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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Acts 8:14-17: Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:6: And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.

Hebrews 6:2: . . . with instructions about ablutions [baptisms], the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Extracting of the final anointing of baptism took along with it the confirmation rite. Two sacraments, which stood together, became separated in the West so that the bishop might “confirm” the sacrament of baptism when he became available. The sacrament of confirmation includes the laying on of hands, a gesture that functions as an invocation of the Holy Spirit. Such a ritual is decisively presented in the Scriptures. As a further sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence, the laying on of hands was often associated with incredible supernatural effects. This is the same sacrament offered by the successors to the apostles, the bishops, today.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.


Acts 16:33: And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family.

1 Corinthians 1:16: I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.

Acts 16:15: And when she was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Sometimes whole families were baptized, no doubt even including children. Such is the record of the Scriptures and the early Catholic traditions.

Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Those who had reached the age of reason, like adults, had to profess faith in Christ and his Church as a prerequisite for baptism. As for infants, the faith of their parents and the believing community would suffice until that day that they would claim the faith fully as their inheritance. Baptism for children is very important so that the soul might be cleansed of original sin and supplanted with supernatural grace.

John 3:5: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Baptism is the sacrament of salvation, making possible our entry into the kingdom of God.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Mission of the Church Took Precedence over the Scriptures

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

This selection from Matthew reveals that Jesus, to whom all authority properly belonged, extended or gave something of his power to his Apostles so that they might teach the truth and baptize in the name of the Trinity. He also tells them that they will not be orphaned; that he will always be with them. Christ will literally continue his saving work through them. Christ will be made present in the proclamation of the Word of God and in the Sacraments. Baptism is the first and the doorway to the sacramental life. Note regarding the apostolic age, that except for the Hebrew Scriptures, there is as yet, no New Testament. The Gospel is entrusted to the Church and only later will this oral tradition be put to writing. Letters will be collected and the Church will determine which books constitute the inspired canon. Except for a few deletions, the Protestant Church only has its bible thanks to the stewardship and faith of the Catholic Church.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

The Spirit and the Church’s Mission

The annual commemoration of Pentecost is to the Church what Christmas is to Jesus, the celebration of a birthday. Our Lord had compared the Church to a grain of mustard-seed, among the smallest of seeds. But, it grows into a great tree in which the birds of the air build their nests. Imbued with the hidden and fertile presence of God, what seems dead, little more than bothersome dust, blossoms into the mystical vine and branches of God’s holy people. Christ is the vine– we are the branches. What God initiates by the power of his Spirit, he joins to himself in permanent and life-giving intimacy. Watered by the blood of the martyrs, the Spirit of God continues to minister to the Church, preserving us in the truth of the Gospel and giving efficacy to the sacraments.

Christ sets down the foundations for his Church during his preaching and in his drawing to himself a number of apostles and disciples. On Pentecost, some three thousand people were baptized, and later, two thousand more. Such was the power of the Spirit to instill faith. Christ chose twelve apostles to preside over the rest and one to be the head of all. The descent of the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to preach the Gospel throughout the world, in accordance with Christ’s command, and gave legitimacy to the many Christian communities they established.

Acts 2:1-11 tells us that the believers in Christ had an experience of the power of the Spirit. It seemed to overwhelm them. They spoke ecstatically in a multitude of languages. This gift of tongues was very much coveted. Scholars dispute whether or not these languages were always intelligible. However, it may be that Luke, in stressing that each person heard his own tongue, was trying to emphasize that the Holy Spirit and the Good News were offered to all, regardless of race or place of origin.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13 offers the early battle cry of the Church; “Jesus is Lord.” In the life of the follower, to call Jesus “Lord,” meant to give Christ one’s complete loyalty in life and to worship him from the innermost depths of the heart. This sacred phrase of faith with its intense meaning could not possibly be said with sincerity without God’s grace. This gift of faith is the most fundamental. Apart from the gift of saving faith, the lesser gifts would be meaningless. Having said this, we are all given different gifts. Paul stresses that we are to use what we have for the sake of the whole, the Body of Christ. All that we have– all that we are– is not simply for our own sake or pleasure, but for all in the service of God. Selflessness rather than selfishness is the proper way or disposition for glorifying God. When we think of gifts, they need not be spectacular, like prophecy and faith healing. A person might be a good carpenter, an electrician, a painter, a secretary, or whatever. All these talents and more are also gifts from God that we need to perfect and use wisely.

John 20:19-23 intimates that the apostles continued to meet in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper. However, can you imagine the fearfulness that has now replaced the intimacy and peace they knew there with Jesus? The authorities have killed Christ. Maybe they are next? They lock the doors. What do they do now? Suddenly, as out of air, Jesus appears to them and restores to them his peace. Jesus comes to commission the Church. He has defeated death. There is nothing of which to be afraid. God is on our side. Jesus, himself, is the message of hope– he is the living embodiment of the Gospel. After the bitterness of men had done all it could to him, convicting him as a criminal and a liar; after they had tortured and executed him as the least of men– the verdict of men is overturned by the almighty Father. The Father’s love for his Son and the Son’s love for the Father proved stronger than death. This LOVE, that is itself God the Holy Spirit is now shared with us that we might also participate in eternal life.

Jesus breathed on his disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. The calling of the Spirit is linked to the power of creation when God formed men and women from the dust of the ground and breathed life into them. The Holy Spirit awakens the world from the slumber of death back to life. Sometimes we experience something similar to it when we are released from the death-grasp of sin back into a life of divine grace– through prayer, the liturgy, and especially the sacrament of reconciliation. Seen in light of the keys of the kingdom given to Peter, the Church is given something of Christ’s authority and power. This mandate from Christ is not simply for the Church’s glory, but to give God glory in saving souls and forgiving sins.

God conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the same Spirit conceives the Church. The Spirit in the Church offers us truth and consolation. Do we take ample advantage of the gifts of the Spirit? Do we embrace as our own the teachings of the Magisterium, trusting that God’s Spirit preserves the Church in the truth? Do we listen attentively to the inner voice of Christ in prayer and Scripture study? Do we discern the powerful action and presence of the Spirit in Catholic worship? Do we find confidence in God, believing that his Spirit will guide and watch over us? We are sorely tempted to trust in our own meager powers, despite the anxiety and fear. We should surrender everything to the Lord who loves us so much that he has counted the hairs on our heads and would keep us in the palm of his hand.

As Christians, we claim that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Faith is one of the prime gifts of the Spirit. By its very nature as our treasure, saving faith is a gift that we are compelled to share with others. A faith unshared withers and dies. If something great has happened in your life– someone has proposed marriage, or you have won a car, or a new baby is born– you want to shout it out from the rooftops; such is your happiness and joy. Similarly, if our faith is our most precious and undeserved gift, ought we not to share this wonder with others? Indeed, we should share it with conviction and enthusiasm. Although faith is a gift of the Spirit, we are instruments of Jesus in the world. In our talk and service we should not be timid about extending God’s offer of love to others.

You might think that you are unworthy or incapable of really fervently sharing God’s Good News. This may to some extent be accurate. The Holy Spirit works in us as rational men and women, not as things that can simply be impressed upon. We need to make as many avenues for the prompting of the Spirit as possible in study and prayer. Otherwise, we will have a hard time sharing what we do not fully possess. Worse yet, we might loose our grasp of the truth or be seduced by the arguments of others. God wants us to be the best of tools in his service of evangelization. Keep in mind, however, that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. Only God can change a wicked man into a saintly man. By our care for the poor, the sick, our families, and our neighbors– we preach the mission commissioned by Jesus. This mission is a constitutive element of the Church’s identity. It still goes on.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are sent on mission at the end of Sunday worship each week: “The Mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We must take our role as missionary seriously. Where is our passion for the Gospel? Why are we not on fire telling people about it?

Certainly, we all relate to our brothers and sisters in different ways. But what does it matter? Everyone has something to contribute. Because of in-depth knowledge of our teachings and the Scriptures, some may be called to add apologetics to the work of winning converts. Others might find themselves in jeopardy if they walked that route, but be exceptional in helping people with their hurts and in touching others through personal charity. Some may relate well with young people who often look for answers in the wrong places. Still others may be able to reveal in ecumenical prayer and service the fraternity of Catholics with other believers in the Lord. We need to bring the Gospel to our homes, to our neighbors, and to our workplaces.

However, if we are going to share our faith, we had best make sure that we are Christians and good Catholics first. We need to nurture a determination to stick with the Church no matter what disappointments may come our way. Some do not do this and the results can be tragic for all. I recall a woman who studied at a Catholic college for four years and was certified to do parochial work. When the new pastor was assigned, he failed to keep a position for her. Along with this disappointment, the Pope reaffirmed that women could never be priests. Well, that was the last straw for her and she left the Church. What is sadder is that she took a few others with her. There are only so many clergy and most of the outreach into the community must be done by the laity. We have to be flexible enough to bounce with the bumps in the road. Doors close and other doors open. We have to be receptive to God’s will, even when we do not entirely understand it. The work is not so much ours, as it is the Lord’s. Some are given the gift of Holy Orders, but there are other gifts, particularly given to the laity, that facilitate the expansion of the Church and the proclamation of the Good News. Married couples are missionaries to their children. Many non-Catholic spouses embrace the faith of their Catholic partner. Single people have the gift of time and availability to help in youth groups, bible study programs, prayer circles, charity endeavors, etc. With the loss of sisters and religious brothers, the laity teach in Catholic schools, CCD and RCIA programs, etc. There are even parishioners that go door-to-door with the invitation to explore the faith and their parishes.

Spreading the faith requires that we grow in the faith, ourselves. We should search in ourselves and with others for a stronger faith and then share it, loving and caring for those with whom we come into contact– keeping in mind that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. God changes a wicked person into a saintly one. Our care for the poor, the sick, our families, our neighbors, by our pursuit of social justice, for peace, etc., in all these things we witness for the Gospel.

Souls are not simply converted by highly educated or witty missionaries; rather, they are brought to the Lord through the work of Christ in holy men and women inspired and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Look at Peter, he was an ignorant fisherman! Neither Mary nor Joseph was ordained a priest; and yet, who could estimate the enormous spiritual benefits that both of them have exerted for our well being? The Holy Spirit is the Divine Counselor, who like Father and Son, makes use of frail instruments to achieve his purposes.

While the kingdom of Christ will be realized in God’s good time, the laity and clergy work together for this eventuality. Having spoken about our universal call as missionaries, I would like to say a few words about priestly ministry. Have you ever wondered what it must be like as a priest? He knows the dark secrets of people’s lives and weeps over their sins and the sheep that go astray. He sees more than his share of sickness and dying, particularly those with a regular hospital ministry. Yes, he knows the joy of witnessing marriages; but he also feels the arrogance of those who violate the commandments in dating promiscuity and cohabitation. He sometimes wonders if the young even listen to him. The happiest times are when he baptizes a child; and yet, he can never forget the babies he could not save from abortion. When things go right, God gets the praise and when they go wrong, the priest gets the blame.

People angry with the Church see him as an icon for the institution and assault him for things he had no part in, possibly going back to before he was born. This often happens when priests wearing clerics are recognized in public. When I was a young associate, I recall one fellow on the subway who sat next to me and without any introduction, shouted, “I left the Church thirty years ago, and let me tell you why!” In such situations, the priest wants to get away or argue in return, but he just sits back and listens. “A priest yelled at me in the confessional,” the man says, although he cannot recall what it was about. Such a little thing, and for all we know the poor priest probably had his own demons plaguing him at the time or was maybe just not feeling well. In any case, it was enough to make this man leave the Church. I explained how sorry I was that it happened, and the tone of the conversation changes. I miss my metro stop, but it is okay. His wife recently passed away and he had a bad heart. His mind often went back to his childhood days. Eventually, he asks, “Father, how do I come back to the Church?” What happened? I could not recall saying anything particularly moving. It must have been God’s grace. I take out my purple stole. His eyes open wide. We move to a vacant section of the train, he falls to his knees, and says, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” When I leave the train a prodigal son is back home. I catch a subway car going in the opposite direction, back to my exit which I missed. When I enter the rectory, I am chastised for my tardiness. I say nothing.

As a sign of contradiction in our culture, the priesthood can be difficult. However, there is also a deep consolation in being an instrument of God’s mercy in a sometimes cold world. The same difficulty should be a daily element in the lives of all Christian believers. Evangelization is not just the business of professional religious people. It is an indispensable part of our baptismal call. We can work together to make the Church a more heart-warming place for all those wounded and searching.

When it comes to Christology, the theological study of Jesus, there are some theologians who seem heavily orientated toward Christmas (the incarnation) and others who branch out from Easter (the resurrection). These are the poles of Christ’s earthly life and both have essential importance. If we are to share Jesus, we must know him.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Bringing in the Harvest

While the Scriptures are composed over an extended expanse of time, I am often quite awestruck over how the theme of salvation is interweaved through so many settings and types of literature. They speak of creation, growth, and re-creation. In Isaiah 55:10-11, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of rain making the earth fertile to illustrate how his words are also to bear fruit in the faithfulness of the chosen people. Psalm 65:10,11,12-13.14 paints the picture of a teeming agricultural paradise where God’s blessing causes the seed which falls on good ground to produce a rich harvest. Romans 8:18-23 offers the testimony of Paul who views all of creation groaning and in agony as it experiences its growth pains from the old to the new order. And Matthew 13:1-23, has Jesus using the tensive language of parable to speak about the seed of faith.

Throughout most ages there has been a preoccupation with the seed. It has only been since the days of the Industrial Revolution and the modern distribution of labor, that many of us have lost sight of some of the natural necessities like seed and its symbolic significance. We buy bread at the store; we don’t have to grow wheat. We purchase most if not all of our vegetables from others; I wonder how much thought have we ever given to its planting and harvesting? It can become easy for us to forget the importance of the seed. Without it, plants would cease to be. Without it, the life-cycle would be so disrupted that even animal life on this planet would eventual exhaust itself. And yet, in the depths of who we are, we all began as no more than a seed, a tiny little treasure-house, bursting with life.

In the days long gone, there was a reverence for the seed which approached worship and awe. To the superstitious, it was a magical thing; to the religious, it was among the most miraculous of God’s gifts. The people of Jesus’ time lived close to the earth; they had to in order to survive. The seed and water and good soil meant the difference between life and death. The prophets, including Jesus, were well aware of this. The Gospel celebrates this understanding. The Scriptures return to this theme again and again, like in the story of the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, becoming a great bush or tree. We need to recover something of their sense for the natural if we are really going to appreciate such teachings. Just imagine, locked away in the most meager seed, hidden behind its shell, is a life organized in such a way that a fully mature plant can come from it. The colossal redwood forests, some of which go back before the incarnation of Christ into our world; they all began as seeds. The grass in our lawns, all began as seeds. Much of the food we eat, began as seeds. Could you create a tree or even a blade of grass from scratch? No. None of us could. And yet, this insignificant thing, maybe the size of a piece of dust, can be filled with information and life to do all these things; indeed, in doing so, it makes possible a whole new generation of seeds. I recall in school, some years past, that we got into a fairly academic and maybe nonsensical argument related to this very point. The question was, did the plant live for the seed, or the seed for the plant? We never really answered it. Only eggheads could get into a debate like that. A good farmer would simply take that seed, plant it, and take pride in being a steward in God’s creation. He would harvest it for the many who would otherwise be hungry.

In Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus tells us a story about the mysterious seed, something to which all his listeners could relate, so that they might catch a glimmer of what the gift of faith means. It is an awkward tale he tells. A farmer went sowing. He was definitely clumsy. He dropped some seed on the footpath and birds ate it up. He dropped some of it on rocky ground and it immediately sprouted with anemic roots and shriveled away. Again, he was a poor farmer. However, there is an interesting detail here we might miss. Jesus says the seed grew at once. A farming friend of mind told me a few years ago that Jesus would have gotten a few chuckles in his parts, because saying that seed immediately sprouts is a tall tale. And it is true, Jesus is stretching his image here to fit what he wants to say about faith. The farmer goes on to drop seed among thorns where it was choked to death. Either this was one accident-prone farmer or he was very dumb. But finally, maybe despite himself, some seed is dropped upon good ground. But, what luck this stupid farmer had! What a tall-tale my farmer friend from Iowa would yell — this grain yielded a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold! You can almost hear Jesus’ audience respond with a shuddered hush.

Jesus later goes on to explain his parable to his disciples. The seed eaten by birds on the path represents the man who hears the Good News, but he fails to really understand what Christ and his kingdom is about. He is easily misled, and the evil one may steal what little he has. Sometimes we may find these kind of people in our own midst, who say they believe, but who all too readily follow the fads of the day, even to the point of forsaking the message of Jesus and his Church. The seed that shriveled on rock was like a man filled with the satisfaction which comes with conversion, but when the excitement has passed, he quickly falls away. His roots only reached to the pleasures and gratification which come with faith; his roots did not pierce to a love of God, simply for being God. This is important, because we can confuse God for the gifts he gives us. When those gifts and satisfactions, even from prayer, are not what we want them to be, we might fall away. Remaining steadfast, we should find them as occasions for further growth in holiness. Sometimes you must pass through “the dark night of the soul” so that you can reach the bright new day offered by the kingdom. I guess what I mean to say is that the seed lost on rocky ground represented the person more in love with himself than God. It is no wonder that added to this, any kind of persecution or bigotry, whether it is explicit or hidden may cause these rootless seeds to fall by the wayside all the sooner. The seed among thorns is choked, just as fears and greed may choke the life of God in us. Who is our God? Is it Wealth? Is it Power? Is it Prestige? And most terribly, is it Fear? That must be the most terrible of all the contenders against God! Fear — anxiety — it can choke God’s grace in us; we need to make Christ the Master of our lives — not Fear — never Fear. As hard as it might be, we need to trust him no matter what. If not, then we will never totally become the disciples we were called to be.

Like the seed in good soil, we need to allow the seed of faith — of God’s grace — to take root and grow in us. In the waters of our baptism it was planted with our dying in Christ; in those same waters it is to rise and bloom. Our faith cannot be stagnant, if so, it drowns. A hundred-fold it has to reach out and embrace others. In the way we live our lives and in what we say, we witness and throw off further seed to be planted and to grow.

I would like to ask two questions. First, ask yourself, what have you done to help allow God to grant you an ever greater share of faith and holiness? Make a list. Second, ask yourself, how many people during your lifetime have you helped to receive the gift of faith and to become a Catholic Christian? How many? Make a list. And if you should be a little disappointed, then start anew in allowing God’s love and life to touch you and through you, others. Please do this. The harvest is ready; workers are needed to bring it in.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Demonstration of Faith

The mission to bring the Good News of God transcended the rules of a society which were often unjust. At the Council of Jerusalem, Peter sided with Paul in that circumcision would not be required of Gentile men who converted. This legislation also had much to offer women. In the order of grace they would be equal to men in dignity. Baptism would be the great rite of initiation for all. Jesus in his own ministry did not hesitate to speak and deal with women, even when there were taboos against doing so. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He allowed himself to be anointed by the sinner woman. Although he had nothing, there were holy women who followed and supported him from their purses. He spoke with Martha and Mary as friends, dealing with them on the level of true disciples.

In Acts 16:11-15, Paul is seeking a place to pray. At the bank of a river they find several women and speak to them. However, listen to what the Scriptures have to say about one of them: “One who listened was a woman named Lydia, . . . She already reverenced God, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying.” The message of Christ was offered to many, but unlike Lydia, they heard without listening. Like Paul himself some time earlier, her heart already belonged to God; now, she would know personally the one to whom her heart belonged. Notice also that her whole household was converted. From Paul’s lips to those of Lydia, we find the proclamation of disciples. To demonstrate the reality of her newfound faith she invited Paul and his company to stay at her house.

The Lord offers his message to us as well. We cannot simply allow the words to passively pass through our ears. We need to hold the Good News in our hearts and wonder at its meaning for us. And, if the Word of God is alive in us, then like Paul and Lydia, we can offer it to others whom we meet.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Reform and Believe

“The Reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!” (Mk 1:14-15). The cry for men and women to reform their lives had long been one echoed in the history of God dealing with his people. With the coming of Christ, we for the first time can fully respond to this admonition.

In the days of Noah the people were also called to faithfulness and yet they remained in their debauchery. I recall a reproduction of a painting my parents used to have of the deluge. A young beautiful woman with long hair clung to a jagged rock while surrounded by heavy winds and thrashing tides. I recall staring at the picture and feeling deeply sorry for her. She was so beautiful. How could God be so cruel? As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, still sometimes the actions of God in the Old Testament seem like such over-reactions to me. I suppose what we forget is that the more primitive the people, the less sophisticated had to be the ways to keep them in line and to guide them. The story of the flood is not one simply about destruction and disobedience; in Noah and his companions we see an image of God’s steadfast fidelity and love for mankind, despite our disobedience. God sets up a covenant with Noah and promises never to flood the world again; he even sets the rainbow in the sky as a sign of his promise. The words of Genesis convey here the deep love of God. Because of our sins, we deserved death. However, not only are a remnant rescued but later God would send us his Messiah to save us from our sins and eternal death.

I would probably be negligent if I failed to say a few words about the kind of literature which this text in Genesis represents (see Genesis 9:8-15). It is linked with the story of creation, even though there was no scribe or news reporter taking notes in the first days of humanity. It is a later reflection. When the Jewish people were in Babylonian exile surrounded by a people who followed false gods, the story of the flood reaffirmed to them how much God loved them; and that no matter how desperate their situation became, God would not abandon them.

The story of creation and the flood also made up a kind of satire against the Babylonian gods. Much of the linguistic allusion is lost in English. The particular story which parallels ours is called the Gilgamish epic. In it, the hero is not Noah but Ut-napishtim. When the gods, notice the horrendous plural, decree the deluge, the pagan god Ea reveals their designs to Ut-napishtim by speaking secretly through a reed wall. You see, Ea did not want to let the other gods, who wanted to get rid of mankind, know what was coming. He is urged to build a cubical boat of ten cubits. This is not like the rectangular boat of Genesis, just a box. He is warned to take ample provisions, as well as a sampling of the beasts of the field and the wild creatures. This is like Genesis. However, he is also told to take craftsmen lest their skills be lost. For six days and nights the storm persists. Finally, the ark comes to rest on Mount Nisir. Like Noah, he sends forth a dove, a swallow, and a raven, leaving the boat when the raven fails to come back. Ut-napishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods who cluster around him like flies. Instead of a covenant as we see in our story today, there follows an angry dispute among the gods. Enlil, angry about the remnant which has escaped, inquires as to who leaked the secret of the flood. Ea confesses but questions the prudence of Enlil in sending the storm. Upon the sinner, he says, should be imposed his sin, and on the transgressor, his disobedience. Instead of a universal disaster, Enlil, he complains, should have simply sent a wolf or a lion or a famine or a pestilence which would not have wiped out the entire race. Because Ut-napishtim and his wife escaped destruction, they must now be given immortality and transplanted so that they would not mingle with mortals. This and similar stories question the wisdom and goodness of the providence of the gods. The Jewish people believed in one God who was all knowing and all good. The destruction is then not seen as the act of a whimsical god but rather was something which a disobedient people brought upon themselves. God’s response is to save a remnant from further depravity and have them start brand new. You can see from these two stories the resemblance. Fr. John McKenzie, a Scripture scholar (my source), tells us that “The differences between the Mesopotamian and the biblical stories show how the Hebrews took a piece of ancient tradition and retold it in order to make it a vehicle of their own distinctive religious beliefs, in particular their conception of divine justice and providence” (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 189). Although this flood may not have actually wiped clean our planet, it could well be that both stories emerge from some common memory of a disastrous flood of prehistoric times — a recollection which has grown out of all proportions.

Having said this, theologically, the wisdom and faith of righteous man was praised for having followed God who saved humanity from his folly. Noah listened and obeyed God. This is the key. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, the deluge is reckoned an example of God’s patience and is compared to the waters of baptism. Water for us thus becomes a symbol of both life and death. In the history of salvation, it meant death to the peoples around Noah — it meant death to the Egyptians who chased the Jews across the Red Sea — and it even meant death for Jesus who once baptized by John would engage in a ministry which would demand the highest cost. It also meant life — it meant life and a second chance for Noah — it meant life and freedom for those fleeing Egyptian slavery — it meant life in the natural processes of the world where plants and animals perish without water. In baptism, by submerging and dying with Christ in those waters of regeneration, we are promised to rise with him. Like a seed which has flowered, we are born again and made brand new. Our sins are forgiven and we are made members of a new People of God.

Recall your baptismal promises often and allow Christ to live in you. Have Noah’s kind of faith. He trusted God even in the absurd task of building an ark. Living out our Christianity will sometimes seem absurd to others, but do not allow the storm of sin and death to drown you. Christ has given us a fine ship called the Church and if we remain faithful, it will take this Pilgrim People to the Promised Shore.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Questions & Answers About the Baptism of Children

Why do we baptize children?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Neither gender nor age is specified in this passage. Such a fact is important because the suggestion that this passage is a repudiation of infant baptism would be far from the mark. Indeed, given the necessity of baptism, it would point to the latter.

Nevertheless, accepting that the passage is addressed to those who have reached the age of reason, we can explore what it means, “to be born again.” Just as we receive biological life in the womb, so too can we receive supernatural life from the womb of Mother Church— focusing in a practical way upon the water of the baptismal font and the action of the Holy Spirit. We do not deny that adults need to be taught and to accept the faith prior to baptism. Jesus says as much in his commission to spread the Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). However, in reference to children, the faith of parents and the believing community suffices. St. Paul was converted by God’s grace at a time when he did not believe in Christ and persecuted the Church. St. John the Baptizer was sanctified prior to his martyrdom, even though he knew little about the faith of Christ. Precedent for such an early initiation into the People of God can be found in the practice of the Jews, the first people called forth. Almighty God can wash children clean of original sin and give them a share in divine life, just as he presumed faith in the Jewish children circumcised on the eighth day as a step toward justification. Jesus would have none hinder the baptism of children. He said: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). While something of God’s mercy toward children who die while still in their innocence might be implied here, the main point is the inclusivity of God’s kingdom and Church. The gravity of baptism should not be dismissed. Jesus tells us that unless one is born again of water and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Do we actually believe that a little baby is infected by the sin of Adam and Eve and has consequently forfeited supernatural life?

Well, the Scriptures speak for themselves. St. Paul tells us: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). He also states: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (1 Corinthians 6:14-15). As a testimony from the Old Testament, we read in Psalm 50, verse 5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Returning to Paul, he tells the Ephesians: “We were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Original sin afflicts us, even upon the very day of our conception. Baptism restores supernatural life through Jesus Christ. As for what happens to a child who dies prior to baptism, we can take consolation in the fact that God’s justice to every soul is perfect and accompanied by a boundless mercy.

Does the Bible actually teach that all sins are forgiven by baptism and that a new life is given us?

St. Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39). This is prefigured in Ezekiel 36:25 when God states: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols. I will cleanse you.” As for regeneration, we read in Galatians 3, verse 25-27: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” There can be no doubt about it in Titus 3:4-7: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

Is there any evidence of the Apostles baptizing children?

Yes, they baptized whole households. We read in Acts 10:48 that they baptized the household of Cornelius and in Acts 16:15 that of Lydia. Also, do not forget Paul’s reception by Stephana, keeper of the prison. It is most probable that there were children in his home, too.

Were children baptized in the early post-Apostolic period?

Early authorities like Origen, Cyprian, and St. Augustine make clear that the baptism of children as soon as possible constituted a tradition handed down by the apostles themselves. The reasoning was that divine grace should not be withheld from anyone.

Is it wrong to presume faith in a small child or infant?

No, just as children can be made an heir of earthly property, long before they have the faculty of consenting to receive it, so too in baptism, infants can be made heirs of heaven.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.

Questions & Answers About Baptism (in General)

What is the importance of the baptismal ritual?

The various rituals that surround and precede the baptism amplify and signify the whole meaning of the sacrament. The candidate is given a saint’s name so that he will have a special patron before God and a particular model of holiness. He is asked if he desires baptism to insure that such is his own choice and that the conversion is not coerced. There is a brief exorcism rite, especially if the person has been involved in New Age cults or various Eastern religions. Of course, given the perplexing times, it is also possible that a person has actively engaged in witchcraft and Satanic practices. The words of the priest and his very breath in saying them signify the protecting presence of the Holy Spirit against evil and anything diabolic. Any enslavement to Satan is broken. The sign of the cross, made many times in the ritual, and upon the head of the candidate, marks the person as the property of God and as a disciple of the crucified Christ. He is to nurture in his heart and practice in his life the dictates of the Christian calling.

The imposition of hands is a further symbol of divine protection. Retained, at least as an option for children, the priest touches the ears and mouth of the candidate with the words, “Be opened” or Ephpheta! After the example of Jesus with spittle in Mark 7:33, his eyes are given spiritual sight and his mouth and actions are opened to the truth of the Word of God.

The person being baptized proclaims the faith and renounces Satan and all his works. Unless accomplished earlier, as with the exorcism rites, the candidate is anointed with the oil of baptism, also called the oil of catechumens. A child is anointed upon the breast. An adult is anointed upon the palms of the hands. It is still another sign of protection. Just as one might use lotion to protect from the damaging rays of the sun, here the oil is to act like armor against the assault of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

How is baptism performed?

There are several ways that water might be used:  immersion, sprinkling, and pouring. Pouring is still the most common. The priest or deacon pours water over the head of the catechumen while saying: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

What are some of the ceremonies that follow the act of baptism?

There is a second anointing, upon the forehead (upon the crown of the head for children). The oil used is a sacred chrism (slightly perfumed). The initiate is confirmed with this anointing, or if it is delayed, he is anointed priest, prophet, and king. He is the anointed of God, specially chosen to be among his elect. Such is our hope and the reasoning behind the white garment that might be used at this point. The book of Revelation asserts that the elect will be attired in gowns of white. It is a special sign of purity. We pray that they might bring it (figuratively) unstained before the judgment-seat of Christ. A lighted candle is presented to the person, or to a godparent in the case of children, lit from the Paschal or Easter Candle. Christ is the Light of the world and his is the fire that brings warmth to a world ever so cold. We pray that the one baptized into Christ will witness to this light and warmth. This is only made possible if one avoids sin, keeps the commandments, and loves both God and neighbor. If such is accomplished, then he can be confident in coming to the marriage banquet of heaven with all the saints. While the candle represents the newly baptized as a new Christ, the fire is the flame of everlasting life.

Why do we have sponsors or godparents?

They stand by the adult as supports and friends in the journey of faith. They stand by the child as one who professes faith and makes a solemn vow on the child’s behalf. They will support parents in raising the child in the Catholic faith. They will remain a model of Christian discipleship to the adult. We are a family. We do not come to God alone. A spiritual relationship is forged.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.