To Love God with all Your Heart
Gospel Reflection for April 11, 2023
Today’s first reading tells us about the birth of the Church:
On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the Jewish people,
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other Apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them,
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand persons were added that day.
This passage is so familiar to most “cradle Catholics” that it probably doesn’t warrant much thought. Baptism is a sacrament of the Catholic Church and what Catholic would doubt it necessary for salvation given the plain words of or Lord and the teachings of His Church? While many stumble for words when confronted by Evangelical Protestants who firmly assert, “Ye must be born again!”, Catholics who have the Catechism should at least know the rest of Jesus’ commandment, “by water and the spirit.” He said as clearly that the Christian must be Baptized in water and receive the Holy Spirit as plainly as he commanded us to eat his body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist and that divorce is not permissible for a Christian. Later, we find that new Christians were baptized, but did not receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit until the Apostles laid hands on them. This is the sacrament of Confirmation.
Catholics who believe the Bible and the teachings of the Church understand that the sacraments are real, both physical and spiritual, instituted by God and necessary. Unfortunately, as a convert to Catholicism, I can tell you that many Protestants do not. Protestantism is founded upon “sola fide” and “sola scriptura”…. faith alone and the Bible alone. Among the main motivating factors that caused me to explore the writings of the early Church and to eventually convert to Catholicism was attending Protestant universities where I was told that Baptism was unnecessary. “God is not legalistic,” they said. “All that is necessary is faith.” “Believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and you will be saved.” “Once saved, always saved. No sin can separate you from God.”
I was even told that the Rev. Billy Graham advised members of his family not to be Baptized, because it was “empty symbolism.” I honestly hope that is not true. Rev. Graham was, perhaps, America’s most trusted and respected religious leader. If he so blatantly denied the words of Christ and taught error that may have jeopardized the salvation of his own family…. and who knows how many millions of his followers, that would be an extreme tragedy. But, he did always say that all that was necessary for salvation was, “to invite Jesus into your heart and accept Him as Lord and savior.” It was a simple, formulaic prayer with which he would end his broadcasts…. simplistic, yes, but I believe it was heart-felt. I do not doubt his sincere Christian belief. But, he did not have the fullness of the truth. He did not have the teachings handed on by the Apostles of Christ to His Church and preserved, intact, through the generations by the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.
Simply put, Baptism is necessary. Catholics firmly believe the words of Jesus, that one must be Baptized to be a Christian and to be saved. Only if one is of another religion, and/or completely ignorant of baptism would the lack of being baptized not be a sin of omission. Regardless, baptism seals the candidate and joins him to the Body of Christ. Baptism protects one from unwilling demonic possession and opens the soul to the Holy Spirit. Baptism binds the Christian to Christ.
What did Jesus say, specifically say about baptism?
Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.'
Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Jesus replied: In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit;
I do not doubt the faith of any devout Christian. I wish and I pray that all Christians will re-join the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But, my role is not to judge the heart of another. I must ask, however, the same question I must face daily: “If you love God, why will you not do what He asks and even tells you specifically to do?” We all sin, violating the clear Word of God and His commandments. But, why would we avoid so easy a request as Baptism?
I realize that I am writing for a Catholic audience. I have made the assumption that the vast majority of those who read this are Baptized. But, that is a gross assumption - the internet is by no means homogeneous! If you read this article, please remember the words of our Lord beginning that what is necessary for salvation is to “love God with all of your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Belief and love are foundational and essential. Those are the first two steps on a journey that is eternal. Daily, the Christian should grow in love and knowledge of God. The Christian should also grow in holiness. That is not easy for anyone as it is utterly opposed to human nature due to both original sin and our own, personal disordered passions. As Pope Saint John Paul II would always remind us though, in the face of so many trials, “Be not afraid.” Jesus is our God, our Lord, our Master, our High Priest, but also our Brother. He knows better than anyone how fallible and ignorant even the best among us truly is. He gave us simple instructions that anyone could do, regardless of mental or physical capacity. He infused His own incredible grace into these simple acts. These are the Sacraments. He gave His power to the one and only Church He founded and guaranteed to act in His stead to provide these sacraments to all who believe and who love God until He comes again.
What the Bible says about the Sacraments
Our Lord said repeatedly that mere belief in Him was not sufficient. He said that we must keep his commandments… we must do what He said. That means Christians are obligated to take part in the Sacraments.
Matthew 7: 21
'It is not anyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?" Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers! 'Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!'
'Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord" and not do what I say? 'Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them -- I will show you what such a person is like. Such a person is like the man who, when he built a house, dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house but could not shake it, it was so well built. But someone who listens and does nothing is like the man who built a house on soil, with no foundations; as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!'
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully, it is not I who shall judge such a person, since I have come not to judge the world, but to save the world: anyone who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already: the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. For I have not spoken of my own accord; but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and what to speak, and I know that his commands mean eternal life. And therefore what the Father has told me is what I speak.
If you love me you will keep my commandments. Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.' Judas -- not Judas Iscariot -- said to him, 'Lord, what has happened, that you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?' Jesus replied: Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him. Anyone who does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not my own: it is the word of the Father who sent me.
The Apostles continued to teach the same:
Every day, as long as this today lasts, keep encouraging one another so that none of you is hardened by the lure of sin, because we have been granted a share with Christ only if we keep the grasp of our first confidence firm to the end.
James 1: 12, 14-16
Blessed is anyone who perseveres when trials come. Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love him. Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person's own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death. Make no mistake about this, my dear brothers:
I can only offer the same heart-felt exhortation so often repeated by our Protestant brothers and sisters in well-meaning error, “You must be born again!” But understand, this is a command to be baptized. Do it now, if you have not been baptized! If you have been baptized, repeat your baptismal vows in the Renewal of Baptismal Promises:
V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
(This is a family service that is directed by one of the parents. The family members renew their baptismal vows and sprinkle themselves with the Easter water) Source: Catholic.org
Baptism is so simple. What excuse do you have not to do it? You say that faith alone is enough and you do not need to engaged in “empty symbolism”? Jesus acknowledge that to call Him Lord was proof of faith, but recall His other words:
Matthew 7: 21-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’
If Jesus asks you to do it…. DO IT!