Liturgically the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord marks the end of the Christmas Season. In our prayer, we have contemplated so many scenes from the life of the Holy, Family. We have gazed upon, and entered into: the birth of Jesus, his loving Mother, Mary, his presentation in the Temple, the visits of the shepherds and the three kings, the flight to Egypt, the return to Nazareth and his youthful years, his three days in the Temple with the Jewish scholars, his working at the side of St. Joseph, and many others. Now, liturgically, it is time to move on and to consider his public life.
In the Gospel, we see that Jesus had, more or less, three years of public presence and proclaiming the Good News. He accomplished so much in this time period that, as St. John relates: “were every one of them (his actions) to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25)
The Gospel has several layers of meaning, and so it would be helpful to categorize some of them as we follow Our Lord’s public life. His baptism by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Mk 1:7-11), resulted in the opening of the heavens, the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and God the Father’s calling Him “his beloved Son”. This was the first explicit manifestation of the Blessed Trinity. God the Father presented and praised his Son who was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Why did the Blessed Trinity choose this event to manifest the three divine Persons in the one divine Nature? Jesus obviously did not need to be baptized. But God wanted to “institute” the Sacrament of Baptism for us. It would be the first sacrament that we would receive, and through it, we would become Christians. So the last liturgical celebration of the Christmas Season proclaims the very moment that the Trinity reveals itself, and also proclaims the institution of the very sacrament that make us into children of God. In Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, we receive a participation of the very life of the Trinity.
We believe that the three-fold pouring of the blessed water and the saying of the proper words by a legitimate minister who has an intention to perform what the Catholic Church intends, brings about a “new birth” in the candidate for Baptism. The person is “reborn” in Christ as part of his Mystical Body, and becomes a daughter or son of God the Father. In order for this to happen, original sin must first be taken away from the candidate. Then through Baptism, God will enter into the baptized person and make his home there.
But for God to live in a person, it is not enough solely to take away original sin. The person needs to receive something that gives him a capability to have an intimate relationship with God. Without this gift man has no chance to have an intimate, personal relationship with the Blessed Trinity. God creates the reality of sanctifying grace which works inside of the person’s soul to make him capable of having God as Father, God as Brother, and God as his Spirit. This interior “shaping and moulding” of the soul, which sanctifying grace brings about, constitutes a new creation of the person. St. John says that the person is “born of God.” (Jn. 1:12-13)
Sanctifying grace makes the person capable of having these three personal relationships, and of having them more fully throughout one’s life on earth. Once this grace is present in the person, God who is pure act immediately fills the space or degree of the relationship that the grace provides for the person. The “blood” that the soul has is the sanctifying grace that is present in him. It makes the person capable of living in Jesus Christ. It is part of the divine likeness and divine life that circulates in the person’s “veins”. It is the supernatural reality that God gives us so that we can participate in the life of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and actually become instruments for Jesus to continue to live his life in us and through us.
There is of course another type of grace that is available to everyone, baptized or not, and it is God’s help to do “good” things. This is called actual grace and God gives it abundantly to all humans. In a baptized person, however, this actual grace leads the person not only to doing good actions, but to do them precisely as a daughter or son of God the Father. So it helps us to imitate Christ in our daily actions, in our daily life.
As if this weren’t enough, sanctifying grace accompanied by actual grace flows in a soul who lives in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. If this person is in the state of grace-which means that one does not have any unconfessed mortal sin-then the child of God has the capability to “co-redeem” with Christ. By offering his actions to God the Father as his son or daughter living in Christ, the person can participate in Christ’s redemption of souls. (This is actually done through the Holy Mass with its relation to Our Lord’s death on Calvary, but I will attempt to explain it in another Weekly Note.)
What I want to do here is to give you a better understanding of sanctifying grace and how it works in us. Without sanctifying grace, a person can do good works, give glory to God and, in various ways, help others. But sanctifying grace forms a real relationship with God as his children in Christ, and, through this relationship, God can work in and through the person. Moreover, the person’s freedom is not limited by this grace, but it is actually increased. The sanctifying and actual grace moves the person, God’s child, to make a free decision to allow God to work through him in his daily actions.
The Sacraments are fountains of sanctifying grace. It all begins with Baptism, but after receiving Baptism, one can understand better the value and the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Mass (the Eucharist) and the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). Understanding the reality of sanctifying grace can lead one to desire, and strive, to go to daily Mass and to weekly Confession. (I realize that I need sanctifying grace so much and I want to deepen my intimacy with the three persons of the Blessed Trinity.) If we are in the state of grace the increase in sanctifying grace means-at least potentially, and often actually-a deepening of our intimate union with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It also means that our everyday lives can have an amazing, supernatural relationship to the life of Christ, carrying out the Redemption with Him.
Additionally-and I tried to present this in the homily of Last Sunday’s Mass-by understanding better the relationship of sanctifying grace and actual grace in the life of a baptized person in the state of grace, we can see how, in and through Christ, we either help to carry the weight of others’ souls, or we require our baptized brothers and sisters themselves, to help to carry our own soul’s weight. This is true because all baptized persons are members of Christ’s Mystical Body and Christ in and through his Body must carry the weight of all his members: those who are in the state of grace and those who have fallen away from the state of grace but are still members of his Body.
It becomes a lot easier to understand why we should strive to accompany Jesus and to live his life in every moment with Our Lord’s love for, and his sense of responsibility for, our brothers and sisters who are living with us in his Mystical Body. There is no room for distraction or dissipation.
So with all of our heart we can cry out to God: “Through your gifts of sanctifying and actual grace, I want to participate actively in your carrying of my weight along with the weight of my brothers and sisters. I want to please You, God my Father, by living in Jesus, and by being a faithful instrument that Jesus can use to complete and to fulfill his Mystical Body.”
– Father John