“He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”
Before the beginning of the world, God chose you to be holy. Long before you came into existence, before you were conceived in your mother’s womb, God knew you and loved you. This is the fantastic truth presented to us today in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. From the beginning of time, God has known you and loved you, and has destined you for greatness.
But what does it mean that God chose us in Him? St. Paul goes on to tell us that, “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.” Paul is alluding here to the ineffable power of Baptism.
When Paul says that God chose us in Him, it means that when God the Father looks upon His most beloved Son, Jesus Christ, He sees all of the members of Christ’s body – all of us who have been washed by the waters of rebirth in Baptism. That is how He has known and loved us even from the foundation of the world – before you existed – because from eternity, when God the Father looks upon His beloved Son, He sees you and me and all those who are re-made in Christ’s image and likeness through this wondrous sacrament.
This is why Paul says that God “destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the natural son of God the Father. Just as a natural father passes something of himself to his children – half his chromosomes – so too does God the Father share His nature with the Son. That is why we say in the Creed each Sunday that Christ is consubstantial with the Father. The old translation that was used from 1970 until 2010 said that the Father and Son are “one in being,” but that doesn’t get at the full reality. Jesus and the Father have the same divine nature, the same substance. (The “con” of “consubstantial” means “with” – “with the same substance.”)
While Christ is the natural son of the Father, we are the Father’s adopted sons and daughters. An adoptive father does not share his chromosomes – his nature – with his children, but he is nonetheless no less a father to his children than their birth father. Just think about that. Paul is saying that we are God’s adoptive sons and daughters. If we believe – as I certainly do and I hope you do too – that an adoptive father is no less of a real father to his children than a natural father is, that means that God the Father is no less a father to us than He is to His one natural son, Jesus Christ.
Now, it would seem that things could not get any better than this. What would be better than being the sons and daughters of God Himself? But yet, as with all things in our faith, it is better than we could even imagine. We are not just many sons and daughters of God. We are sons and daughters in the Son. Now this could just seem like some pie-in-the-sky theology-speak – sons in the Son – but think about it this way: When God the Father looks at you, He does not just see you. He sees His one true Son, Jesus Christ, and His love shines through Jesus into your heart.
We can only be the beloved sons and daughters of God our heavenly Father because His only Son, Jesus Christ, took on our human nature 2018 years ago when He became man. Without a savior Who is truly man and truly God, we could not be God’s sons and daughters. But how, then, did we come to share in this great privilege of being sons and daughters of the Father in His Son, Jesus Christ? Of course, Christ earned this privilege for us when died on the Cross and rose after three days, but how did that immense grace come to you and come to me?
St. Paul is ultimately talking about Baptism. It is by Baptism that you and I have come to enjoy this incredible destiny to possess, “the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us,” as he so eloquently puts it. Before our Baptism, thanks to the original sin that we have inherited from Adam and Eve, we were not sons and daughters of God, but of the Evil One. Thanks to the providence of God we were snatched from his power and made children of light when we passed through the bath of regeneration in the sacred fount of Baptism. In the Baptism ritual, after the child has been baptized, the priest says of the child, “He is now called a son of God for so he is.”
For many of you, this took place in the font at the entrance of this very church, or the one from the old church now resting near the statue of the Blessed Mother. When St. John Paul II made his first triumphant visit to his native country of Poland after becoming Pope, he visited the church at which he received this incredible grace of Baptism. Recognizing the seminal importance of this moment of his life, he walked up to the baptismal fount and kissed it, reverencing the sacred place at which he received the divine life of grace in his soul. We should have the same reverence for the place at which we too received the divine life of Christ!
These are beautiful truths, but what do they mean for me? How do they impact my everyday life? Holy Mother Church instructs us to recall frequently the graces of our own baptism. This is why we cross ourselves with holy water upon entering church, making the same sign of the Cross with which we were baptized. Many people maintain the excellent pious custom of keeping a holy water stoup next to the front door of their homes, blessing themselves with holy water as they enter and depart. My grandparents’ home has just such a holy water stoup, and I remember thinking it odd, as if their house were a church. But the family and the home, after all, are meant to be the domestic church. Before going on to face the onslaught of secular culture each time that you leave your home, you should bless yourself with holy water and remind yourself of the great dignity that is yours thanks to your Baptism – that you are worth far too much to give in to the cheap temptations brought on by the world.
Parents have, of course, a seminal role in forming an awareness of the graces of Baptism in their children. How I would love as a shepherd of souls to see parents and families showering their little ones with gifts, cakes, and special meals not on the day of their birth to earthly life, but on the day when they were re-born to heavenly life, an occasion far more monumentous and desinty-altering. Hopefully you have also saved the Baptismal candles from your children’s Baptisms. The anniversary of their baptism (or your own!) is a great time to take out that candle, light it, and say a prayer.
Maybe you do not know the date of your baptism or the date of your children’s baptisms. You can learn it relatively easily by calling the church at which you or they were baptized. Each Catholic church is required by Church law to keep meticulous records of all sacraments, especially baptisms. Right here in my hands is the book that contains the Baptismal records from 1868-1902. Recently, I was talking about Baptism with one of the classes in our parish school, and found the record of their teacher’s baptism and brought it in to share with the class (it was in a much more recent volume!). The children were enthralled!
Another practical consequence of this reality of the great dignity of Baptism is the earnest desire of our holy mother, the Church that all children born to Catholic parents be baptized in the first weeks of their lives. If we recognize the greatness of this gift, and the liberality with which our Lord and the Church bestows it, would we not want our children to receive it as soon as possible?
Some friends of mine were recently expecting their first child. Excited already for their pre-born daughter to experience the graces of Baptism, they arranged for the godparents of their daughter and attended their parish’s baptismal formation class. She remarked to me, “Father, we were the only ones there who were pregnant!” I said, “Yes, unfortunately, many people get caught off guard and ending up waiting.” To which she replied, “But why would you wait?!?!”
This, I believe, is the question posed by Holy Mother Church, “Why would you wait?” If your children have not been baptized, please do not wait any longer! Baptism is not a choice but a gift, and one that the Lord and His spouse, the Church earnestly desire to share with your child. If you are expecting a child, begin planning now so that your son or daughter can experience his or her eternal destiny of adoption as the son or daughter of God. Pope Benedict XVI was born on the morning of Holy Saturday, and his godparents brought him to the Easter Vigil that evening to be baptized. Why would they wait?
You have a great dignity and a great destiny because of your baptism. You are an adopted son or daughter of God the Father Himself. This reality is beautifully expressed by an ancient inscription in the world’s oldest baptistery, located next to the Cathedral of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral in Rome. I will conclude today with the eloquent words of this ancient inscription, which from the 300s A.D. already expresses the Church’s rich faith in the power of the sacrament of Baptism:
“Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven, whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters He has made fruitful. Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God, and bears them virginally in this water. Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font. Eternal life does not await those who are only born once. This is the spring of life that waters the whole world, Taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ. Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water. It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man. If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool, whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own. There is no barrier between those who are reborn and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith. Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone; Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.”
May we always remember the great dignity and heavenly destiny that are ours through the grace of Baptism, and may we continue to share that gift generously with generations of Catholics to come.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist
XV Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVIII