Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission . . . (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1213).
This weekend at the Easter Vigil, in this diocese and throughout the Christian world, thousands of men and women will go down into the waters of Baptism, professing their faith in the Lord Jesus and his Church. They will come out of the water with their sins forgiven, having renounced Satan and having put on Christ.
Few of us can remember our own Baptism. Most of us were baptized as infants, and so it has been for most of Christian history. Easter — which we will celebrate for 50 days — is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the sacrament of Baptism. Those who have witnessed the baptism of adults at the Easter Vigil can understand well the dynamics of this first and fundamental Christian sacrament.
Baptism is first and foremost a gift of God. No one can bring about the forgiveness of his own sins. Nothing we can do will accomplish our incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ and give us share in the divine nature. All of this is the work of God in his Son Jesus Christ. When Jesus went to the cross he took with him our sins and the sins of the whole world. By dying he destroyed the power of sin and in rising from the dead he lives a new life.
On the day of Pentecost St. Peter, having himself received the gift of the Holy Spirit, invited the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Those who would accept Jesus and his gospel in faith would be born again. Baptism is the spiritual rebirth “in water and the spirit” which Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus was necessary for entrance into God’s kingdom (see John 3:3-8).
If Baptism is a gift, it is also a commitment. Recall the questions put to those who were baptized at the Easter Vigil. The Church asked them to declare publicly their faith in Jesus Christ, and their rejection of all that is opposed to him and his teaching. This marks the solemn promise of those to be baptized that they will always seek to live their lives in complete accord with the gospel. At that moment the candidates literally swore before God and the Church that they would be living examples of the faith that was being entrusted to them.
All of this pertains to those who are baptized as infants. Because infants and small children are incapable of professing the faith, the Church requires that faith be expressed by someone who is capable of it: the child’s parents and godparents. The Rite of Infant Baptism contains these words spoken to the parents of the child: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.” And to ensure that the parents are fully aware of this most serious responsibility, the minister continues: “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
We must make no mistake. Just as the adults baptized at Easter swore to reject sin and embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith, so do parents who present their children for Baptism. If Easter is a good time to thank God for the gift of faith and Baptism, just so is it a good time for parents to renew their commitment to do all that they can to nurture the life of grace in their children.
Many Catholics, young and old, have been away from the sacraments of the Church for a year — or longer. It is now time to come home. It is time to take up again the practice of the Catholic faith in its fullness. Above all, it is time to once again celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We cannot wait until COVID is eradicated. It may never be eradicated, just as the flu has never been eradicated. We cannot live in fear forever, especially that fear that keeps us from living our faith.
The Risen Lord is waiting for you at Easter. It’s time to come home!