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!
January 3rd celebrates two important events: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and the anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a Catholic obvious the former has to take precedence, I mean Jesus is the center of the Catholic faith. However, I think it is ironic, maybe even providential, of the placement of the great English literary figure’s birthday within the season of Christmastide. The famed creator of Middle Earth himself was a devout Catholic and belief in Jesus Christ permeated his entire life. I admire Tolkien because of his creativity, devotion, and ability to invoke joy into my life simply by reading his works or striking up a conversation with a random stranger about his life!
Last year, I wrote an article published in EpicPew.com discussing the reasons for canonizing Tolkien as a saint of the Church. According to the Baltimore Catechism paragraph 215 answered the question of why Catholics honor saints in this way, “We honor the saints in heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God we honor God Himself.”
The excitement, peace, and joy I receive when reading, researching, or talking about Middle Earth ultimately is aimed at a higher reality–a deeper reality of full communion with God in Heaven. Tolkien once wrote, “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’.” All of creation act as signposts for truth of God’s existence. The same is true for the hidden or not so hidden Easter-eggs contained in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The date of the formation of the Fellowship–that is, the group of representatives of Middle Earth races– actually is December 25th!
Much of Tolkien’s theology, whether he would have wanted to admit it or not, reminds me of the spirituality of The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her path towards holiness consisted of relying on God’s mercy and forgiveness while seeking ordinary daily actions to show love of God and neighbor. The French saint wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Whenever I read and reflect upon that quote I am also reminded of the following words of Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Fantasy and Tolkien geeks now well that the bearer of the One Ring [the embodiment of temptation] was a hobbit. If only one word would suffice to describe a hobbit to individuals not too aware of this fictional Middle Earth race it would be diminutive. Littleness, at least in appearance, is the chief trait of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings. However, like St. Therese of Lisieux, Tolkien recognizes that the smallest person can have a great impact on human history. The greatest event in human history is the Incarnation–God being man in the person of Jesus Christ in the form of a little baby. I honor J.R.R. Tolkien today because his “complex”, extensive, and intricate sub-creation of Middle Earth provokes a sense of joy in the little acts done in great love and sacrifice. Ultimately, after reading any of his works, I am reminded to be grateful for creative genius not as a worship of the fantasy author, but rather I honor him as he points me to the Real and Truth Author of All of Reality!
“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11
Oftentimes parents look at their children and find the exact same characteristics, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies. I am not exception to this rule. While I have frequently written about how my sons acquired the gifts and struggles of mine, I have not given similar treatment on how my daughter received my interests. Growing up I enjoyed learning about rocks. Perhaps it began when my aunt gifted me with a rock-set for my birthday or maybe it was do to playing The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth—my siblings and I played this 1996 PC game for hours and hours!—but regardless of the reason, I see an early penchant for pebbles from my daughter and maybe early roots to a geology career. No less than a dozen rocks appear throughout our house on a given day.
Fascination with geology, I believe starts with the fact that rocks usually are associated with strength and stability. Another alluring facet about rocks involve the process by which they are formed. Looking at a diagram of the rock cycle below, it reminds of myself being transformed under the pressures of a stressful situation. Depending upon whether I take suffering as a learning opportunity or not, I am changed, transformed and meet the future challenges differently. Founding Father of the United States and 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
Tested through trials the character of a person is galvanized and strengthened. Taking shortcuts is easy in the short-term, but without moral consistency—it is easy to fall apart during the storms of life. According to Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus preached on the importance of building a solid foundation:
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.r 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.s But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.
One year ago, my wife and I lost our unborn child to a miscarriage—despite not being our first loss it nevertheless struck our hearts the same as the others. Spiraling into depression seemed almost second nature, however, previous suffering schooled me and my stable foundation started by my parents teaching me the Catholic faith as a child helped to keep me even-keeled—as much as possible. While building my moral foundations like a sandcastle would be much more “fun and easier” than clinging to the rock of truth, I am grateful for being tested by the pressures of suffering and toil.
According to Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” This road of success and truth is narrow, but not impossible to travel. Keeping your eyes toward the horizon of your goal will help keep you on the right path. When times get tough, be sure to cling to the Rock of Truth—found in the Person of Jesus Christ and whose teaching are most fully safeguarded in the Catholic Church. Only build sandcastles when you are at the beach, on the other hand, rock-wall climbing sounds more adventurous!
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
Catholics enjoy the opportunity to look to holy men and women who followed before as role models and guides in fulfilling your true purpose in life. As I learn and read about the saints, the more profoundly I experience fellowship. Saints lived through suffering experiences with patience and reliance on God’s help. Perhaps no other 20th century figure, and this includes a legendary list, provided a better example of following the golden rule and forgiving other as St. Pope John Paul II. Being my personal hero, I was overwhelmed with joy upon his canonization a MERE five years after his death! While countless reasons exist for why I love and admire JPII below are five main things that make the great Polish pope—great.
1. Endured a Lifetime of Tragedies: Born in [enter year] Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II’s pre-papal name] grew up during the most tumultuous eras of Polish history—Nazi occupation and later during the reign of Communism. Before he turned 22, Karol lost all of his immediate family members (his mother passed away during childbirth, his sister died before Karol was born, and his brother and father stated reason/manner). As if losing your family was not enough suffering to last a few lifetimes for anyone, in the beginning of his pontificate John Paul gunned down via a failed assassination. The leader of the Catholic Church united himself so much to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. According to Jason Evert author of Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, “When someone mentioned the impending suffering that would be required by one of his surgies, he replied, ‘The Church needs suffering” (p.192).
2. Marian Devotion: The Polish pope famous motto was Totus Tuus. This Latin phrase translates as “Totally Yours”—a reference to Mary’s total obedience to the Father’s will. Among the defining events of the sainted pontiff’s life the assassination attempt on May 13th, 1981 certainly had to be a monumental turning point. Already possessing a strong piety to the Blessed Virgin, this only increased after the bullet missed hitting vital organs by mere millimeters. He quipped, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.” Totally trusting in the mediation of Mary in his life, John Paul II provides a good example for other Catholics to rely on the Mother of God to be a good protector and guide towards Christ.
Jason Evert in his biography talks of the pope’s admiration to Mary in this way, “In True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort wrote, ‘the most faithful servants of the Blessed Virgin, being her greatest favorites, receive from her the best graces and favors from heaven, which are crosses.’ If suffering is a sign of predilection, then John Paul II must have been one of our Lady’s favorites!” (Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, p. 191). Of the importance of the Rosary John Paul II declared, “[The Rosary is] our daily meeting which neither I nor the Blessed Virgin Mary neglect.”
Recently, my family started praying a decade of the Rosary each night before putting the kids to bed. My outlook on life and graces for patience have never been higher. I am thankful for John Paul the Great’s great witness to Marian devotion!
3. Pope for the People: John Paul II instituted World Youth Day, a worldwide gathering of Catholic youth every 4 years. He saw the importance of children and teens being the future of the Church. The excitement that revolves around this event continues even in the years after his death. The Polish pope traveled extensively across the globe administering to all God’s people and showing the love of Christ. His long tenure afforded the opportunities for a generation to grow up under his papacy and enjoy stability of leadership for the Catholic Church.
4. King of Confession: While John Paul II lived a remarkable life and endured to the end—suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the most impressive feat of his papacy [and priesthood] was his daily reception of the Sacrament of Confession. He declared,
It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation. Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.
I feel out of whack spiritually when I fail to go to the Medicine Box for over a month. His near mastery of virtue—through the aid offered by the Holy Spirit in the confessional—is evident by his encounter with all he met and his quick canonization less than half a decade after his death.
5. Heroic Herald of Truth: Along with John Paul II’s ability to forgive others, especially the man who tried to murder him, the Polish pope safeguarded and articulated the Catholic Church’s teaching boldly and clearly. Intrepidly standing up to the evils of Communism, the sainted pope never watered down truth for the sake of diplomacy. Below are two links to encyclical letters where the Supreme Pontiff clearly upholds the Catholic teaching on the priesthood being reserved for males alone and the reciprocal relationship between faith and science:
St. John Paul the Great stated, “Remember that you are never alone, Christ is with you on your journey every day of your lives!” Truly God gifted the world with the holiness of Karol Wojtyla. St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” Following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II will not be an easy feat, but it is a surefire and joyful path toward closer union with God. Thank you Lord again for the life of this wonderful saint!
“The more ready you are to give yourselves to God and to others, the more you will discover the authentic meaning of life”
“Do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium!”
Over the course of Catholic Church history, the inner tension between good and evil has been described in warlike and violent language. From to premonition of the Woman crushing the serpent’s head in Genesis 3:15 to the various Old Testament battles and even Jesus Christ himself fashioning a whip to run out temple abusers in John 2:15, the spiritual battle is so real that no other way to talk about it save as a battle does justice to describe it.
Peter Kreeft stated, “Pride looks down, and no one can see God but by looking up.” All sin is rooted in pride. According to the great monastic St. Benedict, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” This is precisely why the Blessed Virgin is honored as the greatest of the saints—her humble and total obedience on the news of her bearing the Son of God. Selfishness exists when we prideful think that our life is in our complete control. As a mere creature of the Creator, I need to re-orient my thoughts away from self-centeredness and instead towards gratitude at the life granted by God.
Below is the best, most effective, and simplest of prayers that I rely on to fend off the sin of pride in my life. I sincerely hope you receive great peace, joy, and the virtue of humility over the course of time in reciting the Prayer of Humility.
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
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).