by Fr. Tommy Lane
Last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus and we reflected on everything we do in the Church because of Jesus. The sacraments come from Jesus. We are baptized because Jesus was baptized and commanded that all be baptized. The Gospel today allows us to continue to reflect on the Sacrament of Baptism. In the Gospel today John said he came baptizing with water (1:31) but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). So there is a huge difference between the baptism offered by John and the baptism offered by Jesus. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance, turning from sin back to God again. But John’s baptism did not bring about a change in the person by itself, although it was a sign of the person’s desire to leave sin. On the other hand the baptism of Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized we are profoundly changed. The change is so great that the quality of our soul is transformed. Baptism is not just something external, not just a certificate we receive on paper, but we are profoundly changed in our soul. That is why baptism is received only once because it leaves a mark forever on our soul. We often call that mark a seal. (Theologians call this an ontological change.) Baptism puts a seal on our souls. This is why baptism is the first sacrament we receive. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are the three sacraments that seal our souls forever, changing them forever, which is why we receive them only once.
The reason why the quality of our soul is changed at baptism is because Jesus’ baptism is baptism with the Holy Spirit while John’s baptism was only water baptism and did not give the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was baptized he received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove coming down and resting on him (John 1:32). This also shows the profound difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. The presence of God in the temple in the Old Testament was called the Shekinah or Glory of God which was really the Holy Spirit, visible in the form of a cloud. A Jewish tradition says that before the temple was destroyed in 587 BC the Shekinah or Glory of God was seen departing the temple in the form of a dove. Although the temple was later rebuilt the Shekinah or Glory of God did not return to the temple. The next time we see a dove is at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus. Jesus is the replacement of the temple of the New Covenant. Therefore when Jesus cleansed the temple driving out the money changers he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Now Jesus is the temple, and the Holy Spirit - seen in the form of a dove departing the temple before its destruction - descends on Jesus and when we are baptized the Holy Spirit descends on us sealing us forever.
To show the change that takes place in us when we are baptized there are signs immediately after our baptism; we are anointed with the oil of chrism, we are clothed with the white garment, the parents receive a lighted candle, and the child’s ears and mouth are blessed. They remind us that all through life we are different and sealed by God as his own. This is evident again when we die because the symbols of our baptism are used again when we die. Water was poured over our heads three times when we were baptized and as our casket enters the church it is sprinkled with Holy Water, and sprinkled with Holy Water again at the end of Mass. When we were baptized we were clothed in a white garment and as the casket enters the church the pall is placed on top. Even if the national flag was on the casket on the way to the church it is removed when entering the church and replaced with the pall to show that what happened when we were baptized took precedence over everything, making us a child of God. When the white garment was placed on us during baptism it was accompanied by this prayer, “See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. Bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” Therefore as the casket enters the church the pall is placed on top. When we were baptized a baptismal candle was lit from the Paschal Candle and handed to the parents and when our casket is in the church the Paschal Candle stands beside it. All these signs after our baptism show that we are sealed forever and so when we die these same signs are used again as our casket is in the church.
John said in today’s Gospel, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) As well as sealing our souls forever, baptism forgives original sin, and in an adult being baptized also forgives all previous sin as well as the temporal punishment due to sin. When our sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation there is still temporal punishment due for those sins. What is temporal punishment? Perhaps this might explain it; if someone commits a serious crime, even if forgiven, he must still spend time in prison. Temporal punishment of sin is the spiritual equivalent of time in jail, we could say it is the spiritual consequences of our sins. It is a spiritual medicine for our good, the “remains” of sin, but through a life of repentance and conversion may be avoided. Otherwise Purgatory is our way of cleansing ourselves of the “remains” or consequences of our sins. Baptism forgives original sin, and in an adult being baptized also forgives all previous sin as well as the temporal punishment due to sin. An indulgence is when we gain for a soul in purgatory the remission of temporal punishment and there are many ways we can gain indulgences for the souls in purgatory. If we have the right dispositions, the devotions of Divine Mercy Sunday remove all temporal punishment due for sin in our lives up to that point. That is why I try to do the Divine Mercy devotions every year on the Second Sunday of Easter just in case it is my last year.
The baptism of John did not give the Holy Spirit. The baptism of Jesus is for the New Covenant and effects a change in our soul forever. God’s presence left the temple in the form of a dove and descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit when we are sealed forever in the Sacrament of Baptism. When we are baptized we are profoundly changed. The change is so great that the quality of our soul is transformed. Baptism is not just something external, we are profoundly changed in our soul. That is why baptism is received only once because it leaves a mark forever on our soul. We often call that mark a seal. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are the three sacraments that seal our souls forever, changing them forever, which is why we receive them only once.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2011
More homilies for the Second Sunday Year A
Behold the Lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world 2008
Related Homilies: Baptism of Our Lord (First Sunday)
On Jesus taking away the sins of the world see homilies on the Sacrament of Reconciliation