Monday, April 13, 2015

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

“Our baptism has changed us, given us a new and glorious hope, and empowered us to bring God’s redeeming love to all, particularly the poor, in whom we see the face of Christ.” – Pope Francis

Gospel Text: (JN 3:1-8)
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you are doing
unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man once grown old be born again?
Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you,
‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

When I die, the presider at my funeral will say, over my coffin, “At his baptism, Joseph died with Christ and rose with him to new life.” That’s what this passage from the gospel of John is all about. Nicodemus is obviously puzzled, and it’s a mystery equally hard for us to get our heads around. Many times we tend to take Jesus’ statements in Scripture as mere figures of speech – flowery language. But what if it were literally true?

There are dozens of instances throughout both the gospels and St. Paul’s letters that, taken at face value, seem to assume that it is exactly true. In today’s gospel Jesus, of course, is not speaking of physical birth, as Nicodemus first thought. He was speaking of life itself; he was speaking of the spirit that animates us, the spirit that in subsequent centuries we came to call our “soul”. He was saying that, unless Jesus’ Spirit animates us – in a sense replaces our soul – we will not share His life. But it’s not a matter of our willing it. It’s what happens in baptism. We can’t do it ourselves; God does it for us.

In short, we can ignore that “Jesus-life” given to us through the Sacraments, especially through our baptism; we can fail to respond to its urgings; we can be lukewarm – or even bad – Christians. But, once baptized, once our human life is replaced by Jesus’ own life, we can never again be non-Christian. Baptism is not simply entrance into an organization, which we can drop out of whenever it no longer seems to suit our needs. It is a life change that is irreversible. It’s not an ideal we have to strive toward. It’s a reality we have to live.

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