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How is a Catholic born again?

The baptism of Christ

The baptism of Christ

The Sunday following Epiphany the Catholic liturgical calendar is the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. I thought it’d be timely to describe the Sacrament of Baptism, its effects and Biblical roots.

The sacrament of baptism is our initiation into the Christian life and our membership into the Body of Christ. As infants we are born with the stain of original sin; the dis-graced state inherited from Adam and Eve (See Rom 5:12-19). In baptism we die to this old life and are reborn into the new life in Christ. Notice St. Paul’s striking words that connect the baptismal act to Christ’s death and resurrection:

[Romans 6:3-4] 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.

See also Mark 10:38 where Jesus connects his suffering and death with the term “baptize”. Jesus’ last words to his Disciples, the great commission, includes the command to baptize.

[Mat 28:19] 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.

And so the Church places great importance on this sacrament. The effects of Baptism include the removal of original sin and actual sin, being Born again as children of God, incorporation into the Body of Christ, and reception of the grace of justification.

Removal of sin

When we are baptized original sin is removed from our soul and we are forgiven of any actual sins we have committed. One of the main Biblical passages that reveals this is when St. Peter is evangelizing the crowds on the day of Pentecost:

[Acts 2:38] … 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.

Another relevant and important passage is when St. Paul is baptized by Ananias after his conversion:

[Acts 22:16] And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

Born again as children of God

We often hear the phrase, born-again Christian, but all Christians by their baptism are born again. It is in baptism that we are reborn as children of God (refer to Romans 8:14-17, 1 John 3:1). Jesus refers to this being “born from above” when discussing the supernatural character of baptism with Nicodemus:

[John 3:3-5] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

This water and Spirit is the same that is present at Baptism. We can see these present when Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist:

[Mat 3:16-17] And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Note that Jesus did not require Baptism as he was without sin, but in this act he establishes this sacrament of baptism and shows its importance. It was not Jesus that was changed in his Baptism, but the water that was transformed to be a channel of divine grace when used in the sacrament. What is interesting to note also, is that after the encounter with Nicodemus quoted above from John 3, we see in verse 22 that Jesus “remained with them and baptized.”

Incorporation into the Body of Christ

The Church is often called the Mystical Body of Christ, mentioned in scripture several times. It is by this partaking of the divine nature of God in Christ that we are saved. Baptism is our membership into the Church, Christ’s Body:

[1 Cor 12:12-13] For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

[Gal 3:27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

All Christians are united by their baptism. Even non-Catholic Christians share this brotherhood with Catholic Christians, although our unity is imperfect due to other divisions. But the Church affirms the baptism of other Christian faiths that use the Trinitarian formula commanded by Jesus (see above Mt 28:19).

Reception of the grace of justification

The following quote from St. Paul uses the term “washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit”, which is understood to refer to the sacrament of Baptism, and it shows that we receive the grace of justification:

[Titus 3:5-7] he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Baptism necessary for salvation

With all these effects of baptism, and with what Jesus says in John 3:5 about entry into the kingdom of God, it’s clear that it is necessary for salvation. St. Peter in his first letter speaks of the prefiguration of baptism in Noah and the ark being saved through the water. But then he adds:

[1Pet 3:21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus also shows the necessity of baptism as well:

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

What is important to note, as the Church teaches, is that faith is necessary. Although we may have received baptism as an infant, we still need to accept and affirm our baptismal identity through faith in the promises of Christ. Given this necessity, it is important to clarify the distinctions the the Church applies in baptism. Along with the normal sacramental baptism there are also baptism by desire and baptism by blood. The former covers the situation where an individual is desiring to receive the effects of baptism but dies before receiving the actual sacrament. The latter is reserved for martyrs, those who die for their faith in Christ.

Infant Baptism

What about the practice of baptizing infants? Many Protestant Christian faiths object to this as many view it as merely a public symbol of their acceptance of Jesus. However, we know that Jesus did not deny little children (Mark 10:14-16, Luke 18:15). Also, as the Jews had circumcision as their entry into membership of the people of God, so Christianity replaces it with baptism. And since the Jews circumcised infants, so we correspondingly should baptize infants:

[Col 2:11-12] In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

This “circumcision made without hands” in context of verse 12 must refer to baptism. The practice in the early Apostolic Church also has examples of entire households (with more than likely small children or infants) being baptized. Passages that refer to this include Acts 16:5, 18:18, and 1 Corinthians 1:16. Acts 2:38-39 also tells us that the promises of baptism “is to you and to your children.

Old Testament signs

As with many of the Christian mysteries, types and prefigurations and prophecies are present in the Old Testament. This is also the case with Baptism. One of the more interesting and explicit promises of Baptism that God gives is from this passage in Ezekiel:

[Ezekiel 36:25-27] I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Beliefs, Sacraments

 

Why do Catholics call Mary the “Mother of God”

mary-mother2On January 1, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Theotokos, “God bearer”, in Greek). This proclamation derives solely from the belief that Jesus Christ is God incarnate (John 1:14, 8:58). It affirms a foundational belief about the doctrine of the Trinity. This follows from simple logic:

  1. Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ
  2. Jesus is God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, of the same substance as God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
  3. Thus Mary is the Mother of God

Many protestants disagree with this title Mother of God and state that Mary was only the mother of the human nature of Christ. To answer that, however, a mother doesn’t conceive and give birth to a nature; a mother gives birth to a PERSON. And the person that Mary, conceived bore and gave birth to is the divine person of God, who took on human form. This naturally follows, since Jesus was truly God from the first moment of His conception. The following passage affirms this:

[Luke 1:31,35] And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. [35] The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy,  the Son of God.

Mary is even called “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) in Scripture itself. The “Lord” is synonymous with God, thus further providing validation for the title “Mother of God”.

As mentioned above, this title is meant to reflect a Christological truth. This ancient title of “Theotokos” was affirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. in order to combat the heresy known as Nestorianism, which claimed that Christ was united as two distinct persons, human and divine. This differs from the true Christology as affirmed by the Christian tradition that Jesus is ONE person, God, in the form of man.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Beliefs, Catholic, Mary, Theology

 

Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Enmity with Evil

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On December 8, the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Note that this does not refer to the conception of Jesus in Mary, i.e. the virgin birth. This dogma is a belief of how Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb.

The Catholic Church believes in the “Immaculate Conception” of Mary, wherein she is considered unstained from original sin and actual sin. This is not explicitly told in Scripture, but there are several passages that hint it and support this doctrine. Consider this scripture passage:

[Genesis 3:15] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The context is after Adam and Eve have sinned and God is punishing the snake. This passage is often spoken as being the protoevangelium or “first gospel” because it is a prophecy concerning Jesus. This “seed” of the woman is Jesus, because he will “bruise” the head of the snake (who represents Satan). Now this “woman” must be Mary as it is her “seed” that is Jesus, since she is his mother.

Now, knowing that the passage refers to Jesus and thus to Mary, we see that God declares there will be an “enmity” between the snake (Satan) and Mary. The word “enmity” can mean “separation” or “total opposition”. Thus we see that Mary will be separated from Satan and sin and will be in total opposition to Satan.

Now consider the following verse:

[Luke 1:28] “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you”

The context of this is where the angel Gabriel greets Mary at the annunciation of Christ. The phrase “full of grace” is translated from Greek word kecharitomene. Now, grace is the very life of God, his Love. So, in other words, Mary is full of God’s love and life. We know that sin is the absence of grace. Therefore, if Mary is full of grace, that means that she is without sin, in opposition with evil.

Protestants will object to this elevation of Mary; that all sin except for Christ. However, this is a fitting doctrine in that it says something about her son Jesus Christ, namely, that she was to be a pure vessel for his incarnation.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Catholic, Mary