- Father John Paul Walker OP
A: I suspect when most Catholics think about the effects of baptism, the first thing that comes to mind is that baptism washes away original sin. And this is indeed true. By the sacrament of baptism, original sin our sharing in that first sin of Adam and Eve that we all inherit as “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve” is cleansed. For those baptized later in life, after the age of reason, not only is original sin cleansed but also forgiven are all of the sins they have committed throughout their entire lives until that moment.
But that is only the beginning! At the moment of our baptism, there is a series of extraordinary changes that takes place within us. These changes transform our lives and our future in a beautiful way.
We are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. When Jesus first told his followers that they must be “born again,” some took him literally and were quite confused. But he was speaking not of a second physical birth, but the spiritual rebirth that comes through baptism. In our physical birth, we are given the gift of life; in the rebirth that is baptism, we are given new life in the Holy Spirit. At the moment of our baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon us and dwells within us. We receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help us as we begin to live the Christian life.
We are adopted into a divine family. We become an adopted child of the Heavenly Father. We become a part of the divine “family life” shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, we can live in the assurance that whatever challenges we face in life, we have a loving Father in heaven who cares for us and looks upon us as a beloved child.
We enter the Church. Through our baptism, we are incorporated into the living body of Christ, which is the Church. We become part of the universal Catholic Church, which encompasses believers from every nation on earth and every believer who has ever lived from the time of the apostles until the end of the world. On the smaller scale, we become part of the church family that is the parish where we receive the sacrament.
We receive a destiny. Our baptism sets our feet firmly on a road and the end of that road is heaven. From the moment of our creation, but even more so from the moment of our “re-creation” in baptism, we are earmarked for one fate: to spend eternity with God in heaven. That road that leads to heaven is a narrow one, as Jesus himself taught us, and through the mystery of free will we all have the power to make choices in life that reject that destiny and put us on the path to eternal damnation instead. But in baptism, the Church fixes our eyes on the eternal life of heaven and gives us the grace we need to travel that “narrow road” that leads to union with God.
The sacramental life of the Church is opened to us. Baptism is the first sacrament, and in order to validly receive any of the other sacraments of the Church, we must first be baptized. In that sense, we can say that baptism is the gateway to all of the other sacraments. At the moment we are baptized, those gates are opened to us and remain open the rest of our lives.
We receive a vocation. Our baptism does not immediately reveal to us the specifics of whether we are called to live the married life, serve as a priest or nun, and so forth. But what we receive is the vocation the calling to be holy. We are invited to be a living saint in the world today. This “universal call to holiness” marks the life of every baptized believer. And we know that whenever God calls us to something, he gives us the grace to fulfill that calling.
As we reflect on this beautiful sacrament during this Easter season, may the Lord inspire us more and more to live out fully all that came to us at our own baptism, so that we might glorify the Lord by our lives and help many more people come to know our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Dominican Father John Paul Walker is pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Haven.