The Importance of Baptism
by Fr. Don Thomas
Just think of it! A second “birth-day” that is far more important than the first! Speaking spiritually, let us consider why being “born again” is more important than being born the first time, or being born naturally. What is the relationship between our natural birth and the supernatural birth of Baptism? Fittingly enough, many books and opinions about Baptism have been written through the years, but with no offense intended, the most important and enlightening book of all time remains the Bible, where the importance and necessity of Baptism are clearly made manifest. God has clearly revealed His opinion and His thoughts on this matter, and we would be wise to heed the wisdom He shares with us in the Scriptures.
In both the Catholic and Protestant Bibles, we find Jesus Christ telling us that “without Baptism, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. He also stressed the fact that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved, and he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned”. And doesn't the passage about Nicodemus approaching Jesus at night make both illustrative and clear the necessity and importance of this Sacrament of Baptism? We are told that Nicodemus deliberately came at night to visit Jesus, because he did not want to be seen by his friends.
Perhaps he was afraid of losing his job, as he was a member of the Sanhedrin and that was important to him. But there was something that was gnawing at the very fiber of his personal happiness and upon asking Christ what a man like him had to do to be saved, Nicodemus heard Jesus say “unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”.
Nicodemus had no idea of what Jesus meant, verified by the question he asked right away of Jesus, “how can a man be born again, Jesus? Does he climb back into his mother's womb?” Can't you almost see Jesus shaking His head and smiling a bit at that question and helping Nicodemus understand that it is nothing like that? When you are born of your mother, that is your natural birth, and it is all about the body.
To be born again means to be baptized with water and the Spirit, and there is a death to sin. It is a sin in which we are all conceived. It is not a personal sin because how could a baby commit sin? It refers to the sin that the first man and woman committed when they disobeyed God. It is the Original Sin. Just as a baby can inherit a disease like sickle cell or cystic fibrosis (it's not the baby's fault), we all inherit this Original Sin and through baptism we are resurrected and born to a new life for our soul through a gift that is called grace.
We share in the life of God for the first time, giving us the right to call God our Father and we are His children. Through our mothers we are considered creatures of God, as He alone can create life. Natural birth provides natural life, and the supernatural birth of baptism provides us with supernatural life and assures us that we are no longer only creatures of God, but we now have the right to call God "Father" as we are His children.
We also become brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ because God is His Father too. We become Christians, temples of the Holy Spirit. Becoming members of the royal priesthood, we become incorporated members of the Mystical Body of Christ, of which He is the Head. These are some of the more important reasons why our second birth is more important than our natural birth.
Why is it that some churches stress the importance of Infant Baptism and others stress Baptism for adults? Different opinions must be respected, but not always agreed upon. Go back to the beginning of this reflection and see what Jesus said about the necessity of baptism and its importance in entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Then proceed to consider the following questions that are sincerely submitted. Does Jesus make any distinction between adults and infants? It is true that He was baptized as an adult, but that was not because He needed it, but rather because He was teaching us that Baptism, from that time on, was going to be the means of becoming members of the church and His Mystical Body. That is why it is frequently referred to as a Sacrament of Initiation.
Then there are others who say that the babies do not understand what it is all about and it is better to wait until they are older and can choose for themselves. And to those people I simply ask where do they get the assurance that their babies are going to live to be 18 or 20 or 30 years old. Don't they ever read obituary columns in the paper? Don't they ever hear about car accidents or fires or drowning? My intention is not to scare anyone, but if Jesus says that baptism is so necessary and important, who are we to put it off? If He did not mean it, why did He say these things? And as far as understanding what Baptism is all about, I would quickly agree that babies do not understand what grace and baptism are all about, but neither do adults, including ministers and priests.
It is strange how these people will allow their babies to get shots like penicillin, etc., even though they do not understand what that medicine is all about. What is very important here is to realize that knowledge and understanding have nothing to do with faith and grace. Faith and grace are infused gifts from God, while knowledge and understanding are acquired gifts. There is a big difference. A baby does not know that two and two are four, but some day the baby will acquire that knowledge. Faith and grace are infused by God, and are a reality whether we understand them or not. Faith has nothing to do with knowledge or understanding. To get to heaven, give me faith and grace, and you can have the knowledge. If the Kingdom of Heaven has been described by Jesus as a wedding banquet and we must be dressed properly to get in to the banquet, we must realize that the wedding garment is a symbol of God's grace, and we should want to share in that gift from the earliest age possible.
Once again, because we have free will, we can differ in the way we think about various issues, but we must never forget that there are many times that it really does not matter what you think or what I think, but rather, what does God think about this? He is always right and He always has the last word. Much remains to be said and clarified about various types of baptism and the ceremony itself. The rite is rich in symbolism.
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