Holy Baptism and Hastening Judgment Day

In our second reading at Sunday Mass, we hear St. Peter exhorting us to wait for the coming of the day of God. The Day of the Lord will conclude human history, and the Lord Jesus will bring about complete and perfect justice. [Spanish]

last-judgmentSt. Peter tells us we can hasten the coming of the eternal day. How? By our eagerness for holiness and peace.

What puts us sinners at peace with God? Baptism into Christ. On the cross, the Lord Jesus made peace between God and man. The Lord offered His infinite divine holiness as a sacrifice on behalf of the human race, as one of us. That holy sacrifice makes the eternal peace, the peace that will unfold fully on the Day of God.

Baptism unites us with that peace. Holy Baptism makes the peace won by Christ’s sacrifice our own peace.

Now you might say, “Father, hold on. I love the idea of inner peace. But I have anxieties. Grave ones. Not only do I not really understand when we will get our ‘normal’ life back; not only am I seriously concerned about what new name they will give to the Washington Redskins. But the whole world seems, like, broken.”

Clovis Baptism St RemiOk. Well said. Baptism gives us Christ’s peace and makes us ready for the Final Judgment. Baptism is the sacrament of… faith. Faith. Baptism is not the sacrament of unrealistically thinking that life on earth is a picnic. Baptism is the sacrament of believing in the holy triune God, Who transcends this world in every way.

And baptism is the sacrament of the faith of the Church. To hasten Judgment Day, we all need to recognize: We do not have faith in our Savior Jesus as autonomous individuals. We have faith in Christ by having the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus.

If it were just me and God, I would be terrified of Judgment Day. Under those circumstances, I would be condemned, as I rightly deserve. But I can eagerly try to hasten Judgment Day because I hope to stand before the divine tribunal not alone, but with the Lord Jesus, His Mother, St. Joseph, the Apostles, the martyrs, all the saints. I hope to greet Judgment Day filled with the heavenly grace that Christ has communicated to His Church. I just need to stay current on the sacramental confessions of my sins.

“But, Father! There you go again, extolling the decisive importance of communion with the Catholic Church. You who have been tossed to the curb by that Church! Your kind friends think you should call the local Episcopalian bishop. The Catholic institution has pushed conscientious people to their limit. Practicing Catholics have no solid arguments to make with the lapsed Catholics who won’t associate themselves anymore with the mafia of sex-abuse cover-uppers.”

Again, amen. Well said. Thankfully, at least for now, the virus pushes the final turning-point into the future, for us troubled Catholics. No one has an obligation to go to Mass now anyway. The people who feel safe going to Mass and the people who—for whatever reason—don’t feel safe: we’re all still in this together. We can do what St. Peter said, and wait. Wait on God, trusting that He knows best.

My life certainly makes less sense to me with each passing day. But having your life make sense is over-rated. The Almighty never promised that our lives would make sense all the time. The good plan of God does indeed make sense; it makes sense to the saints and to the angels. It’s just that we miscreants bobbing and weaving here on the surface of the earth do not have the insight necessary to grasp it all yet.

Christ Himself is our peace. The Virgin bore Him as the Holy Child. The holiness of Christ—what is it exactly? His consecration to the will of the Father. His total submission to the loving kindness of God. God will show us the way. One thing we know for sure: the way involves not doing unkind things, and doing all the kind things we can.

Baptism Homily Inspired by Summa Theo. II-II Q164 a1 reply1


Imagine if our tongues were made of uakitite, or synthetic boron nitride. (Mononitride rocks, as hard as diamonds.) We could hardly taste anything, then. Or if our nostrils were lined with titanium. Couldn’t smell. Or if our hands were made of stainless steel.

St. Thomas Aquinas pondered this, by way of an explanation for our fragile mortal bodies. God made us human beings to perceive His glory, beginning with tasting, smelling, touching, hearing, and seeing things—using our five bodily senses. Which means that we need bodies forged of atoms—but atoms arranged with the kind of suppleness necessary to receive impressions from exterior stimuli.

In other words, in order to perceive reality as God made us to do, our bodies necessarily possess an inherent chemical instability. The very physical quality that makes them capable of tasting, smelling, and feeling things—it makes them mortal, also.

baptism-holy-card1The elements of the human body have to fall somewhere between the hardness of quartz and the softness of eiderdown–in order to register the taste of basil pesto and the smell of the briny sea. Rocks don’t feel or smell. And rocks don’t die, either.

Now, this would qualify as a genuine tragedy—the sensing, living human being, doomed to dissipate into dust, eventually. Were it not for Jesus Christ.

All the delicate, mortal jumble of perception that a human being is—the Lord united it all with the immortal absoluteness of God Almighty.

He submitted Himself to the disorder of the desperate, sinful world—which unjustly killed Him. Why? So that all our perceiving of things could lead to God, instead of to oblivion. Jesus makes this soft flesh immortal, by the mystery of His cross and resurrection.

Holy Baptism initiates us into this: Jesus’ Christ’s 100%-human eternity.

First and Second Regeneration

Purim moon tonight. One more cycle to the holy Pasch.

On two occasions during Lord Jesus’ earthly life, the Father spoke out from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son!” At Christ’s Baptism. And at His Transfiguration.

Holy Baptism. One of the seven… sacraments. The sacrament of regeneration. God generated us in the first place, in the Garden of Eden. When Satan tempted us, we fell, and we became the sinful, mortal human race that we are. Then God sent His beloved Son to re-generate us.

We enter into the re-generation process through Holy Baptism. When we get baptized into Christ, everything starts fresh–human purity restored, an open-ended friendship with God begins.

Gerard David TransfigurationYou know that Lent exists primarily as the final period of preparation for adults who will be baptized during the night before Easter. Lent primarily means the final stage of study and purification for non-Christians about to become Christians. The ancient People of God passed dry-shod through the Red Sea and marched on, toward the Promised Land; Lent exists primarily for us to integrate the stranger and the sojourner among us into our nation, the pilgrim Church.

Lent also exists to remind us already-baptized Christians about what happened to us at the font. God regenerated us there, to live as His friends, as the children of His household. We need to reach into the depths of our souls to rediscover the always-new, always-fresh presence of Christ’s truth and life. When we were baptized into Him, Jesus claimed us as His forever.

We already-baptized people, as we reach into these lovely interior depths during Lent, usually find that we need to be re-cleansed by the baptismal water. And that’s as easy as… going to confession! One ancient name for the sacrament of Confession is… second Baptism.

But, speaking of second things—what about the second time the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son!” The gospel we read at Holy Mass every second Sunday of Lent. When the Lord’s body shone with brilliant divine light, transfigured. At that moment, the human regeneration accomplished by Christ, usually invisible to our eyes, was revealed.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River was the sacrament of our first regeneration. And Christ’s Transfiguration is the sacrament of our second regeneration. Our bodily resurrection. When Christ comes again, in the glory He revealed at the Transfiguration, sin and Satan and death will no longer have any power over us. According to God’s own design, we will shine then like the stars in the sky.

The Mercy of Baptism

He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. (John 1:33)

St. John the Baptist washed sinners in the Jordan River. People came from all over the Holy Land to repent of their sins and receive John’s baptism.

baptismDid St. John the Baptist invent baptism? Not exactly.

The ancient Temple in Jerusalem had water baths for pilgrims to cleanse themselves in. Ritual washing goes way back. Water cleanses our bodies. So the religions of mankind have added a spiritual dimension to this cleansing power. In other words, “baptism” is as old as the human race; St. John did not invent it.

But John did administer baptism to God Himself, the God-man Jesus Christ. Not because God needed cleansing. But because God wills to use water to baptize with the Holy Spirit, through His Church. Lord Jesus commissioned us to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

John said it: Christ baptizes not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus pours out divine grace along with the water. So, yes: Catholic baptism is a religious cleansing ritual, similar to such washings in other religions. But that’s not all Catholic baptism is. Because here Christ acts through the ritual washing. God Himself produces invisible effects on the soul of the one baptized.

Jesus died and rose again for us, and He ascended into heaven. Through the sacrament of baptism, our High Priest applies to the baptized person the fruits of that mystery. Christ makes a Christian, a new anointed one. He unites the baptized person to Himself. Baptism cleanses us of sin. But the “cleanness” brought about by Christian baptism involves more than just pardon for personal sins. It involves unbreakable solidarity with Jesus Christ. In Baptism, Christ marks the soul with a permanent character. He “brands” the soul, so to speak, as belonging to Him.

Now, God possesses a firmness and permanence beyond what we can even imagine. We think of mountain ranges and vast oceans as being permanent fixtures, but they have nothing on the permanence of God. We also have a tendency to think that everything depends on us clever human beings. But it doesn’t. God works effects through His sacraments, effects that go beyond what we can understand. Baptism means God uniting Himself with us on His terms, not ours. As St. Paul puts it, “God must prove true, even if all men are fickle.” (Romans 3:4)

baptism-holy-card1If you pay attention to the Catholic press, you may know that lately various prelates and ecclesiastical big-wigs have emphasized the importance of “pastoral accompaniment.” We need to accompany everyone with supportive love, regardless of whether we approve or disapprove of how they behave.

To understand this, I think we need to meditate on what God affirms when He pours out the Holy Spirit on us in the sacrament of Baptism. He assures us: I made you in the beginning, and I made you out of love. I made you to reign in happy blessedness, as a member of the divine household. The nonsense of this world does not control your destiny. I will only good for you. I have a detailed plan for your life, which leads ultimately to heaven.

This doesn’t mean that baptized people can’t wind up in hell. You or I could wind up in hell tomorrow, if we don’t watch our p’s and q’s. Our choices have consequences. God’s law binds. The Lord does not lower His expectations of the morals of those He unites with Himself through baptism; he raises those expectations. God help anyone who knowingly chooses to break God’s law.

But if we think that Christianity simply means: “me being a good person,” we have missed it altogether. Because we are not good people.

Christ came to save us because we are sinners. We’re sinners who all deserve to go to hell. As St. John Paul II put it, in his encyclical on Christian morals:

No human effort, not even the most rigorous observance of the commandments, succeeds in…rendering God the worship due to Him…This fulfillment can come only from a gift of God. (Veritatis Splendor 11)

God loves sinners who deserve to go to hell. He died for sinners who deserve to go to hell. He came to affirm the truths that He affirms through the sacrament of baptism: Sinner, I love you. Sinner, I made you for happiness and glory. Sinner, I have a plan for you.

“Pastoral accompaniment” hardly means just chumming around and ignoring the Ten Commandments. Hanging out and talking sports hardly counts as “evangelization.” Much as I personally enjoy doing it. We can’t hide the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes very challenging demands on us, precisely in order to help us find true happiness.

But we also can’t forget that all human beings fundamentally stand on the same footing before God–namely that His mercy can and does overcome all our evil. When we baptized people know we have done wrong, we can get right again by going to “second baptism,” also known as…confession. We can go again and again, because God never tires of forgiving.

Christ’s infinite and omnipotent mercy really is the pre-eminent power that reigns in the Church. Which is because, when everything is said and done, His infinite, omnipotent mercy is the pre-eminent power that reigns over all things.

So let’s help each other, and let’s help everyone we know, respond humbly to that bounteous divine love.


Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see. (Luke 10:24)

A state of mutual incomprehension exists between Catholic and non-Catholic, which I would like to try to clear up.

For instance, regarding baptism. Apparently, many non-Catholic Christians see baptism with water as unnecessary, a purely external ritual. We, or course, revere Holy Baptism as the essential instrument God uses to make us His children in Christ.

baptism-holy-card1The non-Catholic school of thought revolves around the idea that the salvation of my soul ultimately turns on my act of faith in Christ my Savior, my Redeemer. Hence the question, “Are you saved?” And the answer, “Yes! Because I confessed Christ as my Savior, Redeemer and Lord!”

We Catholics recognize, of course, that Holy Baptism entails faith. Baptism is the original sacrament of faith. When infants get baptized, someone must profess the faith and promise to teach the faith to the child as he or she grows up.

But I think the central point of mutual incomprehension is this: We Catholics assume that God exists, and operates, and accomplishes great wonders, beyond the scope of what our minds contain.

We do not understand religion as something fundamentally inside my own mind. Instead, we think of ‘faith’ as: a mind reaching out towards the infinitude of God.

I can say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer,” and, of course, I do. And it pleases God when I believe that and profess it. But my saying something about what I have in my own mind, at this or that moment in my life, doesn’t definitively settle anything. The matter of my salvation won’t get settled until I draw my last breath. And God alone controls when that will be.

The non-Catholic emphasis on what I think equaling religion has a mirror image: the secularist school of thought which holds that it is absurd for us Christians to claim that Christ alone brings salvation to mankind. “How arrogant and provincial to limit God to your own religion!”

Now, it would indeed be absurd for us to think that Christ alone brings salvation, if the salvation brought by Christ depended completely on what this or that individual thinks or says at this or that moment.

But that definition of religion is foreign to us Catholics, and that makes the supposedly absurd and provincial aspect of Christianity disappear. God becoming man, and the Blessed Virgin giving birth to Him in Bethlehem, is the central fact. Not what any individual human being says or does about it. The almighty power of the one, true God accomplished this fact, the Incarnation. The total effect of this fact–namely the salvation of the world—extends way, way, way beyond what my mind can grasp.

What we can grasp is: We walk through life as pilgrims. I think that this idea of us human beings as pilgrims is the key, if we want to try and clear up the mutual incomprehension between Catholic and non-Catholic.

We human pilgrims have a relationship with the unknowable God, based on what He has revealed to the human race by becoming a man in Israel 2,000 years ago. This God Himself knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and set us on our pilgrimage. And our journey leads towards Him.

That’s what we Catholics understand “religion” to mean, I think: Living as holy pilgrims, heading towards the divine mystery revealed by the star of Bethlehem.

St. Hilary on Baptism

The words of a very wise man, who died 1647 years ago today.

Everything that happened to Christ at His Baptism lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God. (CCC 537)

Hilary of PoitiersWhen we go to Mass on Sunday, we say our Creed. What’s the Creed called? Nicene. During the fourth century, the bishops of the Church met at Nicaea and expressed our faith in the Trinity: one God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But: For many years after the Council of Nicaea, powerful people—even many who called themselves Christians—refused to accept that Jesus is true God and true man.

Believing in the Trinity means trying to live the simple life of a child of God, wanting only to do God’s will. And people frequently do not want to live the simple life of a child of God. Sometimes they seek other things, like fame, status, wealth, pleasure, power, cookies, ice-cream, video games, etc.

But St. Hilary of Poitiers lived the simple life of faith in the revelation that Jesus had made, and had entrusted to His Church.

Hilary had entered the church from the outside. He studied all the philosophies and religions of the world, and discovered the truth in God’s revelation to Moses and in Jesus’ Gospel. Hilary was baptized and became a Christian and a child of God when he was already a full-grown man. He knew how precious the treasure of the Gospel really is.

Let’s ask St. Hilary to pray for us, up in heaven. That we might live simple lives of pure faith like he did, striving to do nothing other than please our heavenly Father and find our way home to Him.


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.

Continue reading “Pleasing the Father”

Baptismal Faith, the Solid Foundation

Rejoice in the Lord, brothers and sisters! The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds. This is our well-founded faith.

At one point in time, all of us were baptized. As of that moment, the Holy Spirit of Christ began to guard our hearts and minds, having sealed them with His mark for the day of glory.

St Josephine BakhitaFor each of us, our baptism into Christ, into the Trinity—it happened in a particular place, on a given moment in time. Probably in a baptistery of some kind, in a church; probably on a happy and proud day for mom and dad. For me, it was October 18, 1970, in a church on New York Avenue, N.W., in downtown Washington, D.C.

I was a babe in arms then, much shorter than I am now…

Anyone else get baptized as a baby? Aw, everyone gets baptized as a baby! Well, not exactly everyone.

Like: all the Apostles, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Josephine Bakhita, the emperor Constantine, Thomas Merton, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. They were all baptized as adults.

Anyway, as we read, St. John the Baptist prophesied that we would be baptized into Christ. He prophesied that the Holy Spirit would come upon us and take charge of guiding us to eternal bliss.

Continue reading “Baptismal Faith, the Solid Foundation”

Red Heifer Khok/Prefigurement

You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk. (Luke 11:44)

The Lord Jesus imprecated the hypocritical Pharisees with this mysterious insult. What exactly does it signify?

Under the Old Covenant, the Lord had divided the world into three sectors: the holy zone, the clean zone, and the unclean zone. The People of God occupied the clean land surrounding the Holy Temple. Outside: Gentile, unclean.

God has revealed Himself as the Giver of Life. Holy = living—fully eternally, vigorously living. Clean = animated by this holiness, the undying vigor that comes from God. Unclean = tending toward death.

No one and nothing unclean could have a part in any sacred ceremony. In other words, when the living touched the Source of Life, nothing pertaining to death could vitiate the communion.

One of the ways in which an Israelite would be rendered unclean would be to touch a corpse, or even a grave.

The Old Law included a provision for the purification of an Israelite rendered unclean by contact with a corpse. The procedure is an example of what the rabbis called khok, that is, a law with no apparent rational logic, which must therefore be of direct divine institution.

A perfectly pure red heifer would be slaughtered outside the city. The carcass would be burned, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet yarn. The ashes were put into a container of spring water. Anyone who had touched death could be purified by that water.

In order to maintain the purity of the water, children who had been born and reared in an area of Jerusalem known to be free of graves had to carry the water in stone bowls, sitting on top of wooden slabs placed on the backs of oxen. They traversed the Kidron Valley on an elevated causeway so as to avoid stepping on any of the graves there.

In other words: NO STEPPING ON GRAVES!!!! EVER!!!!!!!!!!

What the rabbis called khokim—laws with no reasonable explanation—we call prefigurements. Yes, these laws (which have now passed out of effect) do, in fact, make sense: they provide us with insight into the mystery of Christ.

The red heifer prefigures Christ, Who also endured His sacrificial death outside the gates of Jerusalem. His death inaugurated the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the cleansing water that frees us from eternal death.

When the Lord insulted the deluded, self-serving Pharisees, He did not just accuse them of being unclean themselves. He called them a source of uncleanness, called them hidden corpses that contaminate other Israelites without their even knowing it.

By saying this, Jesus helped us to understand the true meaning of the Old Covenant system.

The division of the cosmos into holy, clean, and unclean is fundamentally real. But the zones are not primarily in the physical world; they are found in our own souls.

We touch the unseen holy by sincere prayer, by truthfulness, by careful examinations of conscience. We defile ourselves by lies—above all, by lies we tell ourselves—and by actions that in one way or another crush the life out of ourselves or others.

And we can be purified of this uncleanness by the one, true source of purity and holiness—by Jesus Christ, Whose undying life is ministered to us in the sacraments of the New and everlasting Covenant.

Year-of-Faith Baptistery Visit

Today in Rome, our Holy Father inaugurates the Year of Faith at St. Peter’s Basilica—fifty years to the day after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and twenty years to the day after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One of the pious activities which the Pope recommends for us: to visit the place of our baptism and renew our baptismal promises there.

The 42nd anniversary of my own baptism is one week from today. Three years ago, I stopped in the church and made a visit.

I thanked the Lord for baptizing me in such a nice, historic Presbyterian church. I also thanked Him that I got to become Catholic, 22 years later.

We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven. We believe that He guides all things in favor of our salvation and our triumph in glory in heaven. We walk by faith in the One into Whose death we have been baptized. The whole purpose of life is that our baptism might come to full flower.

Perhaps it seems incongruous to baptize a nursing baby into the crucifixion of a Palestinian carpenter from 2,000 years ago. Incongruous to take the pride and joy of the preening parents in hand, and ritually unite the child with the obscure death of an apparently obscure man.

But it makes perfect sense, because:

1. Everyone dies. Even the cutest baby. Someday: a corpse.

2. The obscure man into Whose death we are baptized is Almighty God.

3. He rose from the dead. We are baptized into His resurrection and His eternal glory, too.

Where your unworthy servant was baptized

When we were baptized, someone made the promise of faith. Speaking for myself, I was too young to make such a promise at the time. My interests then focused almost exclusively on sleeping and breast milk.

But someone made the promise for me: I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Incarnation, the Redemption, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Church, the sacraments. I believe in heaven.

It certainly will do us all a lot of good, insofar as we are able, to visit the place where the promise of faith was first made for me, and to make it again, as if for the first time.