Remembering Our Baptism
Excerpt from a spiritual conference given by His Grace in the eighty-second year of his life to the seminarians at Ecône.
The idea of the Church can scarcely be thought of without baptism coming immediately to mind. Baptism is a reality we ought to think about often. We were baptized, for the majority of us, as infants, newborns just a couple of days or a week or two old. We were not aware of what was happening; obviously, we did not realize what was going on. This is a serious matter. It was God’s will, that’s just the way things are, yet in all of that there is something we shouldn’t overlook: the forgetfulness of our baptism simply because we did not consciously participate in it.
Then we were prepared by our good parents, those who brought us up, and especially by the catechism, for our First Communion, for union with Our Lord. It was the greatest celebration of our childhood, the great event. Then came confirmation, and our solemn communion and profession of faith [customary in some Catholic countries]. And thus our soul grew in its attachment to our Lord, to the Church, and to the sacraments.
Even so, our baptism stayed somewhat of an unknown reality. Yet it is the most important. It is baptism that distinguishes souls that are Christ’s and souls that aren’t. It is baptism that puts us in direct communication with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and His divine life. It already puts us in heaven; baptism already transports us now to heaven. The water of baptism resuscitates us; the water of baptism gives us Our Lord’s grace. The grace and light with which the soul is clothed are symbolized by the white garment given the newly baptized baby after baptism and the candle placed in its hand. It is already, in a way, in the glory of heaven.
It’s a new life that is beginning. We become separated from others by the very fact because we become members of a family, indeed the very members of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of the Mystical Body which is the Church. We have to think about it often. During confirmations I like to remind the children that confirmation confirms the grace of baptism, and consequently they should know and understand what baptism is.
I find that there is something wonderful in the first words the Church puts on our lips through our godparents when we come to church for the first time. At our first contact with the Church, the priest asked: “Quid petis ad Ecclesia Dei—what do you ask of God’s Church?” What do you want? what have you come here for? And our godparents answered for us: “We ask for faith—Fidem.”
We need to think well on it. What the Church puts on our lips at the door of the Church the first time we enter a church is supremely important. She says: Ask for faith. Nothing else. A single word.
The priest continues: “Why do you ask for faith?” What do you get from faith? “Eternal life—vitam æternam.”
It is magnificent. In these two seemingly insignificant questions, spoken so quickly, is the whole program of our life here below and for eternity. We ask for faith, to live by faith, because it is the way to eternal life. How sublime, I should say, is the sacrament of baptism. And if there is one thing we ought to remind ourselves of today, this is it.
We asked of the Church—and we ask every day of our life—for faith: Priests, give us the faith. Bishops, give us the faith. Pope, give us the faith. You were the ones who told us to ask for it. Before we could speak, before we knew how to talk, that is the first thing you placed on our lips: Ask for faith. Give it to us, then, since you told us to ask you for it.
How earnestly, how carefully, ought we to ask of the Church faith, and we must refuse to let anyone diminish it, or cheat us out of it, or change it. In the very first moments of our existence, at our baptism, that’s what we were asking.
This is the essence of our fight.
Men, the world, will attempt to deceive us, to lead us into error, to make us live heedless of God’s presence, to attack our faith. The devil prowls round about us, trying to make us lose our faith. And we must strive to keep the faith. This is what the sacrament of confirmation is for. Confirmation imparts the particular power to hold onto our faith in the midst of the difficulties we meet in our spiritual life and throughout the course of our Christian life. How splendid is this institution of our Lord Jesus Christ; how wonderful is the simplicity of the Church, the simplicity of our spiritual life!
The faith gives us the life of grace. That’s why the priest repeats these questions just before administering baptism: “Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in the Holy Ghost? Do you believe in the Catholic Church?”
“Yes, we believe. Yes, we believe. Yes, we believe.”
We have to hold on to all of this. They ought not to change the Church on us [but] they are changing the Church; they want to make another Church. We have believed in the Catholic Church, not in a liberal Church, not in a modernist Church; no. So you see, let us strive as much as we can to live these great realities, of capital importance for us. If you have kept the faith till now, if the good Lord has preserved your faith, if you have the signal grace of keeping your faith, well then, give thanks to God and promise to keep it in its perfect, absolute integrity. For the denial of a single article of faith suffices to make you no longer Catholic, to exclude you from the Church, to cut you off from the Church. Just one article of our faith! Hence we must jealously keep this treasure, and jealously keep the treasure of divine life within us.
It is the role of confirmation to give us the Holy Spirit in abundance in order to preserve us, in order to protect the precious life that the good God has placed within us that is a preparation for eternal life. The life of grace is already eternal life, a life of faith, a divine life, a life of charity. It is very beautiful. These are the true realities that we must live by, and we should help all those to whom we are sent live by them, too. Christians need to appreciate these things and not forget the grace of their baptism. They must not forget that they were chosen by God to be members of the Church, members of Christ’s Mystical Body. It is something extraordinary. Our Lord indeed said: “Those who will not be baptized will not have eternal life” [adapted from Mk. 16:16]. Baptism is absolutely necessary by a necessity of means and not only by a necessity of precept, as is confirmation. It is an indispensable means and not only a commandment. Whoever is not baptized, either by water or by desire, will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
That is why all [those who are to go to heaven] do so through the Church, because baptism of desire is precisely the baptism of being attached to the Church and of being able to be a member of the Church so as to live of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. This has nothing to do with the false religions, in which may be found persons who desire baptism, who desire baptism implicitly, eventually. On the contrary, all the false religions turn them aside from it. How then can they say that the false religions have worth for salvation. Without our Lord Jesus Christ? without baptism... This is no longer the faith, this is no longer the Catholic faith. [Such teaching] depreciates baptism; it depreciates our attachment to our Lord Jesus Christ by baptism.
“Confirmation presents us the Church filled with the power of God and terrible as an army in battle array. The Eucharist initiates us into its intimate life, its spousal joys, its maternal tenderness. Penance and extreme unction make us see at work the powerful means of which the Church disposes for the destruction of sin and the accomplishment of all justice. Holy Orders places before our eyes the variety of her ministers, the power and perpetuity of her hierarchical action. As for marriage, in it the Church shows us how even the succession of human generations is subordinated to the giving birth of the elect. The seven sacraments thus afford us seven viewpoints from which we may consider different aspects of the Church.”
Let us have, then, this simple view that our holy religion gives us so that we ourselves may be deeply convinced of these truths and of these realities, and then let us try to transmit them. Let us have zeal for the sacraments, zeal for a ministry that now has been abandoned by all the progressive priests because they no longer have faith in the grace of Our Lord. They do not believe that the sacraments give divine life; they do not believe that baptism gives divine life. For them, baptism is simply an initiation that attaches us to a family, a community, a communion—that’s all. They don’t see the grace, the gratia sanans and the gratia elevans, that is given by baptism, a grace that heals and lifts up. It is a divine reality that happens in the infant’s soul, a complete change.
Of that we must be convinced so as to do everything for baptism. The administration of baptism will also be the joy of our priesthood. Obviously, there will be no trouble in baptizing children when they are in the desired conditions, but adults, of course, must be prepared for baptism. But it is a great joy for priests to baptize them because, truly, they resuscitate souls, souls that are under the influence of the devil, that are dead. These souls are restored to life by the grace of baptism.