Summary: There is a price to be paid for the gift of faith, at least inconvenience.
Thursday of Easter Week 2014
Today from the Acts of the Apostles we hear a snippet of the earliest kerygma of the apostles. It’s pretty stout. Peter is preaching to people who have just seen him heal–by the power of Jesus the Messiah–a man who could not walk. And then he fusses at his listeners: “The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” Then he recounts the history of the Jews, the Hebrews, and calls on them to repent. His appeal is to repent and be baptized. That is shorthand for turning away from sin, adopting the way of life of Jesus, and participate in the sacramental life by initiation into the Church. The early disciples knew that we encounter Jesus today in what they called “the breaking of the bread.” That’s what we call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This turning away from sin, as we see in Acts, can have a great price. For the early Christians, it often meant being alienated from their dearest relatives and friends, who were Jews who refused to accept the crucified carpenter as their Lord and Messiah. Baptism for them was a radical act–a divine gift, for sure, but also a turning around in an opposite direction. It could mean the loss of livelihood, a cutting loose from their lifelong foundations. For some, it meant the loss of their lives.
We cannot underestimate the value of that witness to us. The apostles didn’t just think they saw a resurrected Christ. They knew it. They were so certain of that experience, of that reality, that they went to their deaths rather than deny it. This is unrepeated in the history of religion. Even Judas witnessed to the truth of Jesus’s Messiahship by his turning his back on his treason and his suicide. Look at the original witnesses, for instance, of Joseph Smith’s famous gold plates that he supposedly translated with a special divine translation table. Not all of them kept the LDS faith all their lives. It wasn’t worth any major inconvenience, let alone the cost of their lives. No, the apostles were unique. They paid the ultimate price for their perseverance, and we are the heirs of that treasure. We can believe because they saw, understood, and believed unto death.
The popes continue with their reflection on faith and baptism: “To appreciate this link between baptism and faith, we can recall a text of the prophet Isaiah, which was associated with baptism in early Christian literature: “Their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks… their water assured” (Is 33:16).37 The baptized, rescued from the waters of death, were now set on a “fortress of rock” because they had found a firm and reliable foundation. The waters of death were thus transformed into waters of life. The Greek text, in speaking of that water which is “assured”, uses the word pistós, “faithful”. The waters of baptism are indeed faithful and trustworthy, for they flow with the power of Christ’s love, the source of our assurance in the journey of life.
“The structure of baptism, its form as a rebirth in which we receive a new name and a new life, helps us to appreciate the meaning and importance of infant baptism. Children are not capable of accepting the faith by a free act, nor are they yet able to profess that faith on their own; therefore the faith is professed by their parents and godparents in their name. Since faith is a reality lived within the community of the Church, part of a common “We”, children can be supported by others, their parents and godparents, and welcomed into their faith, which is the faith of the Church; this is symbolized by the candle which the child’s father lights from the paschal candle. The structure of baptism, then, demonstrates the critical importance of cooperation between Church and family in passing on the faith. Parents are called, as Saint Augustine once said, not only to bring children into the world but also to bring them to God, so that through baptism they can be reborn as children of God and receive the gift of faith.38 Thus, along with life, children are given a fundamental orientation and are assured of a good future.” Faith, thus, is in a real sense inherited, although every person, every generation, has to affirm that gift through the operation of his free will.