Book or Flesh?
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai he had in his possession the written word of God. The first scriptures if you will. Moses presented the law of God to the people of Israel. The law is good, it helps us when we struggle, sometimes we need the law. I have a heavy foot, I know it can be dangerous, nevertheless, if there weren't a law, it is highly possible that my car would be a deadly missile on the highway. In the same way, God knew that our lives, our bodies, our minds would be like a deadly missile on the highway of life without the law. But he also knew that while that deadly missile could be guided by the law, it could be completely disarmed by grace, hence the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us. The word is no longer written on a tablet, it is visible to us in human form. What does the law look like in real life? If you want a practical application for the doctrine, study Jesus Christ, pray with Him, receive Him in the Eucharist. He, Himself, says "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them (Mt 5: 17)." Jesus did not come out of eternity into time with a warehouse of New Testaments. He did not hand them out to people and say "Amen, Amen I say to you, read this, discern what it means to you, and you will freely enter heaven." He didn't say to the twelve when he called them: "You have heard it said, leave everything, father, and mother, sisters and brothers, but I say to you, bring your notebooks and pens, cause I am going to need you to take notes for my auto-biography." He physically entered their lives. He was the divine Word made Flesh and His grace was physically dispensed. He touched people, they touched him, he breathed on people, he healed people, he raised people from the dead, multiplied loaves, but, and most importantly he had real relationships with them in which he talked about their origin, their reason for being, and their ultimate end, He did them all through His real physical presence.
Does something actually happen in Baptism? Absolutely? Why? In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says "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; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28: 18-20)." The Church believes that through the divinely instituted priesthood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, there is an overshadowing and the one true Eucharist (Greater Things -Eucharist) comes to be. As a result Christ keeps his promise. Through the miracle of the Incarnation of Christ in simple bread, man continues to become one with the Divine. Christ continues to physically touch us and remains ever present physically to us. He engages our human need for physical contact. The sacrament of Baptism flows directly from Christ's continued presence in the world. In fact the Church says:
"The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch." CCC 1324
I couldn't make this stuff up! Our worldview must be more than a book! It must be more than what is written down! Christ conveyed nothing short of a living faith that is both material and spiritual. Supernatural faith is not incompatible with scripture, it is the very thing that scripture reveals. Check out St. Paul on faith for some insight. We should read scripture, we should pray scripture, but, always with the Incarnation in mind. The King wants to sit on the throne of our heart and mind, ready to move our will. His divine presence in our soul, depends entirely on whether or not we are baptized.
John the Baptist
John was the pre-curser, he prepared the way for Christ. He preached repentance and conversion. But, why? Johns baptism was not full of the Holy Spirit, Fire, or the divine grace of God. Yet, neither was it simply another purification rite. Rather, his baptism was a preparation for faith in Christ. It demanded a true interior conversion. This conversion made the soul fertile ground for the new law. Many of St. John's listeners believed that their salvation was assured. Sound familiar? They developed an arrogance rooted in their belief that they were descendants of Abraham. St. John warns them that just being "in the club" is not enough to pass God's Judgement. St. John is calling the "chosen people" to live a fruitful life, he is calling them to greater holiness, based on an interior conversion of the heart. To that extent St. John said "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit " (Mt. 3:11).
Jesus and the Jordan
John a prophet would have been familiar with the prophet Elijah. He would have known that at the Jordan, Elijah passed on his spirit of prophecy to his disciple Elisha. Elisha asked for and received a double portion of the spirit of Elijah (2 Kings 2). Though Elijah was the more well known of the two, it was Elisha who had the greater power, even raising the dead. In the same way, the lessor was passing on his spirit of prophecy to the greater. When these two prophets meet at the Jordan a supernatural truth is revealed. Jesus however, is not receiving the spirit of John, rather, the Spirit of God descends upon Him. In Genesis 8:12, Noah sent forth the dove, and it brought forth the sign of a new creation. In the same way, the Spirit descends on Christ during baptism, ushering in the sign of a new creation. Never forget the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, He was always with Jesus, He revealed Himself at the transfiguration, and once again descends at Baptism. Before St. John's faith was confirmed by the Spirit, he hesitated. Jesus said to him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt. 3: 15). Righteousness is synonymous with justice. Righteousness is used to mean the plan of salvation as laid down by the infinite wisdom and perfect goodness of God. Therefore, when Jesus says "to fulfill all righteousness," He is saying to do the will of God. The Holy Spirit confirms this by his descent and proclamation: "this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased" (Mt. 3: 17). The name David in Hebrew means beloved. Jesus the beloved, and king in the line of David, by his baptism, will restore order to the disorder of original sin and fulfill the promise of making all things new.
St. Paul: Death to sin
"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" (Rom. 6:3-4). Early Christian baptisms were often full immersion, the candidate was immersed in water three different times and asked on each occassion if he believed in the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul rejects the notion that we should continue in our sin and states very clearly that baptism brings about a substantial change in the essence of the person. When the person is immersed in water, he is plunged to his death with and in Christ. Not in a hokey, mythical, symbolic way, rather in a very real union of the faithful believer to Jesus Christ. Again, the Incarnation. It is Christ who grips our soul with His grace and re-configures it to His own life. The soul is physically touched by the grace of Christ, all sin is destroyed, and the soul is permanently changed. From the moment of baptism forward, the soul is now an open door for sacramental grace to continue it's work of sanctification. St. Thomas says: "Three aspects of sanctification may be considered - its very cause, which is Christ's passion(this goes back to the Eucharist); its form, which is grace and the virtues; and its ultimate end, which is eternal life. And all these are signified by the sacraments. Consequently, a sacrament is a sign which is both a reminder of the past, that is, of the passion of Christ, and an indication of what is effected in us by Christ's passion, and a foretelling and pledge of future glory" (Summa Theologica). We are immersed in Christ's death to sin, we rise effectively changed forever and begin to move forward in this new life, pressing on to the promise of salvation.
Baptism therefore, is not a ritual of the old law, such as circumscion, which was a requirement of obedience, yet devoid of grace. It is a divinely instituted sacrament which brings about our justification and righteousness. Baptism justifies the sinner, not a single one of us is exempt from sin. To act as such, is an extreme sign of pride. The above passage from St. Paul, makes it clear that Baptism is not only necessary, but something actually happens. It gives us clearer insight into St. Pauls comment in Romans 3:28 that "a man is justified by faith, and not by works of the Law." In light of Romans 6: 3-4, we cannot use that verse to justify a position such as having no need for baptism or sacramental grace. Rather our justification occurs through both our faith and baptism. Our faith is increased through the gift of humbly accepting and entering into Christ's death and resurrection. Not only that but, St. Paul associates this with "newness of life." In other words, when we are baptized into Christ, the knot which was tied by Adam is untied by Jesus. Which necessarily implies moral obedience and righteousness. The constant battle of every human being is as St. Paul says, between the "spirit and the flesh." Baptism re-configures the soul so that the it may receive the one weapon that will allow it to dominate the "flesh." We freely choose to be baptized, we freely choose to pray, and to embrace faith in the supernatural life of Christ. He fills us with Himself (grace). Grace, given in Baptism, is the weapon par excellence that helps us to battle against the desires of the flesh. Something happens.
"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). Is Baptism the end? No, Jesus opens the door to his grace, he re-creates your soul, and he grafts Himself to your very being. The modern mind prefers to feel something quickly, to be validated by others, rather than to radically pursue the revealed truth. The Christian west has embraced multiculturalism and moral relativism to the point that, like my friend, many people do not know what they believe or why they believe it. Instead, they see Baptism much like circumcision, a law, devoid of the divine. Personal experiences tend to shape religious belief, rather, than reason and revelation. Sin is relative to the individual, rendering it almost non-existent. Many people embrace some combination of different doctrine and as a result they can find no concrete path to sanctification. They can't see sin, therefore, they see no need for a Savior and his ongoing sanctification. And they surely are not going to die for anyone or anything. Autonomy and self seeking, are the rule. Jesus revealed one path, a path of self gift and self sacrifice, anything claiming to be love devoid of those two things, is merely a lie. St. Peter was clear, St. Paul, was clear, and Jesus to was clear. It is our itching ears that cause us to pursue the desires of the flesh, rather than concede to the spirit. Those of us who are confirmed in our faith, are discounted as radical, crazy, or I have even heard stupid. Perhaps, we should try taking the gift out of the closet. Perhaps we should trying putting on the new garment, given by Christ, and wear it with faith and trust. As Isaiah 64:6 says: "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." Outside of Christ's grace, outside of baptism, deeds are nice, they look good on the surface, however, if we are not wearing the new garment, they are still the product of a soul bound by the knot of original sin. In Christ, we are made righteous, In Christ, we are justified, something really happens, Grace is real and effective, the soul is bound to divine love. The battle between flesh and spirit does not end, however, our polluted garment is in a sense dry cleaned, and our deeds become meritorious, not by our own power, rather by our humble submission to the divine aid. Yes, Baptism is necessary, yes something happens. For those who have been baptized, you have been given an amazing gift, I ask you, how are you caring for the garment which you have been given?