column led them through the waters. But more wonderfully, we are delivered from the slavery to sin as the column of Christ’s body leads us through the waters of baptism. God’s righteousness is his fidelity to his promises. Hence Jesus says, in his baptism and all it signifies (his death and resurrection) he has come to fulfill all righteous and he thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.

 3. The Four Gifts of Baptism – The Text says, After Jesus was baptized,  he came up from the water and behold,  the heavens were opened for him,  and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove  and coming upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, saying,  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Eph 5:30 says we are members of Christ’s body. Thus when Jesus goes into the water we go with him. And in going there he acquires four gifts on our behalf as this text sets them forth. Lets look at the four gifts he acquires on our behalf:

  1. Access the heavens are opened .  The heavens and paradise had been closed to us after Original Sin. But now, at Jesus’ baptism,  the text says the heavens are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. So, at our baptism, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, (Romans 5:1) It also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17). Hence the heavens are opened also at our own Baptism and we have access to the Father.
  2. Anointing the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove – Here too, Jesus acquires the Gift of the Holy Spirit for us. In Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After baptism there is the anointing with chrism which signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults this is Confirmation. But even for infants, there is an anointing at baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  (1 Cor 3:16)
  3. Acknowledgment  – this is my beloved Son.  Jesus receives this acknowledgment from his Father for the faith of those who heard, but also to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Since we become members of Christ’s body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism the heavenly Father acknowledged you as his own dear Child. Scripture says:  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26)
  4. ApprovalI am well pleased .  Jesus had always pleased his Father. But now he acquires this gift for you as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:1-3)

Thus, at his Baptism, Christ acquired these gifts for us so that our own Baptism we could receive them. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. Perhaps you know the exact  day. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ is baptized for our sakes, not his own. All these gifts had always been his. Now, in his baptism he fulfills God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It’s alright to say, “Hallelujah!”