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The Necessity of Baptism
The Gospel of John tells a story about Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who wondered what Jesus meant about being begotten from above:
“How can a man be born again once he is old?,’ retorted Nicodemus. . . Jesus replied: ‘I solemly assure you, no one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit.” John 3
Faith and Baptism are the pre-requisites to enter the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus commissioned the Church to:
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation. The one who believes in it and accepts baptism will be saved; the one who refuses to believe in it will be condemned.” Mark 16:16
However, the Church says:
“God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” Catechism, 1257
Regarding the practice of infant Baptism :
“There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole ‘households’ received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.”
Clearly, Jesus, who said, “Let the children come to me,” (Mark 10:13) would not deny children access through the Sacrament of Baptism. As the Church proclaims:
“The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” Catechism 1250
Neither in the Bible nor in the Tradition of the Church, does it say that faith in Christ must come first before baptism in Christ. At the same time, the Church does insist that children must be evangelized and catechized so that they can one day embrace the mission of Jesus on their own.
Many Catholics who were baptized as infants come to see the Lord as their savior and make a conscious effort to renew their baptism and walk with Jesus.
Adult Baptism is also a common practice in the Church. An adult who enjoys a new faith in Jesus and desires to be baptized often matures in faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) before celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism.
Of course, Baptism is conferred only once, and all baptized Christians—Protestant, Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox—are incorporated into Christ. Catechism, 1271
The Grace of Baptism
At the creation of the world, it was God’s plan to be in perfect communion with humanity. The creation of Adam and Eve was the beginning of God’s marvelous plan
“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” Genesis 1
Unfortunately, the sin of Adam and Eve frustrated the goodness of God’s good creation. This sin drove us out of the garden and out of communion with God. Only God could restore that communion.
The Sacrament of Baptism is God’s gracious gift to us to be restored to that perfect communion by the purification of sins and new birth in the Holy Spirit. Through baptism, our dying and rising with Christ, we become a new creation.
The grace of baptism includes the forgiveness of sins—Original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.
“Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death …. and the inclination to sin (concupiscience).” Catechism, 1264
The grace of Baptism also makes us a “new creation,” members of Christ and co-heirs with him, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Paul reminds us in the First Letter to the Corinthians that all who are born again in Christ are members of the Body of Christ:
“It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 12
The grace of Baptism reminds us of our Sacramental bond of unity with all Christians.
In our ecumenical age, we sing the song:
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord . . . And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
The grace of Baptism configures us to Christ. In this way, we say that:
“. . . Baptism seals the Christian with an indelible spiritual mark of his belonging to Christ … Given once, it cannot be repeated.” Catechism, 1272
When Cain killed his brother Abel (sons of Adam), God sealed Cain with a mark of his belonging to God. Still, God banished Cain.
Though we have been sealed for salvation, our free will can lead us to turn from Jesus, which can prevent Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.