Over the past weekend, I noticed an interesting Facebook post about a tweet that a Catholic cardinal “supposed” sent via Twitter. Whether his intention was heretical or if it was simply loose and careless theology could certainly be up for debate, I wish to write to clarify the reasons for why Jesus was actually Baptized.
Contrary to what was purported by the cardinal, Jesus did not require Baptism for salvation and also did not need to be “reborn in grace”. Already sinless, Jesus first and foremost entered the waters of the Jordan as an example for the new sacramental life of grace for his disciples to follow. In John 3:5 Jesus taught Nicodemus [and later us] of the necessity for Baptism when he declared, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the importance of this passage as well:
Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is: “Faith!” (No. 1253).
Along with modeling the importance of Baptism, though Jesus himself did not require cleansing from sin, three additional lessons may be learned from the Event of the Baptism of Our Lord.
1. Fulfillment of Old Testament: Several key events in the Bible relate to water. The Flood in Genesis 6-8, the Crossing of the Red Sea, and the Crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land are just a few of the aquatic occasions detailed in the Old Testament. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (CCC 129).
The Baptism of Jesus is a feast to help us realize the fulfillment of God’s promises from long ago.
2. Prefiguring Death of Jesus: Along with being foreshadowed in the Old Testament, Jesus’ Baptism signified an anticipation of his Death. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes this perfectly in his work Jesus of Nazareth,
Looking at the events (of Christ’s baptism) in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, ”Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon. 1:12) . . . The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word
“baptism” to refer to his death (18).
Death to sin [original] gives way to a new life in the sacrament of Baptism. A new life of grace occurs through the waters of Baptism.
3. Doorway to Adoption: According to my favorite reference book– the thesaurus, synonyms for adoption include the following: acceptance, confirmation, ratification, and support. While each of those words convey a strong and position sense of adoption the synonym that stood out most to me was embracing. Biological birth occurs through the profound act of sex, however, unfortunately not every child is welcomed a gift as a result. The major difference with adoption versus biological parenthood is that the former always seeks out the child to be welcomed into the family whereas that is not always the case for the latter. Please note that this is not a knock on biological parents as some of the best parents gained children through biology [i.e. MY PARENTS!].
The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism in paragraph 1265, “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Because of original sin, the biology of humanity is tarnished with a natural aversion from God’s will. Humans naturally seek their own will over the Will of the Father. Through the waters of Baptism, people cleansed of original sin and enter into the door of the sacramental life of the Church.
While Jesus did not require rebirth into the sacramental life of grace, he was baptized by John in the Jordan River to fulfill the Old Testament, prefigure his Death and Resurrection, and be a model for God’s faithful. German Catholic philosopher Josef Piper declared, “Adoption is the visible Gospel.” The graces received through the sacrament of Baptism truly brings good news as we become adopted children of God!
As a child I had a fascination with maps, geography, and the idea of being on a quest. My favorite books to read as a kid included the famous Greek epic The Odyssey and the Redwall Series by English author Brian Jacques. Both included a sense of adventure whereby the main character(s) trekked across dangerous terrain and met obstacles to overcome (external and internal struggles) before eventually arriving at their destination at the end of the story. The word odyssey actually means journey, pilgrimage, or trek.
As a father of four [one is in utero!], I am able to reacquaint myself with the sense of life as a voyage. Frequently, I lose sight of reality as the flood of daily temptations, confusion, and struggles assail me. My 5 year old daughter definitely got her penchant for atlases from me. Almost every day, she asks me, “Daddy! Can you please get me paper and markers for me to make a map?!” Cartography reigns supreme in my household—especially on rainy days!
The other day I read an article online that referenced the importance of returning to a sense of voyage. A quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux stuck in my mind after I went on with the rest of my day. The Doctor of the Church wrote, “The symbol of a ship always delights me and helps me to bear the exile of this life.” Her words convey a truth that I always wanted to communicate but was not able to fully articulate—something about sea travel points to a higher reality. Perhaps it is because we named our child Noah, named after the Old Testament figure who crafted the ark, that I tend to have boats on the mind—at least subconsciously. Or maybe, there is something innate in each of us that desires the continual movement that travel affords us. St. Augustine famously declared, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you [God].”
Here is a well-written and easy to understand article on the connection between Noah’s Ark and its prefiguring of the Catholic Church: https://catholicexchange.com/ten-ways-noahs-ark-prefigured-church. Some highlights include that just as the giant boat housed the holy individuals of Noah and his family, so too, does the Catholic Church safeguard individuals striving for holiness against the dangers of the deluge of temptations!
Another important point that stands out regarding the maritime theme is that life is bearable when we look to the Promised Land—Heaven—as our destination. When times get tough, during the turbulence of life we look beyond our vehicle, and outside of ourselves toward the horizon—toward the rising of the Sun [Son]!
Every quest involves dead-ends, treacherous terrain, and wild beasts [physical and/or spiritual]. Fellowship is essential for any journey—just ask Frodo the Hobbit!
Reacquainting myself with the fact that life is truly a voyage helps to remind me that I am not only in the journey. God provided helpmates along the way, namely my wife, children, and the saints such as St. Thérèse. When life gets your down and despair sets in please be reminded that you still have a road ahead. You have the ability to pick the road on this pilgrimage of life—make life more joyful by following the witness of the holy ones before us!
According to the Nicene Creed, the first of the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Church is unity. Without unity things tend to fall apart: societies collapse, families fight, and friendships evaporate. Over the course of history the Church has undergone a multitudes of developments and faced its share of difficulties threatening union. Jesus Christ promised that in spite of the conflicts unity still would persist through the office of the papacy. Guided by the power of the Holy Spirit all successors to the original “rock” of the Church, the Apostle St. Peter, provide stability and direction to the faithful. While I have been blessed with to live witness the tail end of the prominent papacy of St. John Paul II [the Great], I recently made an effort to acquaint myself with former pontiffs from the 20th century. Most recently, I learned more about the wondrous, albeit brief, papacy of the St. John XXIII.
Two words immediately come to mind with I think of John XXIII—jolliness and unity! He was a joyfully jolly individual whose papacy promoted greater unity for all mankind. The Italian pope declared, “The whole world is my family.” While at face value, this appears to be a simple and unimpressive statement, looking at the human conflicts currently existing in the world today and throughout history, we suddenly realize that disunity is part and parcel of human nature. Opening the world to the Catholic Church via the initiation of the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII opened the supernatural ark and invited humanity a chance assess the spiritual graces housed in the Catholic Church.
I am grateful to have discovered the positivity, and harmonious message of the pope of the Second Vatican Council. Below are several insightful and uplifting words from St. John XXII we can reflect on for the rest of the week!
“I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”
“Before everything else, fidelity to the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Jesus did not found several churches, but one single Church.”
“O Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I would like to be filled with love for You; keep me closely united with You, may my heart be near to Yours. I want to be to You like the apostle John. O Mary of the Rosary, keep me recollected when I say these prayers of yours; bind me forever, with your rosary, to Jesus of the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed be Jesus, my love.”
Catholics around the world [and throughout time] celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th. Along with the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Motherhood of Mary this feast day is a holy day of obligation for Mass attendance. The reason for this is due to the veneration—NOT WORSHIP—Catholics hold for the Mother of God. Marian doctrines closely relate and point us to the even greater truth of the Incarnation—God becoming Man. While specifically, the feasts of Mary, Mother of God and Immaculate Conception point to the teaching of the Incarnation, the feast of the Assumption orients us to look toward the Resurrection of Jesus.
1. Assumption—Logically Flows from Being Immaculately Conceived: When I taught high school theology one of my favorite lessons involved the subject of the teachings on Mary. I enjoyed showing the interconnectedness between the various Marian dogmas. Because she was preserved free from the stain of original sin, Mary would not suffer the same type of bodily decay and separation of body and soul the rest of mankind—born into original sin—suffered/would suffer. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 966, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”
Along with the clear connection made in the catechism, Divine Providence inspired the office of the papacy to proclaim the infallible teaching pertaining to Mary to be viewed in unity with one another. Pope Pius IX in 1854 infallibly defined Mary as being immaculately conceived and nearly a century later his successor bearing the same appellation—Pius XII—formerly declared the infallible dogma of Mary being taken into Heaven Body and Soul.
2. Assumption Hinting at the Resurrection and Destination of Heaven: Again, I will defer to the Catechism for the best explanation of the Assumption of Mary pointing to the Resurrection, “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:
In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. [Emphasis added mine] (CCC966).
According to Saint Pope John Paul II, “In her, assumed into heaven, we are shown the eternal destiny that awaits us beyond the mystery of death: a destiny of total happiness in divine glory. This supernatural vision sustains our daily pilgrimage. Mary teaches about life. By looking at her, we understand better the relative value of earthly greatness and the full sense of our Christian vocation.” Saint Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus articulated the fact that Mary orients us to Heaven even more clearly, “it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.” Because the entirely of Mary’s earthly life centered on obedience and love of God, she is the perfect guide to the Son and union with God in Heavenly bliss. Marian titles such as Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] and Morning Star point to the reality as well.
Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, gives Christians hope that the promise of the Resurrection and eternal life is a gift that may be attained through the merciful gift of grace poured out through the Sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross and via our cooperation with this divine grace by obeying God’s Word. I am grateful for the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Advocate in times of darkness. Please pray for us in our time of need!
“Mary shines on earth “until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God” (Lumen gentium, n. 68).
Among the most bizarre, mysterious, and interesting accounts in the New Testament is the event of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The dictionary defines the word transfiguration as “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. Common synonyms for transfiguration include: metamorphosis, changeover, transformation, development, adjustment, and even mutation!! Growing up Catholic I have listened to the Gospel telling of this mysterious occurrence a myriad of times, however, I will provide Matthew’s version in case it has been a why since you have read and/or Mass for the Feast Day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord!
The Transfiguration of Jesus.* 1a After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.* 2*b And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3* And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5c While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,* then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6* When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” 8And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
1. Foretaste of Heavenly Reality: The primary purpose of the glory of Jesus shown [shone] to Peter, James, and John was meant as a means to prepare them for the glorification of God after the Resurrection and to hint at the beauty of transfigured humanity. According to Saint Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1999 homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration, “In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”
2. Humanity’s Home in Heaven: Similar to the previous point is that fact that man is on a pilgrim journey, a sojourner on Earth—whose ultimate destination is union with God in Heaven. John Paul II echoed this truth as well, “We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries. But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith. On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers.”
I imagine the incredible letdown the Apostles must have felt in the moments after the dazzling and inexplicable event of the Transfiguration. Going back to following Jesus in an ordinary way, traveling from town to town, learning from him, and assisting the poor certainly did not compare to the splendor they witnessed on Mount Tabor. It definitely would have been challenging to transition back into that routine! Heck, Peter even desired to stay in the holy place when he declared, “If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Coming out of Sunday liturgy, I leave with a similar wonder and awe as the inner circle of Jesus received on that original Transfiguration event. Housing the Real Presence of Lord after reception of the Eucharist provides me incredible peace and patient strength. In a way, we all undergo a momentary transfiguration—a foretaste of Heavenly reality in the Mass. Going back to our worldly affairs, we quickly lose sight and memory of our close encounter with God. May we continue to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us with clarity and strength on our pilgrimage toward Heaven!
Irish playwright Bernard Shaw spoke once said, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” Truly, what could be more commonplace than eating, save for drinking water or possibly sleep. Food is a necessity to living—nourishment sustains us physically. Ralph Waldo Emerson whimsically wrote, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” Any physical good in this world is susceptible to become an evil if it interferes with a higher good or turns into a disordered love.
Excessive eating of sugary foods [candy, mocha coffees, and fast food] is something I have struggled with over the course of recent months—an past few years! Normally, I would rationalize my food choices. “I have a good metabolism!” or “I ran several miles yesterday,” were a couple of my excuses for refusing to stymie my desire for fast-food and over-indulging in sweets. While some people may simply view overeating leading to physical effects, this bad habit of gluttony actually may have pernicious changes to your spiritual life.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1866, gluttony is listed among the deadly sins, “Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices.138 They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.”
Although not the most sinister, dangerous, or even the most common of the 7 deadly sins, the sin of gluttony seems to go under the radar and unnoticed as an underlying issue. Perhaps it is because I live in the United States and 21st century were food choices and availability abound, but I always viewed gluttony as the stealthiest of the capital sins. The Evil One seeks to entrap souls by stumbling into this seemingly benign pit of primal urge to eat. Pope Saint Gregory the Great spoke of gluttony in this manner, “The vice of gluttony tempts us in five ways. Sometimes it forestalls the hour of need; sometimes it seeks costly meats; sometimes it requires the food to be daintily cooked; sometimes it exceeds the measure of refreshment by taking too much; sometimes we sin by the very heat of an immoderate appetite.” My unhealthy desire for Burger King Ice Mocha Coffees certainly fit the holy pontiff’s description as a temptation. Increased expenses in our budget and causing me to rush to work unnecessarily are physical effects of my gluttonous attachment.
Regarding my spiritual life, my gluttonous habits caused undue financial stresses and anger flares between my wife and I. What is the remedy to my sickness? Simple. Say no to the bad and say yes to the good!
1. Fasting: Pope Saint John Paul II declared, “Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he tempted him at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Combined with the sacrament of Confession the fruit of fasting include greater self-control and trust in God. Currently, I am limiting my caffeine intake and making more conscience and controlled situations with what I eat.
Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle. But that still isn’t the full meaning of fasting, which is the external sign of the internal reality of our commitment to abstain from evil with the help of God and to live the Gospel . . .
2. Say Yes to the Good: What exactly is good? Is that not relative to each individual? Ultimately, there is an inherent goodness to all of creation—Genesis 1:31 mentions “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” Saint Augustine reiterated this biblical truth that all created reality contains goodness, but focusing on a smaller good over a greater good is in a sense committing evil. “All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil,” the Doctor of the Church declared in his Confessions. Place creation above human interactions would be considered disordered and likewise placing humans over God would be also disordered.
Giving up my penchant for coffee and sugar
to sacrifice for the greater good of my
family’s budget—more money to go around
for healthier food and needs for my children,
is following the chain of being.
Forming better habits involve sacrificing
lesser good for higher goods. The first step is
to say no to the bad—this may be achieve
with penance and fasting. Secondly, say YES
to the good—prioritize accordingly. God first,
others second, yourself third.
“And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” –Matthew 19:17