God Calls Us To Reconciliation
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In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul tells us that the entire human race was separated from God because of the original sin of Adam. But he goes on to write that this separation has been brought to an end by Jesus our Savior: It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . We were reconciled to him by the death of his Son (Rom 5:8, 10).
This reconciliation, or reunion, of mankind with God in loving friendship, is called the Good News of our salvation. Even though mankind has turned away from God by disobedience, he continued to love us and wanted us to be reunited with him. His love was so great that he sent his only Son to earth in order to offer us forgiveness and new life, to call each one of us to reconciliation: "Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).
God Calls Us through His Church
God's call to reconciliation comes to us through the Catholic Church which Jesus founded to be his voice in the world. Through the Church God invites us to answer his call by receiving the sacrament of Baptism. At Baptism we are freed from the separation caused by original sin and are brought back into friendship with God.
When adults ask for Baptism they are aware of God's call. Most of us were baptized as infants, however; our parents answered God's call for us. Now we are old enough to answer for ourselves. We can understand that God has asked us to receive his friendship through Christ and the Church.
Jesus Gave Us Baptism
One night a man named Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus. He was a secret follower of Our Lord who wanted to know more about Christ's teachings. During their conversation Jesus told Nicodemus that Baptism was necessary for those who wanted to go to Heaven, saying: "I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God's Kingdom without being begotten (reborn) of water and the Holy Spirit? (Jn 3:5).
In order to make this spiritual rebirth possible, Jesus gave us the sacrament of Baptism. After his Resurrection he said to the apostles: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).
After receiving the Holy Spirit the apostles preached the importance of Baptism to the people in Jerusalem. On that very first Pentecost Sunday, Saint Peter proclaimed to the crowds: You must reform and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Through the preaching of the apostles, thousands of people responded to God's call to reconciliation and received the sacrament of Baptism. Men, women, and children from every nation were reunited with God and became members of his Holy Church.
The Effects of Baptism
Baptism is the first sacrament we receive. It can be received only once because it gives us a special unrepeatable sign called the Baptismal Seal. This invisible mark shows God that we have been united to Jesus by Baptism and have become his adopted children. It can never be taken away, not even by mortal sin. We also receive Baptism first, because it gives us the right to receive the other sacraments.
Although Jesus did not need Baptism, because he was without sin, we can learn what this sacrament does for us by looking at his baptism in the River Jordan. This baptism that Saint John the Baptist gave was a way of helping others to show their sorrow for sin.
The word "baptism" means "washing". This reminds us that through Baptism, God washes away the effects of original sin from our souls. If the person being baptized is old enough to have sinned himself, it takes these offenses away and also the temporal punishment for those sins.
When Our Lord came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. The Holy Spirit comes down upon us, too, and fills us with the new life of sanctifying grace. We become his holy temples just as the Apostle Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians: "You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within--the Spirit you have received from God" (1 Cor 6:9).
when the Spirit came down upon Jesus the people heard the voice of God the Father saying: "This is my beloved Son. My favor rests on him" (Mt 3:17).
At our Baptism we become the beloved children of the Father. Sanctifying grace gives us this precious gift. And since we are his children, we also receive the right to live in our Father's heavenly Kingdom. He gives us the supernatural powers of faith, hope, and charity that help us live lives worthy of this Kingdom.
Baptism of Desire and of Blood
You might wonder what happens to those people who have not received Baptism. Do they go to Heaven, too? There are two other ways of getting to Heaven for those who do not know about the sacrament or who have not been able to receive it before they die.
One of these ways is called Baptism of desire. This means that those who are sorry for their sins and who try to please God as best they know how can be saved too. Perhaps these people cannot receive Baptism because there is no one to give it to them; or maybe they are planning to be baptized but die before receiving it. Baptism of desire can also save those who are truly ignorant of the sacrament, but who would receive it if they knew that it was necessary for salvation.
The other way of getting to Heaven is called Baptism of blood. It has happened many times when a non-Christian gives up his life in martyrdom for Jesus. Quite often, during times when Catholics were persecuted for the faith, many non-believers would be so moved by the martyrs' heroism that they would defend the believers and join them in martyrdom. Thus, even though they had not received the sacrament, they showed faith in Jesus and were saved.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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