THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
SIGNED, SEALED AND DELIVERED
We're going to take a move now; we're going to make a shift away from the foundational concept concerning the sacraments to the sacraments in particular. The next hour we will be discussing Baptism and Confirmation. As we move away from the theory to the practice, as we move from the sacraments in general to the sacraments in particular, I have to confess a real feeling of inadequacy, not only because I've only been receiving the sacraments for less than five years but also because I want to assure you that out there, there is a veritable ocean of material to feed your soul on with respect to each one of the sacraments.
So, each one is like the seven seas. You look at the seven seas and how could you possibly chart them all in a lifetime? The seven sacraments are the same way. They are the seven seas of God's grace. All we can really do then, if I am going to be honest, is just to skim the surface and share some thoughts that I hope the Holy Spirit can plant deep within your hearts and bring forth fruit from.
Just briefly by way of review, last night we introduced the sacraments by looking at the nature of the oath and seeing that the oath of the New Covenant was sworn by Christ himself and that that's what makes the New Covenant so distinct and unique. This morning we took an overview of the seven sacraments, and we looked at them in terms of a supernatural family life cycle. We saw how that perspective is not novel. It's actually embedded in the New Testament. It's echoed in the early Church Fathers. It's carried on through the medieval Church and the Councils all the way into the Council of Trent and into our own century with the Popes of the 20th Century. We see that throughout Church history.
Various Ways of Dividing the Particular Sacraments
Now the way I've divided up the sacraments in particular follows the classical order, but there are different ways to distinguish or to categorize the seven sacraments. For instance, we saw in the Council of Florence in 1539 in that document Exaltate Domino, written by Pope Eugene IV, that there was a distinction made between the sacraments of interior spiritual perfection, that is the five sacraments that are designed to bring interior perfection within each one of us as persons and then two sacraments that are ordered for the life of the Church, its government and its growth -- Holy Orders and Matrimony.
Now that's a famous distinction, and that's helpful. But another way of categorizing the sacraments -- some theologians prefer to categorize them as the sacraments of the dead versus the sacraments of the living. The sacraments of the dead would include Baptism, which is only given to those who are still with original sin and perhaps actual sin in the case of adults, and penance in the case of being in a state of mortal sin. Those are the sacraments of the dead. The sacraments of the living would thus relate to the other five.
One way I like, though, one way of categorizing the sacraments that I prefer is to distinguish between the sacraments that have an indelible mark, or what theologians call a character, as distinct from those sacraments that can be repeated. The three sacraments that are known as indelible are Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. The first two represent the prime focus for our time right now. The sacraments that could be repeated, of course, would be the Eucharist, because we receive the Blessed Sacrament at least weekly. We also have the sacrament of Reconciliation, which can be repeated, and it should be received frequently. Also, the Anointing of the Sick -- oftentimes we think of Extreme Unction only with reference to the dying, but in fact, it can be given to one person several times. Then also, Matrimony, so that if your spouse dies, you are free to remarry and thus repeat that sacrament.
But those three sacraments that are indelible, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, are, in a sense, prime sacraments. Baptism is the sacrament of our new birth whereby we become babies in Christ. Confirmation is the sacrament of battle, whereby we become soldiers of Christ. Then Holy Orders, as we will see tomorrow, is the sacrament of the supernatural Father, the Pontifex, the Bridge Builder who helps and offers himself up to be a bridge between God and man.
Analogy of Sacraments
Using this last distinction, I'd like to give you an analogy. You know the song "Silent Night" -- one of my favorite Christmas carols? In one of the stanzas theres a that goes something like this, "Silent night, holy night, Son of God, Love's pure light." If we think of Jesus Christ as the PURE light, after all, he said, "I am the light of the world," in him is light and there is no darkness. If Christ is Love's pure light, then we can think of the Church as a prism. What happens when light hits a prism? That light is refracted and we have the seven colors of the spectrum, don't we? Coincidentally, how are those seven colors categorized or distinguished in the two categories? There are primary colors, which are three, and then there are four secondary colors.
To use the analogy, those colors are the sacraments that refract for us the glory of Christ as that pure light is received by the Church. And the indelible sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are like the three primary colors. Let's keep that in mind because I think that will help us think of these sacraments in their proper context as being beautiful and glorious. They are meant not only to strengthen us but to beautify and enrich our souls. Too often people think of the sacraments simply as medicine. We forget that sacraments don't just heal; they also strengthen. They beautify. They enrich. They don't just bring us back to point zero; they take us on into infinity and eternity and fill us with the very life of God.
Basic Catechism Definition
Keeping all this in mind, I don't just want to overwhelm you with images and analogies and new concepts. It's always helpful just to remind ourselves of the basic catechism definition of a sacrament and that is "an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace." What is grace? It's that divine life within us. It's the grace of sonship. St. Thomas Aquinas once defined grace as "the act of divine life and love that God is in himself," so that when we receive grace, we don't just receive knowledge about God, we receive nothing less than God himself as he is in himself -- that eternal communion of life and of love, and that is a glorious gift indeed.
Baptism as the Sacrament of Divine Sonship
Recall also how we said that the highest good in all the universe is grace, the grace of Divine Sonship, and this is the meaning and purpose of Baptism and we will see, secondarily, of the sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism is, in short, the sacrament of Sonship. That's what some theologians call it. Others prefer to speak of it as the sacrament of our justification; but since the Council of Trent in section six identified justification with the grace of Divine Sonship, it doesn't matter which you choose. It brings us into the family of God, and that brings up my favorite topic, the family of God, the master idea to the Catholic faith.
Just a few years ago, how important this idea is came home to me in a very, very vivid way. I have a good friend. He happens to be my brother-in-law, and he lives out in Pennsylvania and he works with an Evangelical Protestant organization on the Penn State campus. His primary outreach is to reach international students. One of the things that came up was the opportunity, at least the possibility of a debate, or a forum discussion between a Christian and a Muslim. The Christian would represent the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Muslim would present Islam, the two great faiths vying for control in a sense. They are really interacting in a very interesting way these days.
He contacted me. He asked me if I would consider it. I didn't need to think about it! I said, "Sure, that would be exciting." He said, "I already have somebody in mind. He comes from the Middle East. He is very well educated and he is wealthy and he has been financed to go around the country and he has been engaged in these debates on other university campuses." I said, "Well, then, in that case, let me think about it a little. In other words, this man's experienced in debate?" "Oh yes, sure. He's debated many times." "Oh, I see. What is it he would like to debate?"
The one topic that he wanted to debate the most was the Trinity. I thought, "No wonder, what doctrine is more difficult for the human mind to comprehend? It's a trick. It's a setup." Then I thought about it a little while and I said to myself, "That really does need to be presented in a vital, understandable way to people and maybe debate is a proper context." At any rate, I consented. Before we debated and before the debate was actually scheduled, my brother-in-law notified me that this Muslim wanted to get together and discuss, I don't know what; he just wanted to discuss things and get to know me -- maybe feel out the foe or something,
We arranged for a lunch time visit at a restaurant in State College, Pennsylvania. I went, nonchalant. I was just looking forward to meeting this man. We sat down and we exchanged amenities and all of the light conversational things to get things started for about two minutes. Then all of a sudden, he just launched right into it. He started talking about the pillars of Islam and Allah and Mohammed and so on. Then he turned to me and said, "What are you going to do to defend the Trinity?" I thought about it for a second and I said, "Well, I'd like to present the Trinity in terms of the family of God."
He changed the subject. We started talking about Islam in general and Christianity in general and I noted in my mind, "He's changed the subject." About a minute later, just in passing, I mentioned God, and I said, "God, the Father, and I went on ..." but before I could go on he stopped me, and he said, "Please, don't refer to God as Father again. Thank you." I stopped and I said, "Well, all right. Does it offend you?" He said, "It offends me very much. It's blasphemous to call God, 'Father.' God has no sons." Oh yes, of course, this is Islam and Christianity, the Trinity and Allah, all right, all right.
About a minute or two later in conversation, I happened to mention God the Father again. I mean it's hard to talk about Christianity and not talk about the Father and the Son, right? This time, he got a little bit more irate, and he pounded his fist one time and he shook his finger and he said, "I don't want you to bring that up again." And I said, "What is it with Father?" And he said, "Allah is Master, not father. He has no sons." Then I said, "All right, now I understand that's your belief, but you understand that my belief is that he does, that God is a Blessed Trinity and there is an Eternal Son and we all are sons in the Son, Filii in Filio, and all that." He didn't know Latin, so it didn't help.
I tried to explain to him that this is the ancient gospel, how the Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men could become sons of God. He was waiting patiently until finally he said, "I don't want to hear it. It's blasphemous." I said, "Why is it blasphemous?" "Because Allah has no need of sons." I couldn't resist a little barb at this point. I said, "Oh, I see. He's a master and we're his slaves. Does he need servants? Can't he get the job done, himself?" He didn't think that was funny and I probably shouldn't have said it. Anyway, I tried a little bit harder and we proceeded to talk about some other topics.
We ended up meeting for at least two hours. Then it came around to the Trinity again, and I noted in my mind how long and roundabout that circuitous conversation was before we came back. When we came back, he was expecting me to explain the Trinity in philosophical, abstract language because, historically, that's how it's often been explained, using the word usio or essence or substance or nature, then trying to differentiate that from the three Persons who have the one nature, and where in human life and experience do you see anything like that?
The three-leaf clover doesn't work. Water is ice, steam and liquid doesn't work. Really, no human analogy works, except the family. Now I can't get into the whole explanation because we're not talking about the Trinity; we're talking about sonship and Baptism. But as I began to explain it, I could see that old anger coming back. I stopped. He stopped. I said, "What is it about all this?" He explained in greater detail. He said, "To take fatherhood and sonship and put that on to God is wrong because it's something that belongs exclusively to creatures." "I see. Now, do you think that Allah is wise?" "Of course." "Well, do humans share wisdom?" "Well, yes." "Is Allah powerful?" "Yes." "Do humans also possess some power?" "Um-huh." "Does Allah provide for our needs? "Yes." Do we provide for each other's needs, at least sometimes?" "Well, yes." "Is Allah caring?" "Yes." "Is Allah good?" "Yes." "Can humans be caring and good?" "Yes, what are you getting to?"
I said, "Well, if Allah is all of those things, is Allah loving?" "Yes." "Well, if he is a loving, caring, providing, good God and all those things are found in human experience and we can project them onto Allah anyway, then why not fatherhood, as well?" Whoa! I said the wrong thing. He said, "Allah loves, but not as a father. Allah is master, we are his slaves. We're his property. Let me explain." "Please do." He said, "I have a dog in my apartment back in the town I'm living in now and I have to move. I've found a new apartment to move to in this new city, but I'm not allowed to have pets. The dog in my apartment is my dog. I love that dog. It's my dog that I love. I am going to move. Before I do, I will kill that dog. It's mine."
I looked at him. He looked back at me and I waited for a crack of his mouth into a smile or something. I thought he was joking. Nothing. "That's love? That's Allah's love, the love of a master and an owner. With love like that, who needs hate?" He didn't laugh. I didn't push it. We finally had to leave that lunch table, and my brother-in-law and I got in the car and he couldn't even start it up, and I didn't want him to because we kind of just sat there stunned. We looked at each other and I knew what he was feeling and he knew what I was feeling. We had always taken so much for granted, that God is our loving Father and that we are his beloved children. Something that is so common, so humdrum, so routine and sometimes practically meaningless to us, we discovered, is absolutely novel, strange, alien and foreign and offensive to other religions.
Thank God, he's our Father. It's just embedded into our faith, and yet we still take it for granted. The "Our Father, who art in heaven.... Glory be to the Father and to the Son.... I believe in God, the Father Almighty." And I had never really appreciated what it meant to be a son of God and how much greater the dignity that was than merely being a slave or private property or the personal possession of our Creator.
Now all of those things are also true in the Christian religion, but our Creator has become our Father and the property has become children and heirs with Christ, and Baptism is what conferred that exalted dignity upon us. Baptism is the sacrament of our Divine Sonship. We could almost stop now and just spend the rest of our time in prayer, asking God to help us see what it really means to have been baptized in the Spirit in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to take upon ourselves the life of Christ, to be clothed in Christ, to be called the children of God because as 1st John 3:1 says, "That's what we are." Behold the manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God, for that is what we are." See, it isn't just an image. It isn't just a metaphor. It is the metaphysical, supernatural fact of life around which everything else revolves, in terms of which everything else needs to be understood.
Something I learned just recently is that the religion of Islam also uses oaths. Muslims swear oaths to Allah frequently and these oaths are tied up with covenants, but Allah has never sworn the oath. And the oaths that we swear to Allah in the Islamic religion are all the oaths of slaves in a household., not children, not heirs, not sons and daughters.
The New Covenant on which Christianity is built is unique and distinctive because the Son of God became the Son of man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God. And Baptism is this new birth. Saving faith is more than just a feeling. It's more than just a decision to accept Jesus Christ into our heart as personal Lord and Savior. It's more than a commitment of our wills and our hearts to Christ. This is the language that non-Catholics use and it's right and proper to use it, but it is not right and proper to base our sonship on our feelings, on our decisions and on our experiences. No matter how many crusades, no matter how many altar calls, no matter how many times we may have repented and sworn our allegiance to God, it's the sacrament that Christ lives out and calls us to enact that is the firm foundation on which our supernatural life is built.
When Jesus was baptized, Matthew 3, verses 16 and 17 say, "Behold the spirit of God descended like a dove and lo, a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.'" Now did God say that from heaven for Jesus' sake? No. Jesus knew it with absolute certainty. He said it for our sake so that we would learn to associate Baptism with that same divine declaration. We can't hear it, except by faith and by faith we hear it every time a child is validly baptized "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." We hear God say, "This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased."
What were Jesus' last words? You know how important people's last words are always recorded. What were our Lord's last words? In Matthew 28, verses 18 through 20, Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me." Do we believe that? Let's just stop and ask ourselves, do we believe that right at this moment that Jesus Christ possesses all authority in heaven and on earth? He says "All of it has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of the nations." The word for nations is ethnic group. We get that idea of family solidarity, ethnic identity there. The nations are all descended from Adam and Noah. We are all one, big, unhappy family, broken and torn apart by sin and restored and reunited in the flesh and blood of the new Adam, the God- man, Jesus Christ.
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." That's a sacrament, for that's an oath. When somebody says, "I give you my word," what do they mean? Is it some secret password? No, it's not. When somebody says, "I give you my word, the word they mean is their name. So, if Donald Trump says, "I give you my word," he will proceed to sign underneath your signature on that check.
When we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that's the oath that Christ swears over us. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we say, "Our Father, who art in heaven," because that's where our home is, "hallowed be thy name." How do we keep his name hallowed. How do we hallow that name? By taking those sacramental oaths seriously and by living them out with all of the grace that he gives us and all of the natural power that we have from him, as well. "For, lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age."
Now when Jesus tells us, "Go baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," why does he immediately say, "for, lo, I am with you always till the close of the age"? Why bother saying that as his last words? After all, if Jesus is God, he is omnipresent. Where isn't Jesus found? How is it that Jesus can say, "I am with you always till the close of the age?" Jesus is God. God is omnipresent. Does it mean that somehow there is more Holy Spirit packed per square inch when there are baptized Christians in the room? What kind of Divine Presence is that speaking of?
It's analogous to the Divine Presence that is called down in a court room when the witnesses take the oaths, "So help me, God," and God comes down and becomes actively engaged to provide the grace those witnesses need and follow it up by judging their testimony.
This is the foundation of Baptism. We have to look now at some scripture texts besides the ones we have looked at already, but just remember that at the very beginning and at the very end of his ministry, what does God ordain for his son? Baptism -- his own and the command to go baptizing. It suggests that this sacrament was of the highest priority in the mind and in the intentions of our Lord. Mark 16 paraphrases these last words when it has our Lord saying, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved."
Other Scriptural Texts Referring to Baptism
Now, if you have a Bible, take it out (cradle Catholics, I can see. Nobody has a Bible on a retreat). All right, let me read to you a few texts from Sacred Scripture. Ephesians 5:25: "Christ loved the Church and delivered himself up for it that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the washing of water in the word." What is that a reference to? Well, when you study the context of Ephesians 5, it's actually a description of Christ's marital union with the Church, that that marital union is brought about through Baptism whereby we enter into this family covenant with our God through Christ.
Likewise, 1Peter 3:20 reads, "In the Ark of Noah eight souls were saved by water where unto Baptism being the like form now saves you also. Not by the putting away of filth of the flesh but by a pledge of a clear conscience towards God." What does it mean, "the pledge of a clear conscience"? When somebody is baptized, they are making a personal pledge. They are swearing an oath, in Christ, by Christ and through Christ. They are calling for God to cleanse their conscience. The book of Hebrews says that all of the ablutions, all of the dunkings in the Old Testament ceremonies didn't cleanse the conscience. The word in the Greek in that section of Hebrews is "baptismois". All the Old Testament baptisms couldn't purify the conscience, implying that the one New Testament baptism does, in fact.
A very important passage for our attention is found in the Book of Romans, Chapter 6. "Original sin is that which took us out of God's family and made us children of the devil," as Jesus says in the Gospel of John. That is what original sin does. That's what Paul describes in Romans 6. Then he describes how Jesus Christ as the new Adam works out our redemption so that we can be brought into the family of God. That's where Romans 6 begins and the question that the reader has is, "Okay, how do we get in on the action? How do we get out of Adam's family, where we were children of the devil and get into the family of Christ and become children of God?"
Notice that St. Paul does not say, "For as many of you who have come forth to an altar call or who have received Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior into your heart." Again, as true and as helpful as those things are, those are not what Paul said. Nowhere in the New Testament is the language like that used. Nowhere do you find, "You have to receive Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior into your heart." Do you realize that?
The Catholic Church is Bible believing and Catholics are Bible Christians because they base their salvation and sonship upon the very words of the Bible. When Saint Paul raises and answers the question, "How do we get in on the action to get out of Adam's family and into the family of God?" he says this, "By no means we died to sin, so how can we live in it any longer, or don't you know (Romans 6, verse 3) that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore baptized with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too, may live a new life." What is the assurance that we have? The sacramental oath of Baptism whereby God regenerates us.
That is the teaching of St. Paul. It's very clear. That is also the teaching of John. Let's turn to the most famous passage regarding baptism, John 3. This, of course, is the passage that's famous because it's used by so many Bible believing Christians to explain what you've got to do to be saved. You've got to be what? Born again. Right? And that is what Jesus seems to be saying in verse 3 when he says to Nicodemus, " I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born anothen." Now that Greek word is a deliberate choice. That word can mean two things, either again or the same word means from above.
Jesus says, "Unless you are born anothen." Nicodemus takes it to mean "again." So he asks, "How can a man enter a second time into his mother's womb?" Jesus realizes that he has misunderstood the word. Jesus says, "You've got to be born anothen." Nicodemus thought it meant "again." The word can also mean "from above." I would suggest that it means "from above" primarily. And Jesus clarifies this in the following verse, John 3, verse 5, "I tell you the truth. Amen, Amen, truly, truly I say to you." When Jesus begins the statement with "Amen, Amen," he is attaching an oath to his words. "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit."
So, if you want to see or enter the kingdom of God, you've got to be born from above or again. In other words, you've got to be born of water and Spirit: A equals B equals C, therefore A equals C. If we have to be born of water and Spirit to enter into the kingdom of God, what does it mean to be born of water and Spirit? Well, John has already shown us, hasn't he? In the first chapter just preceding this section, in John 1, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and what came down "anothen" from above? The dove, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. When he received water, he received Spirit and both came from above in his baptism.
What is John hoping the reader understands by this teaching of Jesus, "You must be born again"? That is, you must be born of water and Spirit. That is, you must be baptized for when you are, you are born from above a second time through water and Spirit. We are Bible believing Christians. We've also got to become Bible studying Christians, haven't we?
Now I would also suggest that the rest of John 3 backs up this Catholic interpretation of this crux passage. John 3, verse 22, right after this discourse with Nicodemus, tells us, "Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside where he spent some time with them and baptized." It's the only reference in the entire New Testament where Jesus and the disciples are baptizing and it immediately follows Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus about being born again or being born of water and Spirit.
In fact, the same passage uses the same word, anothen two more times. In John 3, verse 31 and 32, it tells us, "the one who comes from above is above all; the one who comes from heaven is above all." The word anothen is used, showing that it's not born again, like reincarnation, but rather born from above in the sense of regeneration. We do not believe in reincarnation as Catholics or as Christians. We do believe in the necessity of regeneration, and that is baptismal. No wonder in John 3, verse 25, an argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John the Baptist and said, "Rabbi, that man Jesus, who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, the one you testified about, well, he is baptizing and everyone is going to him." They were crying on his shoulder. What does John the Baptist say when he hears that Jesus and the disciples are now baptizing? "You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.'" And by the way, what does Christ mean? Christos is the word for "anointed one," the christened one. The bride belongs to the bridegroom, the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine and is now complete. "He must increase and I must decrease." Old Testament baptisms are now out of the picture because Jesus and the disciples have begun baptizing, introducing a new hope into this hopeless world, the hope of becoming the children of God.
Now, I hope you heard what I just said, because I guarantee you the 1990's will not be through before at least two or three people come up to you and ask you, "Are you born again?" And they'll mean by that something simple as accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior into your heart. So you should say, "Yes, I've accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but the reason I'm born again is because I've receive the sacramental oath." Just to give you a clue as to what to say when they come knocking on the door, because you know they will.
Anyway, we have to get on to Confirmation. Let me just try to summarize here a few elements of the teachings on Baptism in the Church. It's been said by a great saint that if we could see with the angels' vision a newly baptized soul, we would be sorely tempted to fall down and worship. If we could see how pure and glorious Christ makes a soul at the moment of baptism, we would almost mistake that soul for God because that soul is adorned with the glory of God.
Baptism of Infants
Now that's speaking hypothetically, but it raises the question in many minds and that is, "Why do we baptize babies if it's the sacrament of faith?" Well, Baptism is the sacrament of rebirth, regeneration. Did you decide when you would be born the first time? Did you make any negotiations with the doctor and the nurse as to the moment that your physical birth would occur? Did you work things out in advance with your mother? She sure wished you would have!
Your physical, natural birth occurred without any decision on your part and without any help as well. So, likewise, supernatural rebirth from above comes from God's grace alone. Did you hear me? It's by grace alone that we have been saved. It is not our works. We do not buy our way or work our way into God's family. We work, but as sons. We do not buy membership in the family. We are freely given sonship and then we are expected to work it out because he has given us the capacity to do so. But don't ever mistake that state of grace for a wage or a salary. It's not. We are sons who inherit by grace alone. We are saved by faith working in love but this comes to us by God's grace and God's grace alone.
That is why the early Church believed that the baptism of an infant was so appropriate, because what better picture do we have of our own soul, helpless and dependent for new life? And so it was from the very beginning that John 3 and Acts 2 and other passages were used to explain why from the very start the Apostles were not only baptizing individual adults but entire households as well. So, there are good solid reasons from Scripture to baptize babies and to see those children as reborn children of God. Good reasons, and most Protestants accept those reasons. The Baptists don't and they are frequently the ones who will come at your door. So I just say this to get you ready.
Responsibility of Parents
I also want to say one other thing to get you ready to baptize your baby. Parents who baptize their infants obey the Lord's command, but parents who baptize their infants with little or no commitment to raise the child in the context of the living faith profane a divine institution. They endanger their own souls as parents, and they also deprive their child of all of the benefits and the advantages and graces that normally are associated with Baptism. It's a lot like having a baby and then letting him starve. Let's pray, because we are surrounded by many Catholics like that who have been baptized as babies but raised in homes where the faith was never really brought up or lived out or loved. Let's be sure that we reverse all of that.
One other thing I want to mention before I move on to Confirmation is that in the early Church Baptism was understood as an exorcism. Did you know that? That in the liturgy of Baptism, even to this day, there is a rite of exorcism whereby we not only renounce the works and the pomp's of Satan, but where Satan is driven out through Baptism. How does that happen? You mean a sacrament can exorcise demons? That seems a little far fetched, doesn't it? I want to tell you one little known fact. The word exorcism is a compound of two Greek words, "ex orchia". The word "orchia" is the Greek word for, guess what? Oath. Exorcism is the act by which demons are oathed out of people. Exorcism gains its power from sacramentum, from oath. If sacramentum is the Latin word, orchia is the Greek word and to exorcise is to drive out the devil with the oaths of Jesus Christ, the sacraments that he has instituted for our life.
So we were baptized out of the name of the devil, out of the name of Adam and in the name of Christ and the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So the Blessed Trinity becomes the first family of our kingdom and the Church becomes our universal family and we become, not only children of God, but priests and prophets and kings. Because that really is the ultimate significance of the sacrament of Baptism. Because those were the three offices anointed or baptized in the Old Testament.
Now, I see we are running short of time, and I want to discuss Confirmation. Let me say a few things about this second sacrament. Confirmation could be described as our own personal Pentecost. It's where the Spirit, received in Baptism, all of a sudden bursts into life with Confirmation. If Jesus was declared to be a child or a son of God at his baptism, do you remember the Mount of Transfiguration where all of a sudden the glory of sonship blinded the disciples and they fell down at his feet? Then they hear that same heavenly voice coming down and saying, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased." Only this second time God adds a new phrase, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." "Listen to him." And right after that event, Jesus, we are told, set his face like flint to Jerusalem because he knew he had to go up and do spiritual battle with the devil.
He had to offer up his life in the great war for our souls, as the great martyr and sacrifice, victim and priest for our salvation. In a sense, Baptism and Confirmation make us "little Christs." Christos means anointed. Anointing is what Baptism and Confirmation both involve. It is the sacrament of spiritual adolescence. You know how that body you received at birth was small and weak and dependent and so it had to be nurtured and cared for until you gradually developed more and more independence? Then all of a sudden puberty sets in and that's where we want all of our independence yesterday. Right? What is it about puberty, what is it about adolescence that transforms us?
Biologically we could describe it as the release of hormones. I don't know much about it, but I do know that doctors and scientists talk about estrogen reaching new levels in testosterone for males, and all of a sudden facial hair begins to grow and the voice begins to deepen and the body begins to grow and so on and so forth. In other words, we have physical hormones that are released at certain times according to a kind of biological clock whereby our bodies grow up to prepare us to become soldiers and more -- husbands, wives, fathers and mothers.
Sacrament of Spiritual Adolescence
Confirmation is the sacrament of our spiritual adolescence. You could almost say that it releases supernatural hormones to enable the teenager, the Christian adolescent, to overcome all the temptations associated with all of the new powers and the new desires that flood into the human soul during those early teen years. It's the sacrament of fortitude whereby we take courage, and we take courage to fight the fight. It's also called the sacrament that makes us soldiers of Christ. We're drafted, or hopefully we volunteer and enlist in Christ's army, and we become soldiers of Christ fighting the devil.
I believe that Confirmation is the most underrated of the seven. Confirmation is the most underrated sacrament. It gives to us the capacity to gain spiritual self-mastery, and what do adolescents need? It gives to us a greater conformity to Christ so the glory of our sonship might be lived out morally at a time of increased temptations and opportunities and occasions for sin. And it releases the fullness of the Holy Spirit's power in us. We determine ourselves by choices and by actions and we need God's help to make the right choices to do the holy actions.
Let's face it. Modern life, like never before, presents our teenagers with greater temptations and trials and tests of purity and moral courage than we can barely imagine. The sacrament of Confirmation gives to human beings something more than natural virtue. It gives to them what is known as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 11, verse 2 describes these seven gifts: "wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, Godliness and the fear of the Lord." These gifts of the Holy Spirit are supernaturally infused into the spiritual teenager's soul to give that person powers to overcome occasions and temptations to sin and to rise to a new level of holiness and glory. And let's face it -- this is what our Catholic teenagers need like never before. And we've got to be explaining to them what it is they are receiving in this sacrament so they don't despair of chastity, so they don't give up hope in being perhaps the exception to the rule of their high school. Because we face tough times and we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit because natural virtues are not enough.
Theologians can compare the natural virtues that we can develop by exercising our will to choose holiness. Theologians compare these natural virtues of the gifts of the Holy Spirit by comparing oars on a boat, you know, which we have to use with great effort to move the boat closer to God. If the boat is our soul, the oars are the natural virtues that we use to get closer to God. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit are like a sail. All we have to do is hoist the sail, and the Holy Spirit comes along and provides the energy and the drive that we need in the sacrament of Confirmation lived out to overcome impurity. But not just to overcome the negative, but to attain the positive and the constructive virtues of chastity, of self-mastery so that we can learn to give ourselves to the needy among us. That's what the sacrament of Confirmation is all about.
Now, why do we need it? Let me give you some interesting statistics and let's ask ourselves whether this sacrament should cease to be the most underrated. By the age of 20, we are told by a recent poll, 81% of today's unmarried males and 67% of today's unmarried females have had sexual intercourse - by the age of 20 - teenagers. The number of never married teenage girls having intercourse increased by two-thirds in the decade of the 70s. It increased even more in the 80s. Fifty percent of today's sexually active 19-year-old males had their first sexual encounter between the ages of 11 and 13. God provides supernatural hormones to accompany these natural hormones so that these new drives and desires can be harnessed into a supernatural drive for holiness. But our kids don't know it, do they?
The New York poll from Audits and Surveys Research Study show that 57% of high school students and 79% of college students had lost their virginity. In 1987 more than 1.1 million teenage girls became pregnant. Of these, about 400,000 ended in abortion -- 100% increase in the last 15 years! Teen pregnancy rates are at an all-time high. A 25% decline in birthrate between 1970 and 1984 is only due to a doubling of the abortion rate during that same period. And this is the last thing I'll leave with you. A recent survey reveals, "Religion conscious girls are 86% more likely to save virginity until marriage is important contrasted with non- religion conscious girls. However, the former group, the religion conscious girls, that former group, is only 14% more likely to be virgins at marriage than the non-religion conscious girls." This isn't just for young men. This is for young women.
Future of the Catholic Faith in America Depends on our use of the Sacraments
The future of the Catholic faith in our land depends upon it, and don't you believe that God has made a promise at the feet of Americans that there will always be a Church. You read the New Testament. Where is the Church today in Corinth? Where is the Church today in Ephesus? The seven letters of the seven churches in Revelations, Smirna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Laodicea? The Church is gone. In all seven of those churches, in almost all of the churches in the world. Christ has never said that the kingdom of God is staked to the life and the power of the United States.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the Chair of Peter, not the President of the U.S. We have got to be responsible as parents to tap the power of these sacraments and a love for God and a love for our kids and to spread the word, don't we? Let's hear it for the Holy Spirit and let's make sure this sacrament does not become the underrated sacrament of the 90s. Let's sound the message that Confirmation brings the glory and the power of sonship to bear upon those who may well need it more than anyone else in all of America, our teenagers. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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