The Benefits of Baptism

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2015/02/20 at 12:00 AM

Although we may not realize it, all of us who have been baptized in the Catholic Church have received an exorcism, albeit what we call a minor exorcism. This is because the Church has always understood baptism to be a matter of spiritual warfare.
Thus, part of the baptismal liturgy consists in praying that the person who is about to be baptized be freed from the snares and wickedness of the evil one, as well as make a renunciation of satan, his works, and all his empty promises.
Marked by that original sin of our first parents, all of us were born in darkness. And our baptism is the first volley of sacramental grace to enter our souls and make war on the darkness of sin.
Indeed, one of the very first things that happens in a baptism is that the child is marked out for Christ with the sign of the cross. In this way the child to be baptized is snatched from the hands of the evil one and claimed for Christ.
This action of marking with the sign of the cross is repeated in the baptismal liturgy with both the Oil of Catechumens and the Chrism Oil, again making the point that this child no longer belongs to darkness, but belongs to Jesus Christ.
Both our first and second reading today call to mind baptism with the story of Noah and how he and his family spent 40 days in the ark while the earth was flooded to cleanse it of sin. As St. Peter tells us today, this story prefigures baptism, which saves us from sin and darkness.
But while our baptism forgives our sins, we are still left with a scar from the original sin. And so while our baptism marks us out for Christ and enters us into a covenantal relationship with our Lord, we still must contend with the powers of darkness throughout our lives.
Indeed, throughout our lives, all of us engage in spiritual warfare, most generally through the temptations that the devil and his demons provoke within us. We see in our Gospel today that not even Jesus Christ Himself was safe from the wiles and temptations of satan.
This story of Jesus being tempted in the desert follows upon His baptism by St. John. Driven by the Holy Spirit, Jesus lives amongst the wild beasts of the desert, fasting and praying, as a means of preparing for His public ministry.
Since ancient times Holy Mother Church has looked upon Jesus’ 40-day sojourn in the desert as a model for all Christians to follow in preparation for the glorious feast of Easter.
But the Church also recognizes that our annual 40-day journey through the Lenten desert is not simply a memorial of this particular story in the life of Jesus. Lent is a time of particular imitation of our Lord.
So just as our dear Lord prayed, fasted, and did penance during His 40 days in the desert, so too do we pray, fast, and do penance in Lent as a means of becoming more like Him.
But even more poignantly, the Church recognizes the season of Lent as being a particular time to engage in spiritual warfare.
This past week on Ash Wednesday, the opening prayer was: “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.”
Thus, the prayer of the Church is clear that all that we do during Lent: our prayer, fasting, and alms giving, are means for us to defeat the power of evil in our lives so that we may be prepared not only for Easter, but for an eternity of bliss in Heaven!
It is interesting to note that both the Old and New Testaments begin with a story of temptation. The Old Testament tells us the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden, while the New Testament begins with the Gospel story we hear today.
However, these two temptation stories end in vastly different ways. Whereas the story of Adam and Eve’s temptation ends with their seduction by evil and the corruption of the entire human race, save our Lord and His Immaculate Mother, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert ends in His victory.
From the first temptation story came an inheritance of evil that, to this day, continues to threaten all men. From the second temptation story comes the prelude to our Lord’s final victory over sin and death that brings about man’s redemption.
To be sure, in defeating satan in the desert, our Lord wins a victory for all of us. And with our Lord’s grace, each of us can now defeat the evil one when he is tempting us. Whenever temptations come, we must call upon our Lord in the desert and ask Him for the grace to conquer. We must not rely on our own strength alone, for alone we are sure to fail.
To defeat the power of the evil one in our lives, the saints teach us that we must be humble and contrite of heart so that our Lord’s grace can work within us and through us. It is only by relying on God’s strong grace working through us that we can overcome evil in our lives.
However, while it is Christ’s grace that wins the victory over temptation and sin, we must cooperate with His grace. We must join our wills with His holy will, for while the evil one is able to deceive our minds, he has absolutely no power over our will, which is the faculty by which we choose good or evil.
The evil one is able to lie to us, presenting evil as a good to our minds, but he cannot force our wills to do anything.
That is precisely why the acts of prayer, fasting, and alms giving are a means of waging spiritual battle. Through these holy acts that require self-sacrifice, we learn to control our passions and strengthen our wills so that we can learn to align our wills with His.
As that opening prayer from Ash Wednesday tells us, our Lenten acts of prayer, fasting, and alms giving arm us with weapons of self-restraint that help us say no to the sinful passions and desires within us that the evil one preys upon.
Moreover, when we take on these acts with great love, they help us to become more like our Lord, who sacrificed Himself for us. They help us unite ourselves to God ever more deeply so that we want to follow His will rather than our own.
My dear brothers and sisters, all of us must face this world with its seductions. All of us at times are tempted by the evil one to commit sin. He does this to weaken and ultimately destroy the covenantal relationship we enjoy with our Lord through the sacraments.
But if we are willing to pray, fast, and give alms out of love for our Lord, if we nurture our hearts so that they always remain humble and contrite, then God’s grace will work through us to help us defeat the power of evil in our lives.
Every time we say no to temptation, we share in this same victory that we see Christ win over satan in the Gospel today.
Therefore, may we take on the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and alms giving with great joy and determination, trusting that God’s grace will be sufficient in all our times of trial.

26 February 2012

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

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