Baptism: The Sacrament of Faith
Father Christopher Zajac, OSBM
After Christ's birth, His teaching, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension had taken place - Christ returned to His Father in heaven. In the early years the Church survived very difficult times during the Roman persecution. St. Paul had given a forewarning, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles: "I know quite well that when I have gone fierce wolves will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock. Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:29 - 31).
In the early Church such problems arose, and that is why the first council was held. The First Ecumenical Council was held in Nicaea, a city in Asia Minor. It was called by Pope Sylvester in 325 to combat the Arian heresy. The “real” identity of Christ was challenged by a bishop named Arius who claimed that Christ was not divine, but merely the greatest of all human creatures. It nearly destroyed the Early Church.
Societies have changed throughout the ages, motivations have changed, conditions have changed, what men consider important has changed, but there is a phenomenon which has remained constant right back to the dawn of recorded history. As far back as we can be aware, the most common phenomena of life is mankind's search for communion with the transcendent- with God; This is a need that exists in everyone. It is an incompleteness; only with God does our humanity find its fulfillment. What I am saying is that without God, we are not completely human. There is not a person in the world who has not this craving for God. Some manage to quiet this need within themselves by something outside God. An ambition to achieve position wealth or power can sometimes be so intense that God is temporarily moved out of the picture. The noise, hustle, and bustle of our confused world can twist our craving to such a degree that we receive some sort of mental short-circuit, and the object of our desire is not recognized.
One of the outcomes of the First Council of Nicaea was the Nicean Creed, which is a part of our Divine Liturgy. It declares and emphasizes the divine sonship of Christ. It also asserts that Mary, his mother, is the mother of God. The outcome of this Council destroyed the error of Arius. Never again would it be debated that Christ was the Son of God, or his true identity discredited. The Nicean Creed is a brief summary of our Christian faith.
During the last thirty years many weird and disturbing cults have sprung up like weeds throughout our western society during man's search for fulfillment. You have often heard the saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” The general preoccupation of our society during the last few decades with material achievements, buildings, machinery, and all the so-called progress of our age, has caused a spiritual vacuum. Those cults search for God where He is not, and thus, are doomed to failure.
Man is incapable on the natural level of establishing any immediate and personal contact with God. Such communion is possible only through God's initiative. God comes to us through grace. Religion is this personal communion between God and man, and it comes about only when God reveals Himself to man. This happens when He discloses to man His own personality and when man, on his part, responds to God's revelation through faith. This is authentic religion. He comes to us through revelation, when He makes Himself known to us. That is Religion.
God enters the history of mankind. He comes and shapes man's history as we can see in the history of Israel- through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; through Moses and David right down to that fateful night in Bethlehem when the saving activity of God becomes visible in Jesus Christ. This is what we call sacramental - a supernatural reality becoming visible. God and mankind coming face to face. Since man could not by himself reach God, Christ comes to us. God and man complete the two-way communication in Himself. He is the human sign that gives us Divine Light, and is the source and the cause of grace. Christ manifests His love by giving it to man.
Today, this saving activity is continued in the Church through the sacraments. The Church does not replace Christ, but rather, is the means by which He reaches out to us. It is Christ who administers the sacraments and the priest is merely the instrument through which this is accomplished.
It is in Baptism that we are embraced into the community of God's children. Baptism is not something that happened once and then forgotten. Baptism is not some sort of magical rite. It is a commitment- an opting for Christ. Baptism is the sacrament of Faith. It is the basis of our Christian living. Through Baptism the Christian is incorporated into the life of the Risen Christ, sharing in His glory.
As Christ was risen from death to life, so too, we rise from alienation to life, to communion with God. Through baptism we join in communion with the Father, freed from the guilt of our sins. Through communion in faith we are incorporated into the Chruch as God's family and Christ's body.
How do we apply the teachings about Baptism in our lives? First of all, we must realize that Baptism is only the beginning- a point of departure to acquiring fullness of life. It is a realization that we are creatures of God and that our goal is eventual union with God. As Baptized Christians, we are witness to the fact that there exists more than the material and the physical. Today, perhaps, never has love been talked about and sung about so much, and yet, how little is there of real love. There is so much hatred, distrust, suspicion and revenge based on prejudice, simply because they are different from us. In too many minds, the word love means sex or self indulgence. Even in its more noble meanings it becomes some sort of vague emotion directed at other people, and yet, having at its deepest source itself. For love to be real and dynamic, it must be outward, moving from myself to others. I must love for the sake of others. We have the best example of love in the Gospel of St. John- “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:9). During this time of moral crisis, when there is a breakdown of moral values, we need men and women, boys and girls to stand out as examples of what Christianity is all about.
Our Lord Jesus, the Divine Teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples, regardless of their situations. “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48). He sent the Holy Spirit to all men, that the Holy Spirit might inspire them from within to love God with their whole heart, their whole soul, with their entire mind and all of their strength, and that they might love one another as Christ loved them. Each one of us, whatever our position in life, is obliged to show by our example in the way we live and what we do or say, that we truly are followers of Christ.
There is very much that each and every one of us can accomplish by living the simple ordinary life of a Christian. All it takes is a realization that through Baptism we have all become brothers and sisters of Christ, and thus, are all linked through a relationship of love as Children of love, as Children of God. If one is hurt, or hungry, or in need, then all of us are hurt, hungry and in need, for we are all united in Christ.