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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John 6, St. Augustine, Confirmation

 

After feeding the 5,000, Christ withdrew to mountain solitude.  Because the people wanted to carry Him off and crown Him king.

Let’s hear St. Augustine on this…

He who feared to be made a king was a king, reigning eternally with the Father.  He was a king not made by men, but making men kings, in the kingdom foretold by the prophets.  Christ being made man, made believers in Him Christians, who are members of His kingdom, incorporated therein by His Word.

This kingdom will be made manifest after the Last Judgment, when the brightness of the saints will be revealed.  The disciples and the multitude, however, thought He had come to reign now.  They would have taken Him by force to make Him king, which would have anticipated His time.  But His time is a secret.

st-augustineWe could spend all day discussing these few Augustinian sentences.  But let’s focus on something that we could easily pass over, and which is especially important during these days of our young people receiving Confirmation.

Christ being made man, made believers in Him Christians, members of His kingdom.

We have to focus on the fact that, for St. Augustine, the word Christ was of course not simply an empty title for Jesus.  It means:  The Anointed.  The Anointed is, according to the Old Testament, a king.  The anointing in this case is not mere oil, but the Holy Spirit—of Whom oil is perhaps the most potent symbol.

The Incarnation means that people who believe in God believe in Christ, a man crowned with God. God Himself, the Holy Spirit, is the God-man’s Crown.  And that same Crown adorns the brows of those who believe—“Christ”-ians, Anointedians, anointed with God the Holy Spirit.

It’s all invisible.  For now.  It will become visible precisely when God wills it so.  In the meantime, we see the invisible crown in the honesty, fortitude, generosity, faith, and hopefulness of the “Christ”-ians who wear it.

 

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.

Gaffer and Other Wonderful News

chesapeake-bay-sailing1
My dad loved sailing

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal. –John 6:27

waxsealWhat is the seal that the Father has set on Christ?

Setting a seal involves impressing something upon a recipient, something that was not there before.

From all eternity, the Son of God is divine with the Father. There is no seal-setting in the generation of the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Both Persons are eternally divine.

The seal that the Father set must therefore be in the humanity of the Son. It is the seal that has united human nature with God in such a way that there is only one Person: Christ, true God and true man.

We too have our share in this same seal, through the sacrament of Confirmation.

My new nephew, Raphael
My new nephew, Raphael

When we are confirmed, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Divine grace is impressed upon us in such a way that we are equipped to participate fully in the sacrifice of Christ. We become priests. We can come to the altar and offer acceptable sacrifice to God: ourselves and the whole world, along with the divine Victim…

…Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest characters ever created.

elanorgamgeeHe has countless symphathetic qualities. One of them is his loving devotion to his father, who is known as “the Gaffer.” (‘Gaffer’ is a Hobbit term for ‘old man.’)

Sam always speaks of the Gaffer as an old friend whom he wants to make proud. He worries about the Gaffer’s well-being. Sam tenderly overlooks his father’s aged weaknesses.

When the Hobbits return from destroying the ring and conquering the evil Lord Sauron, Frodo tells the Gaffer that Sam is one of the great heroes of Middle Earth. But the Gaffer is not impressed. Sam takes his father’s incredulity humbly:

Kirk White in 1978
Kirk White in 1978

“It takes a lot o’ believing,” said the gaffer, “though I can see he’s been mixing in strange company. What’s come of his weskit? I don’t hold with wearing ironmongery, whether it wears well or no.”

[weskit: waistcoat, vest. ironmongery: in this case, armor]

…Three years ago today, my dear dad went to his eternal reward. I had the privilege of receiving him into the Church, confirming him, and giving him Holy Communion shortly before he died in Easton, Maryland.

As the plan of God would have it, today is also the birthday of my new nephew. Raphael’s older brother is named after my dad, and he also has my dad’s monogrammed cufflinks. (Although, at three, he is not yet ready to wear French cuffs.)

May God be praised! May the dead rest in peace. And may the holy Archangel watch over his newborn namesake and guide him through a holy life.

Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, from the book of Tobit
Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, from the book of Tobit

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”