49 years ago today, I was baptized at the Bethesda Naval Hospital Chapel, at one month old. My parents had given me the gift of natural life, and now they presented me for the gift of eternal life. In this second birth, I was born of water and the Spirit, and my baptismal candle, representing the Light of Christ, was lit for the first time. It was then carefully, lovingly wrapped and packed away.
|I wish you could see this in person! |
Beautiful three-dimentional images,
stunning detail, yellowed with age.
In the waters of Baptism, I died and rose with Christ. Original Sin was washed away, and my soul was infused with sanctifying grace, the very life of God Himself, without which I could not live in the presence of God, i.e., in Heaven. This baptism was no "symbolic reenactment", no simple "remembrance" of a Bible scene -- I had become, in fact, a new creation in Christ. My soul was literally cleansed and made holy, and I had become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ.
Though I was given the gift of supernatural life in abundance, I naturally retained concupiscence, which is the tendency to be drawn to sin. Concupiscence is the one effect of Adam's sin that remains with all of us, even the baptized. So, when life was lived, often in willful ignorance and self-love, and despite prompts and nudges from both the Lord and my Blessed Mother, I went my own way. I squandered the baptismal grace with which the Lord had so lavishly flooded my soul.
Baptism -- which leaves a mark or "character" on a soul for all eternity, even an eternity in hell -- can not be repeated (there is only "one baptism" as St. Paul and the ancient Creed say). And yet, I needed God's sanctifying grace to enter Heaven someday, as no mere human can survive in God's presence without it. How could I get it back?
Christ never leaves us orphans. He knew that if we sinned gravely, severing our friendship with Him, we would need access to His grace again. When we fall from grace by committing mortal sin, we come back through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). This is the cycle of redemption: Baptism, which is the ordinary means of salvation, then Confession when we choose evil and need restoration.
So at 27 years old, when I finally learned and claimed my faith, I drove to my hometown two hours away and entered a Tucson confessional after at least 15 years away. I emerged reconciled, restored, and grace-filled, and I floated out into the sun-drenched parking lot with a spirit lighter than air!
Though I had wounded the Body of Christ through sin, my repentance, confession, penance, and prayers served to lift up and restore that Body. The grace of my baptism was replenished, and the Light of Christ burned bright in me again.
Many people light their baptismal candles every year on the anniversary of their birth in Christ. That has never been our family's tradition, but today I remembered the date, and with infinite gratitude to God and my parents, I sought out my candle.
And today, after 49 years, I lit that candle for the second time.
My soul is full of joy!
Mortal and Venial Sins
The Fall of Adam and Eve