Think of all the awesome truths surrounding the Sacrament of Baptism: we have died with Christ. We have been cleansed of original sin. We have become children of God. We are made members of the Church. Think too of all the images that are used to explain its power: washing, enlightening, being born from above, stripping off the old and putting on the new.
A collection of truths like these can make us stand back and marvel, “All that happened to me?” But it can also seem too theoretical, not to mention too good to be true. “What about my life here and now? What difference does all this make to the way I’m living today?”
In this article, we want to offer three answers to these questions. We want to see how Baptism grants us forgiveness of our sins, access to God, and the grace of community, and how each of these gifts can make a difference in our everyday lives.
Assured of God’s Forgiveness. The Church teaches that “by Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1263). That’s one reason why a newly baptized person is given a white garment to wear—a symbol of the purity and dignity of someone whose sins have just been washed away.
But no matter how clean Baptism makes us, we all know how hard it is to stay clean. The sacrament may wipe away sin and its punishment, but it does not wipe out all temptation. We will all fall again in big and small ways. But because we are baptized into Christ, we can come to him any time we need to and receive his pardon and peace, no matter how far we have fallen.
The Lord has even made it possible for us to know for certain that God has forgiven us. What could be more comforting than to hear Jesus tell us, through the priest in Confession, “I absolve you from your sins”? The Sacrament of Reconciliation washes us completely clean; we come out of the confessional just as pure and innocent as the day we were baptized.
That’s how Janet felt the day she returned to Confession after many years away from the Church. She had strayed from God and her Catholic faith as a young adult. At the time, she was in a relationship with a man who did not want to marry her, so when she became pregnant, she had an abortion. Years later, she married a good man, and they had three children. But she could not forget the child she had lost through her decision to end her pregnancy. The guilt and regret weighed on her so much that she decided to seek God and started attending Mass at the local parish.
In one particular homily, the priest talked about the indelible mark that Baptism makes on us. It can never be erased, no matter what we have done (CCC, 1272). That made Janet realize that she still belonged to God and the Church. It was not too late; she could return to God and seek forgiveness for her sins. Janet made an appointment to talk to the pastor and made her confession. She would never forget how light and free she felt as she left the church that day or the joy of being able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist the following Sunday.
Confident to Come before God. Scripture tells us that because we can have “boldness of speech and confidence of access” to God himself, we can come into God’s presence at any time (Ephesians 3:12). We don’t have to fear his condemnation. We don’t have to worry about earning his love. We only have to hold fast to the truths of our baptism and believe that God wants us to come to know him as our heavenly Father.
And what does this access mean for us? It means that we can forge a living, life-giving relationship with the Lord. It means that, just as in any other relationship, we can come to know what is on God’s heart and mind. We can share our thoughts and concerns with him and receive his love, his support, his insights, and his help.
Not only that, but because we have been united with Christ in Baptism, we can always come before his Father and our Father and lay our needs at his feet. We can be confident that God will hear us when we pray, both for ourselves and for our loved ones.
Marybeth and Joe had been praying for years for their son to return to the Church. At one point, they were feeling discouraged; their son still showed no signs of interest in a relationship with God. Was God really listening to them?
Then they met another couple who were also praying for one of their children to come back to the Church. This couple said they had placed their hope in this child’s baptism: they knew that God’s life was in their child, even if he couldn’t see it. The couple suggested that Marybeth and Joe pray for the gift of Baptism to be unleashed in their son. Renewed in hope, Marybeth and Joe pressed on and continued to pray for him, and as they did, their faith in the power of their own baptism deepened. Even today, they persist and trust in God’s hidden work and presence in his life.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ. From the earliest days of the Church, Baptism has been considered to be much more than an individual sacrament meant for the benefit of the one being baptized. Not only are you cleansed of sin and given the Holy Spirit, but you are also made a member of the Church, the worldwide body of Christ. You are incorporated into a vast family of believers, with brothers and sisters from every possible background:
From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God . . . , which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (CCC, 1267)
There is a special grace in relationships founded on faith. It’s the grace to help you support one another in prayer and the grace to encourage one another when things get difficult. But just like the grace of Baptism, this grace of community is like a seed that needs to be planted and nourished before it will bear fruit.
It took a difficult divorce for Lydia to discover the grace of community. After her husband left her, she felt as if she would never be happy again. But then she noticed an ad in her parish bulletin for a support group for divorced men and women and decided to try it out. She found it so helpful to be with people who were experiencing the same grief over their marriages failing.
But what Lydia didn’t expect were the close friendships that developed with several of the women in the group. They became her lifeline; she was able to rely on them for prayer, and they often attended Mass or other church events together. Those relationships not only helped her regain her joy but they also helped her grow in her faith.
Let Your Baptism Take Hold. As we said in our second article, being baptized is like having a seed planted in our hearts. That seed contains all the potential of a vibrant, life-giving tree. Everything is there, just waiting for the right conditions so that it can burst forth into life. Only then will we see the blessings of our baptism take hold and bring about real change. What are the right conditions? Active faith, consistent prayer, connection with the Church, and trusting obedience. Until these things become a part of our lives—even if just in a small way—that new life will remain only a seed.
G. K. Chesterton, a prominent twentieth-century Catholic writer, put this another way. He said that the “problem” with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found ineffective. The problem is that it has “been found difficult and left untried.” Perhaps we could change that a bit and say that Christianity has been tried, but that it has been tried only partially, based more on the limited power of our human nature and less on the grace that flooded into our hearts when we were baptized.
“Try” Christianity in a new way this Easter season. Every morning when you wake up, tell Jesus that you believe in his resurrection. Tell him—and more important, tell yourself—that because of your baptism, you have been raised up with him. Proclaim, both to him and to yourself, that you are forgiven, that you have access to God, and that you are part of his body here on earth.
May God bless you abundantly as you rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection—and in your own.