Every Sunday at Mass, when we recite the Profession of Faith, we proclaim with one voice that we “confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Then, during the Easter season, we confess this Baptism in an especially vivid way: we are sprinkled with holy water.
Week after week during the season, we are reminded of that day when we were first covered in holy water. We are reminded of the day when we first professed our faith in Jesus—or when our godparents made the profession for us. That was the day our sins were washed away and we were brought into the kingdom of God.
Why does the Church make such a strong connection between the Sacrament of Baptism and the Easter season? What is it about Jesus’ resurrection that makes us think about our own initiation into the Church? That’s the question we want to look at in this article. We want to look at the bond that Baptism makes between Jesus and us—especially the bond between our everyday lives and Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
We Died with Christ. Let’s begin with the Scriptures. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that when we are baptized, we are united with Jesus in his death on the cross (6:3). When Jesus died, Paul says, he “died to sin once and for all” (6:10). And because we are united with Christ, our sins died with him as well. So too did the punishment arising from these sins. When he cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” Jesus wasn’t just saying something for dramatic effect (John 19:30). He was proclaiming a truth that has changed the lives of billions of people. Sin was destroyed, humanity was forgiven, and the gates of heaven were opened.
There is a completeness both to Jesus’ cross and to our Baptism into his cross. It’s not just that our sins are forgiven; even the stain of original sin itself is washed away. Our original lack of trust in God, as well as our primal desire to place ourselves ahead of Jesus and his will for us, was also washed away in the waters of Baptism (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 397–398). Now we are no longer under the condemnation that original sin had brought about (Romans 8:1).
As Catholics, we believe that the sacraments are living signs that can bring us in touch with Jesus’ life in a real way. For instance, the Mass takes us back to the Last Supper, where we can receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Baptism takes us back to the cross and gives us a share in the freedom and redemption that Jesus won for us there. It is as if the sacrament “inserts” us into Christ as he poured out his life for us. Or to borrow an image from the Anima Christi, a popular fourteenth-century prayer, we were hidden in his wounds, and his spotless, innocent blood washed over us and cleansed us of all sin and iniquity.
We Have Risen with Christ. These are wonderful truths, aren’t they? Who would think that almighty God would go to such lengths just to set us free? But there is even more to this sacrament than the washing away of sins. We aren’t just united with Jesus’ death; we are also united with his resurrection. St. Paul told the Colossians, “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12).
Baptism has not just cleansed us; it has raised us up to a new kind of life. It has given us a share in God’s own divine power so that we can be set free from sin. The Holy Spirit was poured into our hearts, making us a new creation and giving us the ability to say yes to God’s way of peace and purity and no to the way of sin, selfishness, and pride.
Of course, experience tells us that we are not always successful in the battle against sin. We may have overcome original sin through Baptism, but our human nature is still vulnerable. We still have a tendency toward sin that is called “concupiscence,” and we have to deal with it all our lives. But we don’t have to face temptation alone. Because of our Baptism, Christ is living in us, and he is our hope of freedom and glory—if only we turn to him and ask him to fill us with his grace (Colossians 1:27).
The ”Seed” of Baptism. God has given us so much. He has immersed us in his Son’s death and resurrection. He has washed us clean from original sin and given us his Holy Spirit to empower us to live in holiness. And he did all of this at our baptism. Yet this new life we received at Baptism is but a “seed.” It lives in us, but only as potential until we take hold of it and plant it in the soil of faith. Only then will it take root and bear its marvelous fruit.
St. Paul told the Colossians that since they had been raised up with Christ, they should “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (3:1). He told them that in Baptism, they were “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Paul also told them that as they seek what is above, they would see deep and lasting changes in their lives.
The same is true for us. Practically, seeking what is above means seeking Jesus every day in prayer. It means coming to Mass on Sundays with an open, expectant heart, ready to hear God’s voice and to submit our lives to him. It means pondering the words of Scripture, letting the Holy Spirit fill our minds with his truth and our hearts with his promises. It means confessing any sins that are blocking our path to the Lord and the life of his resurrection.
God promises that if we take these practical steps of seeking him with all our hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13-14). Even if we set aside just fifteen minutes every day to pray and read Scripture, we will begin to “find” Jesus and experience his grace at work in us. What does that grace look like? Maybe you’ll be able to let go of resentment or forgive someone for a past hurt. You might find yourself more loving and less judgmental. You may find a new strength to overcome temptation or a persistent sin pattern. You may become more deeply involved in bringing people to the Lord or caring for the poor.
All of us who have been baptized are set free from sin and filled with divine life. But without our daily decision to take hold of all that we have received in Baptism, this new life will remain either as a seed or as a fragile sapling. Only by making daily decisions to stay close to Jesus will we experience the grace and power that God has so generously given us.
The Impossible Has Become Possible. St. Cyprian of Carthage, who lived in the third century, was a successful, wealthy lawyer before his conversion to Christ. In a letter to his friend Donatus, he confessed that before he was baptized, he found it hard to believe that anyone—especially himself—could put off their old life of sin and experience true freedom and deliverance. He had simply assumed that his sins and “clinging vices” were a part of who he was and that he would just have to live with them. But all that changed when he was baptized:
The stain of former years was washed away. A light from above, peaceful and pure, was poured into my heart. Then, by the Holy Spirit, I experienced a second birth and became a new man. I became sure of things I had once doubted. Truths once hidden to me began to be revealed. What before had seemed impossible began to be possible. (Letter to Donatus, 5)
The impossible can become possible for you, just as it did for St. Cyprian. That’s because, like him, you too have died and risen with Christ in Baptism. There is no difference, and God doesn’t play favorites. Everyone who is baptized is given the same Holy Spirit, the same grace, and the same promises.
So let the grace of this marvelous sacrament take hold of you. Every time you are sprinkled with holy water during this Easter season, recommit yourself to living the new life you have received. Every time you confess the one Baptism for the forgiveness of sin, ask the Holy Spirit for the grace you need to keep fighting the battle against sin. And every time you pronounce the great “Amen” at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, put your whole heart and soul into that word. You have been united with Christ in Baptism, and you are nothing less than a new creation!