Emily: Have you ever wanted to start over and become a totally different person? Or wondered what it would have been like to be in a different family?
Edmund: Actually yeah, so I moved around a lot as a kid and every time we moved I thought about what it would be like to have a totally different reputation at a new school.
Emily: I think we can all relate to that feeling – wanting to start over. And there’s one man that speaks to Jesus about this very thing.
Edmund: Nicodemus, right? He was an important religious leader in the Jewish community. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin — which is like the supreme court in ancient Israel. Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night because he’s afraid of anyone seeing him with Jesus, but also he’s curious about Jesus. Nicodemus tells him that he understands Jesus must be a teacher from God.
Emily: In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Nicodemus asks “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Edmund: So there’s some wordplay going on here. See, Jesus uses the Greek adverb anōthen which means both “from above” and “again.” Nicodemus misunderstands it literally as “again.”
Emily: It makes sense why Nicodemus is so confused. But Jesus here is talking about baptism right?
Edmund: Yes, and in a way it’s appropriate that Jesus uses this word that means “again” and “from above.” The Sacrament of Baptism changes us radically and permanently. It gives us a new life.
Emily: Let’s refresh on the sacraments.
Jesus gave the Church 7 sacraments. There are three of initiation, two of healing, and two at the service of communion. Baptism is one of the three sacraments of initiation, along with Confirmation and the Eucharist. We only receive Baptism once, and it begins our new life in Jesus and the Church.
Edmund: God gives us birth into new life through the Sacrament of Baptism. Jesus himself was baptized, but not because he needed it. It was an example for us.
This sacrament is called Baptism because the Greek word for Baptize means to “plunge” “wash” or “immerse”. The essential rite of Baptism consists in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The “plunge” into the water symbolizes our burial into Christ’s death, from which we rise up by resurrection with Jesus, as “a new creature.”
Emily: Jesus tells us that Baptism is necessary for salvation, and it begins our new life in Him. Baptism imprints on the soul what is called an indelible spiritual sign. This makes the baptized person equipped for Christian worship.
Edmund: Before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave the apostles the great commission, which was his final instructions. He said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Emily: The Catechism explains what happens next. It says in paragraph 1226: “From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans.”
Edmund: The effect of Baptism, or the baptismal grace we receive, includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, and birth into the new life as an adoptive son or daughter of the Father. The person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ. We also become a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Emily: So Baptism is necessary. But a common question is…
Edmund: Will the baby cry while being baptized?
Emily: Well yeah. But most don’t.
But what about children who die without baptism? The Church invites us to trust in God’s mercy and to pray for their salvation. The Church can only say what Jesus said, “no one can see the kingdom of God” without Baptism. But God is not bound by the sacraments, so we trust that God has a plan.
Edmund: God gives us birth into new life through the Sacrament of Baptism. It’s a radical transformation. And similar to being born again we enter into a new family – God’s family – the Church.