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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baptism, God's Grace, A New Start

Baptism and Grace

Ti 2:11-14, 3:4-7
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

Did anyone here make a New Year's resolution? Has anyone broken it yet? When we make resolutions, we are acknowledging that there is something in our lives that we feel needs to change, and are also stating our decision to change it.

Life really is all about new starts, and second chances. And so is Baptism. Baptism symbolizes turning away from our old way of life, or repenting, and turning towards a new life with God. There is something very special that happens with a Christian Baptism.

I recall a story I once heard many yeas ago. There was a conference in England to discuss the question “What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world”? At the conference, some suggested that Christianity is unique in its teaching that God became a human being. However, it was pointed out that the Hindu religion has many instances of God coming to earth as human. Others suggested that it is the belief in the resurrection. Again, it was pointed out that other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The debate grew loud and heated until C.S. Lewis, the great defended of Christianity, came into the room. “What's the rumpus about?” he asked. When he was told that it was a question of the uniqueness of Christianity, he said, “Oh, that's easy – It's Grace.”

On this Feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, the second reading from the letter of Paul to Titus focuses not on Jesus as much as on us as people who have been saved through the grace of baptism as stated: “For when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the waters of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5).

The salvation we have received is not payment for any good works we might have done, or will do, but a free and unconditional gift of God.

In Baptism, God wipes away all of our sins and no longer holds us accountable for them. We also believe that God forgives us our trespasses and treats us much better than we deserve. This is grace. This is unmerited favor.

Baptism, which makes us God's children, is a good example of grace. There are no preconditions for receiving God's grace. That is why even babies can receive baptism. To receive God's grace is free and unconditional. But, to remain in God's grace demands a response from us.

As stated in the second reading: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age. This response is, on the one hand, that we are to say no to the devil, and to the temptation to run our own lives according to our selfish and worldly inclinations, and On the other hand, that we submit to God and lead lives in submission to God's holy will.

So even if we fail, as we all do from time to time, some of us more frequent than others, we are to never give up, we can always make a fresh start. It doesn't need to be a New Year to make a resolution, It can just a new day, a new beginning, a new start. When Jesus came to be baptized it was a new start for him too. He was about to embark on a new phase in his life – changing, at the most basic level, from carpenter to preacher.

The Holy Spirit came down as a dove after Jesus' baptism while he was praying and He heard the voice from heaven. We may not get the dove and the voice from heaven, but as Jesus said to doubting Thomas, we are part of the generation who has not seen, yet believed, and therefore we are especially blessed.

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came to particular individuals to enable them to complete particular tasks, but with Jesus' coming, and particularly with his sacrificial death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit became available to all of us.

So when we fail in life, as Baptized Christians, it isn't a new Baptism that we need, one only needs one baptism in life to become a Christian and to be set aside in society, what we need is to return to God, to repent, and to make a resolution to begin again.

As Catholics we have the Sacrament of Confession that makes us unique among the Christian denominations. This Sacrament that was instituted by Christ himself, separates us from that sin in our lives, cleanses us, and allows the grace to flow freely back into our lives. God never stops providing grace, but through our sins, we establish barriers to receiving that grace. The sacrament of confession removes those barriers and we can become completely one with God again, forgiven completely for our trespasses, for turning away from the Christian life and from God.

So how do we actually identify grace working in our lives?

Well, when we are just about to act upon a temptation, yet something comes over us and we are able to walk away...... that was grace.

When all of the sudden we have the thought and the courage to contact a person that we had been angry with and say that we are sorry.....that was grace.

When we find ourselves amongst great fear and anxiety, when we feel trapped with no way out, no solution, and all of the sudden we are at peace and we have hope again..... that was grace.

And when we are able to accept responsibility for our own actions and stop directing and attempting to place the blame on others..... that is grace. We are surrounded by God's grace and opportunity to accept it. Grace is at work in everything within our lives.

My question to all of us is, do we recognize it, do we accept it, do we allow this grace to enter into our lives, embrace it, and allow it to consume us. Have we become instruments of God's grace.

We often set out upon a variety of journeys in life, and then we meet resistance, or at times even meet failure. That is not unique to humanity. We often set out upon these journeys thinking we have to ability to succeed of our own accord and it doesn't take long to be reminded that we have left God out of the picture, and we fail. God quickly reminds us that without Him we are nothing. It is Gods' grace that actually sustains us.

So how do we discern God 's will and see his grace in our lives? It is through a prayer life that we get to know God and can see and hear him in our lives. It is through the Sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession) that we are cleansed from sin, forgiven, and strengthened.

We live in a world that for the most part is Anti-Christian. It has become a world so distorted that it often identifies Evil as Good and Good as evil. Yet God grace is present everywhere, all we need to do is to accept it.

Wouldn't a better New Year's resolution be:” Beginning today, I vow to live my life according to God's will, not my own, to continually ask for and accept God grace to live my Baptismal promises, to say no to Satan and all his empty promises,., and to say Yes to God.”

This resolution will not only bring us peace, joy and happiness, but this resolution will bring us Eternal Life!

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