Bath of Re-birth

baptism

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.

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Supernatural Insights

Do you reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises? Do you believe in Almighty God, in His Son Jesus Christ Who died and rose from the dead, in His Holy Spirit, and in His Church? [Spanish]

macbeth
Macbeth

Baptismal promises. They involve a decision, a choice. The fundamental choice of life: to reject the seduction of short-term satisfaction through sin and to embrace the call of God. To offer our lives in sacrifice to the Father, as Jesus did on the cross. To pass over to eternal life, by living for God.

We choose in response to God’s choice. As St. Paul puts it in our second reading at Holy Mass on Sunday, we are God’s “chosen ones.” He chose us for eternal life even before the foundation of the world. He inscribed our names in His Son’s Sacred Heart, numbering us among His adopted children.

Hopefully everyone knows the main reason we have the season of Lent: For the final preparation of adults preparing for baptism. During these six weeks, they dedicate themselves to an especially intense spiritual life, as the day when they will become Christians approaches. Let’s make sure we pray hard for them.

Many of us became Christians while we were still infants, carried to the baptismal font by our parents. They, with our godparents, made the baptismal promises that day. They chose on our behalf to reject sin and live for God.

Holy Mother Church gives us already-baptized people the forty days of Lent to renew the baptismal choice and make it more and more our own. After all, it takes a lifetime for anyone truly to choose God. The day of baptism comes and goes quickly, but we only really finish making our baptismal promises at the moment of death. In the meantime, we work on deepening our rejection of Satan and our faith in God.

Perhaps this is one reason why the Church always reads the account of the Transfiguration near the beginning of Lent. The main reason, of course, is: Christ let Peter, James, and John see His divine glory in order to prepare them for His Passion and death. Lent prepares us for the same thing.

Clovis Baptism St RemiBut there’s more. Lord Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John, to see what we normally cannot see here on earth. In heaven, the saints see what Peter, James, and John saw on Mount Tabor. But as we Christians make our pilgrim way through life, we must have faith that Jesus of Nazareth is God; we believe that He is.

For a moment, though, these three chosen Apostles saw. They saw the divinity of the Eternal Word made man. That was an extraordinary gift of insight, to be sure. But we, too, share in Peter, James, and John’s special vision of Christ in our own way. Christian faith gives us supernatural insight into the workings of divine Providence. We can learn to recognize temptations when they come our way, and to recognize the moments when God embraces us with His true love. Even though these two realities often wear disguises.

Anyone familiar with William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth? It involves a perfect example of what I mean. Early in the play, Macbeth thinks that Fate is “blessing” him with the opportunity to sit on the throne of Scotland. He thinks that the doors of ambition open before him because some higher power is working for his benefit. But Macbeth learns, in the the end, that an evil power has actually seduced him. Macbeth becomes king, but to his utter ruin. It costs him his happiness, his life, his soul.

May keeping Lent help us to put that in reverse. May we learn to see a temptation when it comes our way, no matter how shiny and attractive it may be. And may we learn to embrace with joy whatever little share in His Cross the good Lord gives us. Because to share in Christ’s cross is the greatest blessing we can receive in this pilgrim life.

St. John, Clovis, Nebuchadnezzar, and Us

Clovis Baptism St Remi

For the Memorial of St. John of the Cross, let’s meditate for a moment on what St. Remy said to Clovis, when the bishop baptized the king:

Bend down, proud warrior. Burn what you have adored, and adore what you have burned.

“Burn what you have adored.”

I have loved the wrong things: fundamental fact of human life. O man, O son of Adam, you have loved the wrong things. No matter who you are; no matter what you have loved, you have loved wrongly.

Sounds harsh. But the first Advent Eucharistic-Prayer Preface can help us out. “…when all is at last made manifest…” When that happens. In the future. Has not yet happened.

st-john-of-the-crossWe may be quite knowledgeable, we Googlers of this earth. But we are immeasurably more ignorant than we are knowledgeable. There is infinitely more truth that we don’t know than that we know.

Someday, when God wills, all will be open to our gaze. As it stands now, we stumble in the dark. Hence we love wrongly. Hence we need to burn it.

“And adore what you have burned.”

This clause strikes me as considerably harder to understand. Are we guilty of having burned God? Can you even do that?

I think the only way adequately to understand St. Remy’s whole sentence, really, is to presume that it refers to King Nebuchadnezzar. He cast the three servants of Yahweh into the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar worshiped pagan idols and ordered everyone else to do the same. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused.

Nebuchadnezzar had a huge furnace he used for executions. When he gazed into his oven of death, he saw not only the three Jews he had condemned, but also a fourth with them, “who looked like a son of God.”

15-03-03/42When we have loved wrongly, we have not done so “in a vacuum.” That we love rightly is no matter of indifference. The One we have failed to love as we should: He, and He alone, we must love.

But wait! Nebuchadnezzar was given a special vision and saw something to love. We just got through grappling with the fact that we cannot see the One we must love. Anything we see, which we love—that, ipso facto, is loving wrongly. That, ipso facto, needs burning, not adoring.

Where is the One we have heretofore burned—and now must adore, according to St. Remy? Father Bishop, where is He? How can we follow the second part of the instruction you gave to King Clovis?

The saintly bishop replies: Do you believe in God? The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit? Do you believe?

Yes, Father. We do not see. But we believe.

Then there is your answer, mortal. Adore the invisible One you do not know. Adore the One in Whom you believe, Whom you have heretofore burned by adoring the things you know.

Christ’s Baptism and Ours

Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)

The Lord Jesus asked the ambitious Apostles this question. When the Lord referred to “the baptism with which I am baptized,” what exactly did He mean?

Continue reading “Christ’s Baptism and Ours”

Toughest Dip in the Drink

How did I make out in my Lazarus-Saturday swim up Mill Mountain and around Ro’noke? I did okay.

Generally, I oppose full-immersion baptisms. But when the good Lord does it to you over the course of a 13-mile run, I’m into it.

The Blue Ridge Marathon provides the BEST runner experience. What do they hand you at the finish line for a replenisher? Yes. —>

Once I dry off, I will tally the donations and let you know how much we raised for ProLife Across America.

..Now, bring on April and May Madness!

Seventeen Proud Years

The Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall on their right and their left.

Where your unworthy servant was baptized

We Christians are marching to the holy mountain, where it is always springtime.

To outfit us to march forward, the Lord initiates us through the sacraments. We must be washed, anointed, and fed.

Easter is a good time for us to recall and thank God for the sacraments that have made us Christians.

On October 18, 1970, I was baptized by a well-meaning non-Catholic, non-priest at New York Avenue Presbyterian church. My parents were kind enough to carry me to the font, and they saw to it that I was in church every Sunday for the next 17 ½ years. I am grateful.

But there was still some unfinished business. On Holy Saturday night, 1993, I was confirmed and given Holy Communion for the first time by Father Ed Ingebretsen in Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown University.

Seventeen years ago this morning, I woke up washed, anointed, and fed for the first time in my life.

It is good to be Catholic.

No one—not the Washington Post or the New York Times, not CBS News or CNN, not Geraldo Rivera or Sinead O’Connor—no one is going to tell me that it is not good to be Catholic on Easter Sunday.

We Catholics hate it when people do evil. We hate it that priests have done great evil and hurt innocent young people. We hate it that some bishops have failed to discipline their clergy like they should have.

But we know this, too: The world needs the mercy of God that comes to us through His Church.

As Norman MacLean put it in “A River Runs through It,”

When you pick up a fly rod, you will soon find it factually and theologically true that man by nature is a damn mess.

We need God. We need Christ. We need the Church. We need the sacraments. We need to be washed, anointed, and fed, so that we can march toward the goal.

Where your unworthy servant was Confirmed a Catholic

…How badly do I want Butler to beat Duke?

I wanted the Giants to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But not this much. I wanted N.C. State to beat Houston in 1983. But not this much. I wanted Delpo to beat Federer, but not this much.

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”

Words of St. John the Baptist

st-john-baptist-grecoThe mission of St. John the Baptist is to call us to repent of our sins so that we will be ready to welcome Christ.

This is what St. John said, as recorded in the New Testament:

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:2-3)

Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10/Luke 3:7-9)

To King Herod: It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife. (Matthew 14:4, Luke 6:18)

Continue reading “Words of St. John the Baptist”