What Happened to Us When We Were Baptized into Christ Jesus?

The first reading for Monday’s daily Mass, from the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:1-10), gives a concise account of our salvation by Christ Jesus. It begins by describing our absolute need for salvation and then speaks to the gifts that come with it. Let’s take a look.

Dead in our Sins – The text says, You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses.

There is nothing more helpless than a corpse. It cannot do anything but lie there and decompose. This was our condition before baptism. No amount of good works, repentance, or spiritual pushups could accomplish a thing. We were dead, helpless, powerless. We had a debt we could not repay.

We were decomposing by following the prince of this world, the Devil. We had the rigor mortis of stubbornness and the stench of disobedience. Dead in our sins, the desires and pride of our flesh won the day. We indulged our passions and impulses. Even keeping of the law was a matter of pride. We thought that we could be righteous by following certain narrowly understood laws. These were just the illusions of a dying man. Isaiah said of us,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, even our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; we all wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind (Is 64:6).

Death was all around us and within us.

Destined for Wrath – The text says, And we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.

Wrath is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sinful state before the holiness of God. It is like fire and water—they cannot coexist; there is a conflict between them that is heard in the hissing of water when it falls onto a fire.

God is a holy fire and we cannot endure the heat and light of His glory in our sinful state. By grace, we must be brought up to the temperature of glory by the Holy Spirit and must become accustomed to the glorious light of God’s truth. Without these gifts we cannot endure the presence of God.

Yes, this is wrath. It is not that God is angry; it is that we cannot endure Him as He is. It is like being exposed to the light after being used to the darkness. We say that the light is harsh, but the problem is that we’ve become too accustomed to the dark.

Before the grace of Christ, we were children of wrath. Only by the light of His grace and the warmth of His love can we hope to draw close to Him who is the light of truth and blazing charity.

Delivered in Christ – The text says, But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, …

On account of His mercy, God the Father sent us Christ Jesus as a glorious gift. Jesus comes to restore us to life, to bring us to the light in stages and bring us up to the temperature of glory!

In His Spirit, who descends like tongues of fire on us, we are set on fire. Through His proclaimed truth, He who is the light of the world accustoms us to the bright light of God’s truth. Yes, we are brought out of the dark, cold dungeon of the tomb and raised up with Christ!

Designated in Honor – The text continues, … and [the Father] seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, we are already seated in the heavens—mystically but truly. As Christ has ascended into the heavens, we ascend with Him as members of His body.

One may wonder how it is that he is “up there” while we are “down here.” When I ride the elevator to the tenth floor, although my head arrives before my feet, I get there. In Christ our head, we are already seated at the Father’s right hand. Where the head of the body goes, the members will follow.

Brethren, this is our future and our dignity if we are faithful: seated with Christ at the Father’s right hand in Heaven!

Diligent in Fruitful Faith – The text says, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Meanwhile, we walk in fruitful faith. Our faith bears fruit in works. Yet even our works are God’s grace. The text says that God prepared them for us in advance so that we should walk in them. All is grace! St. Augustine says that God’s love extends to this, that His graces should be our merits. Thus, our works are our faith working through love (cf Gal 5:6).

Such is our state in Christ and God’s gift: we who were dead in our sins have been brought to life in Him. Destined for glory, we journey upward in fruitful faith and love.

Thank you, Father, for Jesus and your Spirit, who breathes new life in us. We could nothing to accomplish this; we were dead. By your grace we now live and are destined to be with you. Keep us faithful unto death, lest we lose this precious gift and die in the hardness of our heart. Yes, keep us faithful unto death.

Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: Great and Yet Terrifying Blessings

Given the terrible storm that has devastated parts of the Caribbean and is bearing down on Florida as I write, it is possible that questions come to mind. There is certainly a violent component to life on this planet. We might even play on the words of an ancient hymn Dies Irae, dies illa. Yet what we experience as violent in one region can usher in blessings for the wider planet. Among other things, severe storms help to moderate the large difference in temperature between the equator and the poles. Regardless of any positive impacts, though, the local effects can be devastating.

Still, we ought to consider that some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages. The book of Job says,

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread,
is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

Yes, we live just above a fiery cauldron, separated from us by a thin membrane of earthly crust rife with cracks through which fire routinely flares, a crust that is always shifting and even shaking violently in earthquakes.

Yet were it not for this violent cauldron beneath us, it seems unlikely that we would have life here at all. Volcanoes and other tectonic activity keep our soil rich and recycled. In this fiery cauldron are brewed some of our most useful minerals and beautiful gems. Whole island chains and land masses are formed by eruptions and geothermal energy is a resource we have only just begun to tap. Many scientists think that volcanoes had a profound influence on the formation of an atmosphere in the early Earth period and that the molten core of the earth has an important influence on the Van Allen belt, a magnetic field that keeps the harmful portion of the sun’s radiation away from the earth’s surface.

Job had it right: some of God’s gifts come strange packages. The earth’s capacity to bring forth bread is directly connected to the fact that it is on fire beneath. Yet what a strange and terrifying package this gift comes in! Volcanoes and other seismic activity have claimed an enormous number of lives and a huge amount of property.

Water, such a rich source of life and blessing, can turn in a moment to utterly destroy life in huge numbers. Floods and tsunamis can sweep away vast areas in a flash.

Yet who can deny that without water, life would be impossible? Ah, water; nothing more life-giving and nothing more deadly. Yes, some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

I have often wondered why so many cities throughout the world are built on or near floodplains and along the “ring of fire,” with its volcanoes and fault lines. Of course the answer is plain enough: it is in these very areas that some of the richest soil and the greatest resources are to be found.

God’s and nature’s most life-giving gifts are but a few degrees separated from disaster and instant death. We live on the edge of an abyss because that is where life is found.

It’s such a thin line, really. Mors et vita duello, conflixere mirando! (Death and life compete in a stupendous conflict!)  To live is to cheat death.

All of the basic elements and forces: earth, air, water, and fire, are so death-dealing and yet so life-giving; somehow they are all part of the great cycle of living and dying that God intends.

Only God is existence itself; the rest of us are contingent beings and part of a cycle. Only in union with Christ, who said, I am the life, will we ever cheat death. As Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Christ gave the earth the only serious wound it ever received, the wound of an empty tomb.” With Christ—and only with Christ—will we one day give the earth that same wound.

For now, we live above the cauldron upon a thin crust; beneath us burns a tremendous fire. Somehow, mysteriously, it is the source of our bread.

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread,
is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

Yes, some of God’s greatest gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.