Monday, February 18, 2019

Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit - what difference it makes

God is constantly at work in his Creation and in the lives of his human creatures. The Creator has revealed his intentions through inspired words and writings we call the Sacred Scriptures of the Holy Bible. God's intention manifestly is that human beings should come to know God as their Creator, as their origin and destiny, because He offers human beings a relationship of friendship based in freedom and love.

Regardless of whether a human person has any religion or no religion, God our Creator is at work and "speaks" to the depths of spirit which exist in each and every human being. For this reason it is possible for any human being to notice the "inner promptings" of the living God within them, and paying attention to these inspirations, to discern a "word" or "call" from God.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis is an inspired story showing how from the very beginning human beings enjoyed a close friendship with God but how it was lost when they turned away from God in preference of unsubstantiated "words from a stranger" and of their own "opinions". The story of Noah tells how God began to call human beings back to friendship with him. The story of Abraham tells how God began to form a family or tribe for himself of people who would put their faith in him. The story of Moses tells how God developed this tribe into a whole people, a whole nation of people who would believe in him and follow his ways.

What Jesus has accomplished for humanity

Jesus was fully human, but being also the Son of God, He transcends time and has come to call humanity into a much closer relationship with God, far surpassing even what human beings first enjoyed with God on the morning of their creation. To be very specific, Jesus offers to every human being who would believe in him, to be baptized by water and the Holy Spirit and then to come and follow him. All those who accepted Jesus' offer and were baptized were joined to him in the love of God the Father, forming a new and living "corporate body" of all the baptized with Jesus at their head in the power of the Holy Spirit.

At this point it will be useful to review briefly what God has been doing in his Church and for humanity on Earth since the time of Jesus. This reply may a little longer than you expected, but I hope that it will bring light to dark places and help you to understand what God is doing in your life and to discern what the Lord is asking of you.

Jesus Christ revealed to humanity who God really is. Jesus confirmed what God had previously revealed to Adam and Eve, to Noah and his family, to Abraham and his family, and then to the people of Israel through Moses, namely, that God is one and there is no other god.

Jesus further revealed that God is not only One, but God is a divine being who is a community of 3 divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father sent his divine Son to Earth to take flesh by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary of Nazareth. After she gave him birth in Bethlehem with the assistance of her husband Joseph, his parents protected and raised Jesus until the day when He began his public ministry, which after only a few years, led to his passion, death, and resurrection, which He freely accepted to endure in order to reveal fully to humanity for all time the full depth, meaning, and purpose of God's loving will for us.

When a human being believes in Jesus, that He is the Son of God sent to save us, and in faith accepts Jesus as the Saviour of all but also as my personal Saviour and Lord; then my faith as it were gives God permission to pour his divine life, the life of the Trinity, into me, and the life of God flowing in me transforms me. Because I still have my free will, this divine transformation will proceed more quickly or more slowly as I open up entirely to God with complete trust every part of my life.

God is a Holy Trinity

God has always wanted his human children to share his divine life in eternity beginning even now while we are still living and breathing on Earth. The Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - have from the beginning created the universe so that human beings might have a home from which we could come to know God and would freely choose to give to God and to our neighbors a "return of love". God is our Creator and knows that our life will only achieve its full purpose, meaning, truth, goodness, beauty, fruitfulness, and fulfillment in a life of love that is lived freely and deliberately in the image of God, the Holy Trinity, which is a divine community of love - one divine being in three divine persons perfectly united in an eternal communion of love. It is God's will that our life on Earth should reflect the life that is in God.

The Spirit of the living God, the Holy Spirit, manifests the power of the Holy Trinity to create and give life, and the action of the Holy Spirit takes place when the Father utters a Word to manifest his holy will, and the Son is that living Word of the Father. The Father has a will for us, the Son expresses that will in himself in a living Word, and the Holy Spirit brings about the effect intended by that will of the Father and word of the Son.

What happens to us when we hear God speak in our soul and we respond

The Holy Trinity finds us and touches at any time and wherever we may be. As soon as we respond, the Holy Spirit already begins to pour the life, vitality, peace, love, and joy of the Holy Trinity into our life, our body, mind, heart, and soul....

Water Baptism in the will of God for his work of salvation within humanity

Water baptism is a further step in our response to almighty God speaking to us and calling us to enter more deeply into the life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus revealed the will of the Father to his disciples just before his ascension into heaven, as recorded by the evangelist Matthew in chapter 28 verses 16-20.

The Commissioning of the Disciples

16 "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Since that very day, the apostles and other disciples went out and did as Jesus commanded them to do: Go - make disciples - baptizing them - teaching them to obey.

The result is all the Christian churches and traditions on the Earth today.

A brief history of how the Holy Spirit developed the Church which Jesus founded

Initially there were only 5 great churches differentiated by the language and culture of each: the Jerusalem Church spoke Hebrew - the Rome Church spoke Latin - the Constantinople Church spoke Greek - the Alexandria Church in Egypt spoke Coptic - the Antioch Church in Turkey spoke Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his family.

Now the life, growth, and development of the Church Jesus founded has always been and will always be a kind of "dance" or relationship between the Holy Trinity and the living human members of the Church and her pastors, leaders, and members. God has given us free will and He fully respects our free will, which means that God gives us plenty of room to make mistakes and to learn from them. Only in this way can our response to God's advances and invitations and calls be true and authentic, and done in complete freedom and generosity in faith, in hope, and in love.

For these reasons, the history of Jesus' Church on Earth looks rather "messy" with lots of divisions, restorations, reforms, and all the problems we come to recognize as all too human.

From these original 5 churches we developed into the Western and Eastern Christian Churches. By the year 1000 AD there was the Roman or Latin Church which we call Roman Catholic today. It is the oldest continually existing Christian Church in the West, along with the Churches of Constantinople and Alexandria or Coptic in the East.

In the 16th century, there was need of reform - in every generation the Church of Jesus is in need of reform because it is composed of human beings who are never finished living a life of conversion and repentance in order to more perfectly follow Jesus - and some people wanting reform found it wasn't happening fast enough; so they initiated reforms on their own, which came to be known as the Protestant Reformation, which produced the Anglican Church in England, Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Calvinist Church in Switzerland, Lutheran Church in Germany, which in their turn led to the forming of more and more "denominations". These are the Christian Churches of the Western World.

In the Eastern World, the Churches were more specifically national or ethnic, with the language of worship being the language proper to that Church and nation: Greek in the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece and some neighboring countries, Aramaic in the Chaldean Orthodox Church in what is now Iraq, Coptic in the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Ukrainian in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Russian in the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, Maronite in the Maronite Orthodox Church in Lebanon where the common language now is Lebanese, Melkite in the Melkite Orthodox Church in Palestine where the common language now is Arabic, and so on.

In 1054 there was a misunderstanding and disagreement between East and West, between Constantinople and Rome, and that separation is in our day being slowly healed and unity is slowly being restored. Some of the Orthodox local churches led by their bishop didn't want to wait; so they independently sought to reunite with Rome and they came to be known as no longer Orthodox but Eastern Rite Churches, such as Ukrainian Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Coptic Catholic and so on.

Water Baptism in the all the Christian Churches

In all these Christian Churches and traditions, Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit has always been practiced and continues to be practiced today; for the simple reason that Jesus commanded us to do it and the Apostles and other disciples did so and taught others to do so.

They soon learned, as they were taught by the Holy Spirit, to remember Jesus' teaching that Baptism is given by God through water and the words Jesus gave for Baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" and also through the powerful action of the Holy Spirit who confers the life of the Holy Trinity to the baptized soul.

What difference does Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit make?

Before Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, the soul is capable of perceiving within itself the "voice" of God whispering within it by the Holy Spirit, guiding the soul to Jesus Christ who alone reveals the Father to us; as Jesus taught.

Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples, and once people hear the Good News and respond to it by beginning to follow Jesus as his disciples; then the Lord wants them to be baptized by water and the Holy Spirit so that they can be joined and united to Christ as our Head in the mystical body of all the baptized who become one with Jesus in the love of the Father.

The Baptism by water - whether by immersion in water completely or in part or by simple aspersion or sprinkling - is a saving action by almighty God the Holy Trinity when it is accompanied by the words given by Jesus: "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" with the intention of doing what Jesus commanded us to do.

The moment of Baptism is a beginning of the action God is taking to save the baptized soul by removing it from the empire of the enemy of God and humanity, the rebellious angel the devil (which means "adversary") - Satan (which means "accuser") and Lucifer (which means "light bearer") - and bringing the soul under the lordship and saving grace of Jesus (which means "God saves") Christ (which means "anointed one").

The moment of Baptism is a timeless and eternal moment of God's presence and saving action in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit which frees the soul from the influence of the devil, cleanses the soul of all personal sin from the past until the present moment, repairs in the soul the damaging effects of the original sin and rebellion of the first human beings represented by Adam and Eve, unites the soul to the life and love and union of the Holy Trinity and to all the other baptized souls of all time, and gives the soul strength to undertake its life long journey of faith in the steps of Jesus who lived a life of faithful obedience to his Father's holy will in order for the soul in communion with Jesus to make of its life on Earth a gift of love for others - even enemies - and a gift of worship to God. While Baptism integrates a soul into Christ, the soul remains free to turn away from God, to rebel, to fall into sin, but also to repent, to come back to God, to welcome God's grace, and to commit itself to living and dying as Jesus lived and died and then rose again and ascended into heaven.

How to go about preparing for Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit

Because God has willed for the Church of Jesus to be very human, Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit not only makes one Christian, but it also makes one a Christian belonging to a particular Church tradition. I was baptized in a Roman Catholic Church and so I became a Roman Catholic Christian and learned to follow Jesus Christ from all the riches of teaching and practice God has given to the Roman Catholic Church and Tradition.

One who is baptized in a Greek Orthodox Church becomes a Greek Orthodox Christian, and so on with each and every Christian Church and Tradition.

So a soul must listen to the Holy Spirit and discern to which Church and Tradition the Holy Spirit is prompting, inviting, calling that soul to go. So a person seeks and finds a Church locally within that Christian Tradition and asks about Baptism.

Christian Initiation in the Roman Catholic Tradition

In the Roman Catholic Church, one is initiated into the faith in 3 steps: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist and Communion.

In Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit God introduces the soul into the life of the most Holy Trinity with all the benefits and effects described above.

In Confirmation by Holy Chrism - a perfumed pure olive oil consecrated by the Bishop the week before Easter each year - God fills the soul with the power of the Holy Spirit and the life and love of the Holy Trinity to strengthen the soul and enrich it with supernatural gifts to enable the soul to truly begin to live the life of a disciple of Jesus in the midst of the world which is for the most part trapped in error and darkness and sin under the dominion of the evil one.

In Holy Communion at the Holy Eucharist - which is the ritual celebration of Jesus' Last Supper - Jesus nourishes the soul of the baptized and confirmed soul with his own "Body and Blood" which is a share in his own divine life which He as divine Son has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Much as a mother gives of her own life to her baby nourishing at her breasts; so does Jesus give of his own divine life to those who receive with faith his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

An adult who is initiated into the Roman Catholic faith, Church, and Tradition receives all three mysterious divine actions or sacraments at the same celebration and is baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, then confirmed in the Holy Spirit, and then receives Jesus' Body and Blood in Holy Communion. One is baptized only once in a lifetime, and one is confirmed only once, but one is called by Jesus to eat his Body and drink his Blood every Sunday at Sunday worship at Holy Mass.

When parents have their infants baptized, these must grow and learn and prepare for Confirmation and Holy Communion. For example, I was baptized the day after I was born, and then I was confirmed on day and received Jesus in Holy Communion the next day when I was 8 years old.

Jesus knew that we are weak; so He provided opportunity for us to come back to Him if we sin after we have been baptized. This sacramental action of Jesus in his Church is called the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation or Confession.

Penance - a grace God gives to strengthen the soul to repent, to turn away from sin and to turn back to God

Reconciliation - the grace God gives to reconcile to Himself and to his Church the soul that has separated itself from God and his Church through sin and rebellion

Confession - this is the action whereby a sinner, one who is baptized, confesses his sins to a priest who gives him absolution - through the words of the priest it is Jesus himself who forgives the penitent and reconciles him to himself and to the Father and to the Church.

Dear Brother or Sister in our common humanity, I will be happy to enter into dialogue with you and do my best to answer any questions you may have.

God's peace to you and your family, in the Name of + Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Lord, in the saving power of the Holy Spirit.

                Pax + Caritas, Fr. Gilles