This weekend I was privileged to baptize my niece’s little baby girl after the vigil mass on Saturday. Since some of the family was not Catholic, it was a good opportunity to explain exactly what would be happening to her through this baptism. Many different denominations, like the Southern Baptist faith tradition that I spent a few years in, teaches that baptism is only a symbol. In fact, they would tell you that you are not required to be baptized. That nothing happens to the person who is being baptized, but that it is only an outward sign of something that has already happened on the inside when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior in your heart. They believe that all a person need to do is what St. Paul asks us to do in Roman’s, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9).”
The Church’s teaching, along with the biblical teaching, is that baptism is the initial event that saves an individual. As referenced in the title of this post, St. Peter makes it clear, “…during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…(1 Peter 3:20-21).” In Matthew’s Gospel, right before Jesus ascends to heaven, he tells the Apostles, “…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…(Matt 28:18-20).” The first converts to Christianity, when the word of Jesus cut to their heart, asked Peter and the other Apostles what they needed to do. St. Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).” It is through baptism that we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit.
Has anyone ever asked you if you have been “born again?” All Christians agree that to be saved, you have to be “born again.” Jesus answered this question directly when he said; “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (John 3:3)” When a Catholic says that he has been “born again,” he is referring to the graces he received when he was baptized. After Nicodemus asks Jesus how can someone be born again, Jesus explains it very clearly when he says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (John 3:5).” It is through baptism that we are spiritually born again. We are washed in the bath of rebirth, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).”
Whether a person is an adult or an infant, all sins are washed away at baptism. The adult must confess their sins before being baptized, but what about infants and children who are not old enough to commit actual sins yet? Well, all of us are born with original sin given to us by our original parents Adam and Eve. We are born without grace in our souls because our souls have been blocked from receiving sanctifying grace. Through baptism our souls have been opened up in order receive sanctifying grace in order to have fellowship with God. Sanctifying grace is the grace which heals our human nature wounded by sin by giving us a share in the divine life of the Trinity. It is through the reception of the sacraments that we receive sanctifying (saving) grace.
For more on infant baptism: https://renewedhopeministry.com/2013/07/28/why-baptize-infants/
If someone is not baptized, through no fault of their own, they still can receive what is known as actual grace. This is the grace given by God to an individual who reaches the age of reason. This grace helps move the person’s soul toward the love of God so he will seek out sanctifying grace.
Yes, something really happens to the person through baptism and it is not just a symbol. St. Paul tells us in Romans that, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).”
Until next time, God bless.