Bath of Re-birth


He saved us through the bath of re-birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Whom He richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:5)

The bath of re-birth. Here in Martinsville and Rocky Mount, Virginia, some adults among us have expressed their desire to receive Holy Baptism, and the other sacraments of Christian initiation, at Easter. [Spanish]

Whenever anyone is washed in any way with water, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, with the intention to baptize, then a Holy Baptism occurs. Someone becomes a Christian and begins the life of grace.

Holy Baptism involves re-birth, the beginning of a new and different kind of life. It’s still a human life, lived in this fallible flesh. But now it is human life “renewed by the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, the holiness of God dwells in a baptized Christian in distinct way. All human beings bear the image of God, in our spiritual nature—our capacity for knowledge, insight, and love. But the Holy Spirit purifies and elevates the human spiritual soul, making a Christian capable of living as another Christ.

That’s the renewal brought about by Holy Baptism. Now we partake not just of human life, but of the human life of Christ. The mysteries of His life become the mysteries of our lives, too.

Holy Spirit dove sun

Baptism seals a person’s soul with the name of Jesus. That seal gets strengthened and completed by another sacrament, in which we share in the “Christness” of Christ… Confirmation.

Baptism and Confirmation make us anointed ones, like the Messiah, the Christ. Both of these words mean: “the Anointed One;” Messiah means “the anointed one” in Hebrew; Christ means “the anointed one” in Greek. And as we know from Sunday’s gospel reading: the Father anointed Jesus with… the Holy Spirit.

In the reading from the letter to Titus, we hear St. Paul refer to the “blessed hope” that awaits all those who believe. We pray about this blessed hope at every Mass. “Father, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all distress, as we await the blessed hope.”

Christians, with souls lifted heavenward by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this world,” having “rejected godless ways and worldly desires.” Christ sacrificing Himself for us has delivered us from “all lawlessness” and has cleansed us to be His people, “a people eager to do what is good.”

Most of us have already been baptized. Baptism can only happen once in any individual life. But in our weakness, we can and do fall away from the grace of Christ, from the renewal of the Holy Spirit.

devilAt that point, should we just give up? We had our chance at the cleansing waters of baptism, but we fell back into lawlessness anyway. So: Too bad, guess I’m going to hell?

Hold on. Maybe a baptized sinner can find a way back? Holy Baptism only happens once in any individual human life, but has the Lord given us a kind of “second baptism?” And a third, fourth, fifth, fiftieth, hundredth, umpteenth baptism?

Correct. Confession to a priest. It’s never too late. The waters of baptism lay open perpetually to any humble heart that trusts God’s mercy and tells the truth in the confessional. The renewal of the Holy Spirit comes not just with Holy Baptism, but with confession and absolution, also.

Okay. So far, so good. But how many “sacraments of Christian initiation” are there? Two—just Baptism and Confirmation? No, actually: three. What’s the third?

Good answer. But isn’t it: The Cross? Or The Resurrection? Or The Heavenly Banquet? Isn’t it: Christian love, uniting together the family of mankind, that sin had left broken and separated? Or The Peace that Surpasses All Understanding?

Yes. Because the Holy Mass involves all these things–and more, of course. The mystery of intimate, interior communion with Jesus. With coffee and donuts to follow. A place to rest our souls, an invigorating Sabbath for our weary hearts. Laying all our cares and attachments down at the altar, so we can follow Jesus anywhere.

God, in His mercy, by His power, according to His infinitely wise design, has made us Christians. He has made us His anointed ones, united with The Anointed One. He had made us heirs to the blessed hope of eternal life.

Knowing the Meaning of “Love”

baptismchristgreco1I guess we could formulate the fundamental question of life in various ways.

Like “Why do I exist?” Or “Where is all this headed exactly?”

But one question that seems to distill everything to its essence would be:

Does God love me or not? Does God love and care about us bipeds with opposable thumbs, or not?

Massive catastrophes can and do befall the human race, leading us to suspect that the Omnipotent One does not love. Bomb-cyclone winter weather events. Sicknesses and early deaths. Think about all the people who drowned in the Great Flood. And even Noah and his family probably got sick and tired of floating on all that water.

But then God gave a sign about the answer to the question, Does God care? He gave a sign that the answer is Yes. A dove. The dove returned with an olive branch in its beak. Yes, God justly punishes sin. But that is not His primary interest. He more-ardently renews the earth with His mercy.

We say, “God is love.” We don’t really know what that means. We don’t know what the word ‘God’ means. And we don’t really know what the word ‘love’ means.

But we do not remain altogether baffled, because: The dove descended upon Christ. God and love: Christ reveals the truth of the matter. The Holy Spirit is God, is love, is fire and uncompromising justice, and comfort and healing oil and a gentle breeze.

Did the Flood make sense to the people who drowned? Or even to Noah and his family on the ark?

If we think we can even formulate the fundamental question of life—let alone answer it—without the one man Jesus Christ, living and real, Who has a Church; if we think there’s some science of reality, and of love, other than Him…

Well, I don’t know. But I’ll venture to predict that any other basis for coping with reality will ultimately collapse under the weight of reality itself.

On the other hand: the beloved Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased; the One Who knows how to say, Abba, Father; our Lord Who underwent the exodus of Calvary: He will assure us, with the witness of His indubitable beauty, that God does indeed love.

Tuning Fork Within

You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. (Mark 1:11)

tuning fork

The heavens opened. The Holy Spirit descended. The Father spoke. The revelation of the Trinity.

God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three distinct divine P_______s. One perfectly simple divine n________. (Persons, nature)

The great mystery of the three in one, one in three: the communion beyond our comprehension. The goal of all our striving, namely to share in such an unimaginably blissful friendship between Father and Son, so full of love for each other that what is distinct is united more profoundly than we are united with our own selves.

But such abstractions as these can leave a person cold, at least sometimes.

Continue reading “Tuning Fork Within”

This is My Son!

“This is my beloved Son.” Every eye was fixed on Jesus. The voice from the heavens spoke. This is My Son.

baptismchristgreco1Every once in a while, I think it pays to review the basic doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The Catholic doctrine of the Trinity comes directly from the life of the Christ. To believe in Jesus is to believe in the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. All ‘mainstream’ Christians share these same dogmas, which go back to the Ecumenical Council of… Nicaea!

Okay. Point one: It makes no sense to say that there are multiple gods, or that there is no God. God, the genius and the power behind and above and in everything, the artisan of all things: there can only be one, and there must be one. If there were more than one, then none of them would be God. And if there were less than One, then we have no rational explanation for the existence of, the order of, the goodness of, and the beauty of all the things we experience.

God is the one and only being Who always has been. God’s infinitely powerful existence gives existence to all other existing things. One Creator, one Lord, one absolute, ultimate good and beautiful Truth with a capital T.

So: the religious teachings of the world can be divided into doctrines of God that make sense and doctrines that don’t. The world is divided into Jews and Gentiles, into those who recognize the one true God as the most important fact of life, and those who don’t. We are Jews.

Continue reading “This is My Son!”

Pleasing the Father

We seek happiness; we seek to please God. These two things go hand in hand.

baptism-holy-card1From our point-of-view: What can really give us peaceful delight? Only the friendship of God. And we know that to have that friendship, we must please Him, rather than displease Him. He is our almighty Father; we are not His equals, but His little children. The only peace, the only happiness I can really have comes with my confidence that the invisible God smiles on me, blesses me, takes pleasure in the fact that He has a child like me.

From His point-of-view: He needs nothing from us. His fatherhood has absolute strength and sovereignty. Human parents naturally rely on the love, affection, and reasonable obedience of their children—and become stricken if this love, affection, and obedience is not forthcoming.

But God has no needs like that. He has everything to give and nothing to lose. Out of His infinite goodness, He has made all creatures, that we might by our goodness give Him glory. What pleases Him? That we be happy—truly happy, peacefully happy, as His friends.

Okay. So: Why did Christ submit to baptism? Let’s try to understand it by considering the two “offices” which the Christ possesses.

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Why was Christ Baptized? (The LONG answer)

Today the Church commemorates the occasion on which John baptized Christ. This commemoration inevitably gives rise to the question: Why did Jesus go to John to be baptized? After all, Christ did not need to repent of sin and be cleansed.

Confronted with this eminently reasonable question, I have frequently proposed the following: The waters of John’s baptism did not cleanse Christ. To the contrary, by going into the Jordan, Christ conferred on water the capacity to give saving grace through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

I have not and do not propose this answer by myself. Countless saintly catechists of the past have proposed as much, including St. Ambrose of Milan. And I do not propose this as the answer, but rather as an answer—i.e., a true, though not exhaustive, answer.

Here, however, is the problem. The response I give can be greeted in three ways.

1. Accepted as coherent.

2. Accepted as a viable statement of Catholic piety, but dismissed as far as being an historically defensible assertion.

3. Rejected as a kind of theological fantasy that does not correspond with the facts of history.

If your reaction is #1, feel free to give up on this little essay, which will doubtless prove to be tedious.

Continue reading “Why was Christ Baptized? (The LONG answer)”

Christ’s Baptism Sets a Three-Beat Rhythm

The vagaries of the calendar will deprive us this year of a Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

From the archive…

Click HERE for a Baptism of the Lord homily about the sacraments.

Click HERE for a Baptism of the Lord homily about joining God’s club.

Click HERE for a Baptism of the Lord homily about Tiger Woods.

[If you click the links, scroll down past the sports page to get to the homilies.]

…Here we present another little Roman Missal reflection:

The Lord Jesus came up from the water, and the Holy Trinity revealed Himself in full. The Father spoke, the Son stood before our eyes, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove.

One God, three Persons.

When St. Peter denied Christ on Holy Thursday night, he denied Him three times. When Christ forgave Peter on Easter, He asked the repentant sinner three times, “Do you love me.”

We join in the same three-beat rhythm now when we begin Mass.

Our new translation of the Confiteor expresses the three-fold acknowledgement of sin that the ancient Latin prayer has always included: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

We continue, as we always have, to implore the mercy of the Trinity in a three-fold manner. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

And, now, when we sing the Gloria, we express the threefold adoration of the Lamb that the ancient Latin prayer always has expressed:

you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

Since we believe in one God in three Persons, it makes sense that our prayers to begin Mass would have a special three-beat rhythm in them.

We thank God that our new Missal restores some of the beats that were missing from the previous translation.

Rich, Who Won?

In this old clip, he only says “Hoyas win!” twice.

This afternoon, he said it nine times. It was unbelievably AWESOME!!! Yeah, buddy!!!!

We beat UConn soundly at the beginning of last season. But today’s win at the Verizon Center was one of the sweetest ever. The Hoyas are BACK, people!

…Here is a little homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ:

After Jesus had been baptized…a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” –Luke 3:21-22

These were the heavenly Father’s words to His Christ. The Son of God had just been baptized—not because He needed to be cleansed, but rather to give us the sacrament.

Continue reading “Rich, Who Won?”

Plenty to Look Forward To, Provided We Can Get There

dejection1Don’t get mad at me: I was hoping for the Chargers to beat Pittsburgh. Just to make it a clean sweep of upsets for the weekend.

What do football fans BOTH in Dixieland AND near the Empire State Building have in common? They are all wondering how their powerhouse teams managed to let it slip away.

Meanwhile, we mid-Atlantic-ers have the pyrrhic consolation of having two teams left. But there is no joy in it when one of those teams is the Philadelphia Eagles.

flaccoThis Flacco guy is good. When I lived in Mexico, they called me “flaco,” which is Spanish for ‘skinny.’

Whoever wins the AFC is going to win the SuperBowl. And we Redskins fans have to deal with the frustration that the NFC Championship game will be played by two teams we beat.

Here is a homily for yesterday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Continue reading “Plenty to Look Forward To, Provided We Can Get There”

Rooting against Providence and Joining God’s Club

Georgetown beat Providence by ten last February
Georgetown beat Providence by ten last February
Earlier this week I was scolded for pulling against Our Lady (Notre Dame).

So I can only imagine what grief I wll get for rooting against Providence tomorrow!

May God’s will be done, according to His provident plan.

Pray for us, notre Dame in heaven!

Get the Hoyas out of their slump, please!!

Just to prove that I am not (consciously) trying to foil divine Providence, here is a little homily I gave to our school-children this morning in honor of our Lord’s Baptism by John at the Jordan River…

baptismWho knows what it means to be “initiated” into something?

You can be initiated into a club or a society. You might have to pay an initiation fee. Someone who is already initiated helps to initiate you.

We want to be initiated into groups that we like, or groups that do things we like, or that help us to do what we want to do. For instance, a couple years ago I joined a runners’ club to make it easier for me to sign up for road races on-line.

Continue reading “Rooting against Providence and Joining God’s Club”