Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace to you and peace. On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord with which the Christmas season comes to an end, it seems appropriate to reflect on our own Baptism. What is Baptism all about? “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.” So says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Baptism sounds like an important sacrament. What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. An outward sign is something you see or hear, smell, taste, or touch, that points to a person, an idea, or another thing. When I say your name, this is something that is heard that points to you, that picks you out from other people. Your name is a sign for you and we say it signifies you. The important difference between most signs and a sacrament is that a sacrament has the power to do what it signifies. I can say your name a thousand times and it will never make you appear out of thin air. But by God’s power a sacrament not only points to something, it makes something happen. A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible reality, a sign so powerful it brings about the spiritual reality it signifies.
The sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ. Jesus himself ‘invented” the sacraments. He established the sacraments and they have power because God freely and lovingly chooses to do his work through them. The “work” he does is sharing his life. The divine life shared among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is what is given to us in the sacraments and we call this share in God’s life “grace.”
Grace is a free and undeserved gift that God gives to us because he loves us. In Baptism God the Father chose you to receive his grace so that in time you could respond fully to his call to be his adopted daughter or son, the brother or sister of his Son Jesus Christ, and a temple of his Holy Spirit.
Here is another definition of sacrament from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Asacrament is an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.” “Efficacious” means that the sign has an effect— the sign does something.
What does Baptism do? Baptism is a sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and heirs of heaven. In Baptism, water is an outward sign that you see and feel. The words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” are an outward sign that you hear. Together they are a sign of being cleansed of sin, a sign of being born again in Christ—given a new life— by the power of the Holy Spirit. But the difference between this water and these words and other signs is that the words and the water together actually do what they signify. The words and the water aren’t just a sign of cleansing and rebirth; God
actually uses the words and the water to free us from sin and give us a share in his divine life. Sharing in God’s life among other things means having a share in the mission he has given us as his Church to share his life with the whole world.