Eighth in a series
By Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel
Special to The Texas Catholic
“Unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Those words were spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus in the gospels to explain the great gift of God’s life that is shared with us in the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is the sacrament of re-birth through which we are born again into the life of God. The human life that we receive from our mother and father is raised to a new level by the share in God’s life. We are born into the family of God and become brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
All that was accomplished by Jesus’ great work of redemption becomes our inheritance by the sacrament of baptism. We are remade after his image and likeness, sin is forgiven and we are given the promise of everlasting life.
The ceremony of baptism contains signs and words which tell us of the effects of this great sacrament. The water that is poured over the head of the person being baptized or in which the person is immersed is a sign of life, death, cleansing of sin and resurrection to new life. We know that water is a natural sign of life. Nothing can live without this basic element of water. So in baptism we are given a full and complete life.
Water is also at times destructive and can be a sign of death. In baptism we die to an old life of sin and one that does not promise everlasting life. As the person comes out of the baptismal water, he follows Christ in resurrection to new life.
The words used in the sacrament, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, tell us that we now are born again into the family of God, the Holy Trinity. Like Jesus Christ who came to share in our human nature, we now share in the life of God, a life which is everlasting, perfect peace and complete love.
In the ceremony, the newly baptized person is clothed with a white cloth symbolizing the life they have received. They are presented with a candle lit from the Easter candle, a sign of Jesus’ victory over death and resurrection in which the newly baptized will now share. Even in the funeral rites, we are reminded of our baptism. The coffin is clothed with the white pall, the Easter candle burns and the person is sprinkled with holy water as a reminder of baptism and all the benefits of these wonderful sacraments.
As baptized followers of Jesus Christ we are given the mission of imitating Jesus during our lives on earth, changing evermore into the likeness of Christ, becoming who we are, children of God and followers of Jesus. We bring his light to everyone we meet; we tell of the marvelous gift we have received by the way we live our lives. We imitate Jesus in obedience to God our Father. We show love and charity to others as Jesus did. We forgive the faults and failings of others as Jesus forgives us of our imperfections. We even imitate Jesus in suffering and death that we might also imitate him in resurrection to everlasting life.
The Most Rev. J. Douglas Deshotel is an auxiliary bishop, vicar general and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Dallas.