Sacraments of Christian Initiation: baptism for adults Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Nov. 08, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

By Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB

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In the first article of this series, we considered the fact that God uses earthly and human realities to meet human beings and to express His love for them.

When the Church uses these earthly realities and ritualizes this encounter with God, then they become what we call sacraments. The first of these realities is water; the sacrament which uses water to place us in a very special relationship with God is called Baptism.

Baptism has many aspects to it, more than can be covered in a short article such as this. (For a more thorough coverage, please read the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC].)

In this article, we want to reflect on this sacrament as it applies to adults.

God chooses us

Fundamental to all these aspects is the fact that Baptism celebrates God choosing a person to share in a special way the life of His Son, Jesus Christ. That person was already created by God. But every created person is afflicted with a deep inner disorder which is inherited from our first parents, who turned away from God in the Garden of Eden and thus committed the original sin.

Being “turned away” from God means that we are impeded from entering into the Kingdom of God. But by God’s decree and wonderful grace, Baptism makes it possible to “turn around” in life, to be reborn into God’s kind of life (which sacred Scripture calls “the Kingdom of God”), to be united with God in a new and life-giving way.

Use of water

Creation itself was born out of water (Gen 1:2). So God has decided that our being newly created will also be from water.

The Church gives a special blessing to water before we use it to baptize. In that blessing, the whole of salvation history is recounted, to help us realize that God’s plan has unfolded for centuries — but with the end in mind that Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, would save humanity from its sin, and thus give it new life in God, and that, by means of water.

Responding to God’s call

When God calls adults to share this new life, the call comes in many different ways. Its effect is to communicate to a person that he/she needs to turn to God in a new and deep way. Its effect is to enlighten the individual to the fact that God has loved us humans beyond our imagining — and hence, we need to make a decision for or against responding to this call and love.

It is faith, also a gift of God, which enables a person to respond with a positive and vibrant “Yes!” to God’s call. It is faith that will lead the person to recognize that God’s plan includes the foundation of a Church. Responding to God means entering the Church.

Effects flowing from Baptism

The effects that flow from Baptism, which is the ritual by which entry into the Church takes place, are very many, and are deeply rooted in sacred Scripture. They include rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (CCC 1215); enlightenment (CCC 1216) — since sin and being deprived of God’s life in Scripture regularly are identified with darkness; all sin, both original and personal, is taken away, so that nothing separates us from God (CCC 1263); one becomes a member of the Body of Christ, sharing in Christ’s life and priesthood (CCC 1267-8); and one is marked with what Tradition calls a character — which is a special interior mark that means we belong to Christ in an extraordinary way (CCC 1272).

It is obvious that this is a very special sacrament indeed, with immense power, i.e., the power of salvation itself, enabling us to have intimate union with God, and that, forever.

This year has been designated by Pope Benedict XVI as a Year of Faith. We should all make the effort to examine ourselves about our faith and our Baptism; to ask ourselves if we are attempting to live by the wonderful graces we have received in that sacrament; and to stir ourselves to witness Jesus so fully in our lives that we invite others to share in such new life from and in God, through Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.

Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B., is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music and Art, resident in the Madison Diocese. The Institute is devoted to helping people understand more and pray better the sacred liturgy.