Growing up Catholic, I had heard the word “grace” mentioned many times. I could repeat the definition of grace to anyone who asked. Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor given to a person to help him attain eternal life. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, while I sat in a broken-down car, did
the reality of grace become more clear.
Early one morning, I was at a busy intersection waiting for the traffic light to turn green when my car just stopped working. I remember taking a deep breath, saying a prayer (which consisted mostly of desperate begging) and turning the key to start my car. I did this three times. Deep breath, desperate prayer, turn the key…and the result was the same every time, nothing!
I left messages for my husband and phoned a friend for help. Then I had to wait. As I sat in my car waiting to be rescued, I watched other drivers zoom by and became overcome by feelings of embarrassment and humiliation. I sat there wondering, “Why do I feel this way?” After reflecting on my emotional state, I realized my feeling of humiliation was a result of being completely vulnerable. There was no possible way for me to move my broken down car all by myself. I was left to the mercy of anyone who chose to help me. Help did finally arrive. The sense of relief, joy and pure gratitude that swept over me once I was rescued has embedded itself deep in my memory.
This experience reminds me of God’s grace. Grace is God’s divine life in our souls, his movement in our lives.
But why talk about grace in an article on baptism?
Baptism is the first sacrament we receive. All of the sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church to give us grace. They are not mere symbols but are efficacious, meaning they have an effect on the soul. The soul touched by grace is a soul changed by grace. Baptism introduces grace into our souls.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says baptism is “God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift” (1216), “the basis of the whole Christian life”, “the gateway to life in the Spirit”, and “the door which gives access to the other sacraments.” (1213)
We first experience the gift of God’s grace at our baptism when we are moved from the state of original sin, separated from God, to a state of being filled with God’s supernatural divine life. This grace, called sanctifying grace, is the gift of God himself dwelling in the soul. To get to heaven, one must be in a state of grace.
However, in our natural state we are like broken down cars, incapable (no matter how hard we try) of moving forward towards God and salvation. Due to original sin, all humans are completely vulnerable and dependent on a Savior to move them from a helpless, dire situation into a place of hope and redemption.
Through the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity inherited original sin, became subject to suffering and death and struggled with concupiscence, which is the inclination to sin. Baptism wipes away original sin, restores sanctifying grace, gives us a new life in Christ, marks us as God’s children, gives the gift of the Holy Spirit and infuses the soul with virtues that help us grow in holiness and avoid sin.
We should not grow indifferent to the necessity of baptism. Imagine for a moment you found out your newborn baby had a life threatening condition but could be easily remedied with surgery. What would you do? Would you wait until he or she is old enough to consent to surgery? I wouldn’t. I would act on behalf of my child to save him. The same is true for baptism.
Original sin is the diagnosis and baptism is the remedy. This is why baptism is encouraged very soon after birth. The catechism states: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth.” (1250)
At baptism, God calls us his children. To always live as God’s child is challenging, but God offers his divine assistance through the sacraments. The gifts and graces received at baptism are strengthened in confirmation, fed through the Eucharist, and renewed and restored through confession and anointing of the sick. This life of grace equips us for service to the Church through the sacraments of holy orders and matrimony. It is through baptism that the whole of the sacramental life is available to us.
We are called to cooperate with the grace God freely offers. Let us thank the Lord for his extravagant gift of grace that was introduced into our lives at baptism.