The Grace of Baptism and the Journey of Life

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column
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Baptism.  You became a child.  A deep innocence overtook you.  So deep, it’s not seen on life’s surface.  It’s that dimension of you that knows no evil.  Innocence can’t comprehend sin, malice, lies or machinations.  It only desires and seeks pure good.  Therefore, it loves as God loves and in the way that He loves.  Love: to will the good of the other.  That’s love’s definition.  It’s the New World into which we’re born at Baptism.  It’s the New World that blossoms, like a radiant rose at dawn, at the Second Coming.  When you see this World, you’ll say, “I’ve become a child again!”


Life is a journey.  Biologically and psychologically.   We can’t remain children on that level.  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11).  But life’s also a spiritual journey, which affects our biology and psychology, but paradoxically progresses in the opposite direction.  Jesus says we must become like little children. "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).   Adulthood is a passage to childhood.


Life – growing into childhood – is a perilous journey.  Once begun, you can’t turn back.   Confirmation irrevocably sealed you on that journey, and it gave you the strength and subtle wisdom needed to carry on until you reach the New World.  It continues to give you the needed grace – through an indelible sealing of the Holy Spirit – that matures you into childhood, and which grants you entry into the Kingdom.  But it’s a long, long and painful journey.  It entails battles, temptations, trials, griefs, hurts, deep wounds, sins, sorrows, setbacks, mistakes, faults, failures and humiliations.   But it’s worth it, if you persevere in grace.  Grace changes you – into a child.  There’s no rebirth without suffering.


“The WAY.”  That’s what the earliest memoir of Church history – Acts of the Apostles – calls the early Church.  “The WAY” is a journey – a path – by which we become divinized and conquer death.  Today, we tend to see Confirmation as graduation from catechism class.   A quaint rite of passage that grandma wants us to do.  That’s cheap.   If Confirmation is a graduation, in any sense, it’s a birth into the dangerous world.  Confirmation embarks us on the “WAY,” and it also gives the grace to accompany others on their “WAY.”  To where?  To a region inside of us called Holiness.  And to the world outside of us called Heaven.  It’s inner and outer joy and peace.   And it’s immortal.  “I came that they might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).


Don’t think because you’re confirmed, or because you’re “intelligently” catechized (I’m suspicious of self-professed “educated” Catholics), that you understand this.  That would be your first mistake.  The journey of life – not educational accomplishments – will teach you what Confirmation is about.  Look at it this way:  Baptism made you holy to the core.  Confirmation launched you on a dangerous journey into yourself and beyond yourself – a journey by which you’d eventually become that holiness that you are.  Moreover, you were given a special gift to help another on their path to holiness.  Confirmation deepened the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Counsel (one of the Seven Gifts) that you received at Baptism.   The Gift of Counsel is rooted in supernatural Love – Charity - Agape.  It further blossoms from Christ’s vine in Holy Communion.


The “seal” of Confirmation is key.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:  “This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ … [and] the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial” (CCC 1296).  To put it in plain English, through Confirmation the Holy Spirit protects you against temptations against Faith, which are bound to happen as the battle between Good and Evil intensifies in these End Times.   Confirmation can protect you from the Antichrist’s deceptions if you are attentive to the Holy Spirit’s voice.  “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers” (CCC 675).  Listen to what Jesus had to say about it:


“….and many false prophets will arise and mislead many.   Because of the increase in evil, the love of most will grow cold.  But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved…”  (Matthew 24:11-12).


“When the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).


Confirmation seals you with a gift that guides you through the Antichrist’s temptations and deceptions.  In so doing, the Spirit turns you into a guide for others.   But you must not presume on this, as you mustn’t presume on God’s mercy.  You don’t have it made in the shade, and you’re not the guru you might think.  Don’t presume that you’re another’s guide because you’re popular or “good at what you do.”  Don’t fancy yourself a role model.  If you do, the devil will make you a scandal.  That’d be a fatal mistake.  Even if you’re a guide because of your “position” in life – like a parent or teacher – you mustn’t think that you’re another’s guide in everything.  Humility – and humility alone – makes you open to the voice of the Holy Spirit and purges you of illusions.  Humility makes you conduct yourself as Providence assigns your role in life.  No more.  No less.  In this case, humility may demand that you not be too “humble,” lest you shirk God-given duties and the burdens of office.  Beware of this:  Good people deluded by pride will demand that you be “humble” in order that they may leverage your authority to their favor.  It happens all the time.   That’s how the Antichrist works.  Don’t be deceived.  Humans holding positions of rightful authority – standing in God’s place – is God’s will.  Yes, other humans will try to wrest it from those who rightfully hold it.  This is the spirit of Antichrist. 


As for being another’s spiritual guide, take note of this: even if it’s only for a short time, or in a small matter, it is a significant gift of Providence.  But you must constantly purify your motives, and that’s no easy task.  It presumes something that you might find repugnant: obedience to legitimate Church authority.  Without it, you’re the devil’s prey.  Moreover, only the Holy Spirit, working through your Confirmation, can accomplish this in you.  To be a guide, you must be tuned into the “background music” of grace.


Playing a role – even a brief one – in another’s life journey is to accompany an ongoing conversion.  Accompanying another is not self-appointed.  It’s not egotistical, whereby you say, “I’m this person’s guide.”  Possessiveness would be toxic.  Seeking or desiring to be another’s – or a group’s – guide is sure sign that you are not it.  If you think the Spirit has given you a gift of guidance, ask yourself questions like this: “Am I possessive of this person or persons?”  “Am I possessive of this ministry?”  “Am I a convinced guru?”  Be honest.  Ask again: “If a higher, legitimate authority, like a bishop, took it away from me, would I get angry?”  If so, you need to reexamine your motives.  The anger indicates that your presumed role as a guide may be more about “you” than about the “other.”   Authentic guidance works this way: the disciple comes first.  Then the master appears.  The “other” will choose “you.”  And to fruitfully carry on this relationship, you must have a pure heart, whereby you acquire a spiritual sensitivity that detects the work of grace in another.     


From the vantage point of a disciple, the guide’s spiritual sensitivity awakens a life that was always present but hitherto undetected.  The guide’s sensitivity becomes the disciple’s sensitivity.  St. Paul speaks of a spiritual sensitivity that comes with grace.  He says, “Do not be conformed to the spirit of the age, but be transformed by the renewal of the inner being, that you may discern the will of God, what is good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  St. Paul says we should acquire this spiritual sensitivity, which he calls putting on the “new man” (Ephesians 4:24, Colossian 3:10).  This “new man” involves a taste for, or familiarity with, the movements of the Holy Spirit, as these work through the Seven Gifts.  Every Christian has already received some “first fruits” of this spiritual sensitivity, which constantly play like background music in baptized souls.  We’re usually not conscious of this “background music.”  Why?  Because we usually live on the “surface” of life – on the level of a psychological “consciousness.”   Nonetheless, sensitivity to grace, cultivated through prayer, suffering and purification, can tune you into the “background music” of the Holy Spirit.  The Pentecost Introit of the old Mass called this the voice:  “The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world, alleluia; and that, which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice…”


This spiritual sensitivity to the voice is usually awakened through a providential encounter with another Christian who knows the voice.  The “other Christian” – the guide (if even only a momentary one) – who brings this out of another may be not be the sensational character one might imagine.  He or she may be neither memorable nor a dynamic personality.  More likely, it’s an unassuming character. Their absence may be more influential than their presence.  But it sets one on the journey to becoming a child again.  It has little to do with effort.  It’s pure grace.