Who is St. Paul speaking to with these beautiful words? He is reminding those who have been baptized of the infinite depths of God’s love, and of the gift they have received in baptism (cf. v. 11-14). Before the first moment of creation, the Father intended each and every one of us to be holy as he is holy (cf. Leviticus 11:44, 19:2). The only way for us to be holy is to become actual participants, sharers, partakers, in the very life of he who alone is holy, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). How is this possible after original sin, which put us in a state of opposition to God? It is possible through the magnificent gift of baptism. In baptism the Father begins to lavish his divine life (i.e. grace) upon us.
Many Catholic parents think of baptism as just something you do to get family and friends together soon after the birth of a child. Many Catholics in the pews during a baptism are only thinking of how much longer this is going to make the Mass. If your first thought is how much time a baptism will add to the Mass, reflect on what is actually happening when that water is poured, the priest invokes the name of the Trinity and the infant begins to cry. If we truly understood, we would fall on our knees in worship and praise of the living God.
Every single human person since the fall, except the Immaculate Mary, was born in a state of disgrace, no longer sharing in God’s divine life. Adam and Eve were created in a state of sonhood. However, after the fall, they, and us before baptism, are more like slaves than sons and daughters. How did the Father decide to fix our sin problem? He decided to send us the Son so that we could become sons and daughters in the Son, participants in the very sonhood of the Second Person of the Trinity. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of woman, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).
In baptism we are brought back to a state of true sonhood. When the water is poured and the priest says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the Trinity comes to dwell in that person. Trinitarian life is infused into the body and soul of the baptized person, and there is a change is the core of who that person is. “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty’” (2 Corinthians 16b-18).
On the natural level, the one thing the parent of an adopted child cannot give that child is his own biological life. On the supernatural level, in baptism, God can and does give us his divine life. This is not mere metaphor; this is a metaphysical reality. The person after baptism is not still in a state of total depravity as John Calvin would say. Nor is man after baptism “a dung hill covered in snow,” as Martin Luther would say. Grace is not a mere covering, like snow, to shield God’s eyes from our wretchedness. The grace given to us in baptism is God’s life infused into the center of our being and existence. It builds on, sanctifies and elevates human nature to the status of divine adoption. What Christ is by nature we are now my grace. We can now call the Father, “Abba.” God is no longer for us just the almighty, transcendent, omnipotent and perhaps seemingly impersonal, “God.” He is Papa, Daddy!
In baptism, original sin, and all personal sin committed to that point, is washed away in the flood of baptism. “…In the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…” (1 Peter 3:20-21). Baptism is thus necessary for salvation. (cf. John 3:5)
As the waters of the flood and the Red Sea brought forth death and life, so too does baptism. There is a true death and resurrection. The person dies to the old self and is raised to newness of life. “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Let us pray that when a baptism takes place we call to mind what is actually happening. It should cause us to be awe struck and rejoice at such a great gift. I pray that each one of you may “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1, 4-6).