Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Initiation Into the Body of Christ
A sprinkle. A flood. A river run amok.
A tsunami. A typhoon or hurricane.
Rain. Frustrating when absent, overwhelming when endless.
A warm bath. A cleansing. A healing moment when time stands still, when death surrenders to life.
Think of the last time you touched holy water
before making the Sign of the Cross. What were you seeking at that moment?
Speaking of initiation
One of the many blessings of the Second Vatican
Council was the restoration of an approach to initiation
now known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of
Adults (RCIA). This rite engages and supports people
in their ongoing conversion to Christ as they come to
accept or strengthen a lifestyle of faith as members of
the Catholic Church.
Whether celebrated during a single liturgical
moment, such as the Easter Vigil, or separated by the
movement of life, the sacraments of initiation
(Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) call us to relationship
with God in Christ. We experience the living
truth that sacraments “are actions of the Holy Spirit at
work in his Body, the Church” (Catechism of the
Catholic Church, #1116).
Initiation surrounds us with people of faith as we
share the sacred inheritance of Scripture and Tradition.
We live as a people clothed in Christ as we enter the
Church’s living memory, grounded in the love of the
Father and guided by the indwelling Spirit.
Born of water and Spirit
When we break out an old family
album and spot a Baptism photo of
ourselves, we are viewing more than a
distant memory. Focusing on the power
behind a fading picture, we resolve not
to lose sight of who we are: witnesses
to faith through saving waters.
Jesus said to the inquiring
Nicodemus, “[N]o one can enter the
kingdom of God without being born of
water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). Water and
Spirit summon us to cleansing, leading
to salvation in Jesus. This freedom
comes through holy waters; the power
of the Holy Spirit is upon us.
Passage through these waters is
from death to new life in the
name of the Father, the Son and
the Holy Spirit.
Through Baptism we are
freed from Original Sin and any
personal sins. We become God’s
own adopted ones and sharers in
his life of grace. We trust that the
Spirit is with us always. Our baptismal
identity is rooted in Christ,
the one who asked Zebedee’s
sons, “Can you drink the cup
that I drink or be baptized with
the baptism with which I am baptized?”
We are invited to belong to a welcoming
Church and are initiated into
it. As Catholics, our developing identity
is shaped through the Church we
call our home. There is no retracting
our Baptism. Now “configured to
Christ” (CCC, #1272), we are his.
Strangers no more
The glistening lake was clear like glass.
Urged on by my children, I swam
toward a distant buoy. But sudden pain
overtook me as I struggled to return to
shore. I flailed about, unable to stay
above the surface, until a stranger
came to my aid. This event became a
“baptismal reminder” for me.
“When am I helpless? Who aids me?
Who is the stranger in my life?” The Holy Spirit led me to Scripture: “I
was...a stranger and you welcomed me”
Looking in life’s mirror, I wondered, “What am I immersed in now? When do I
come up for air? Do my ‘self-immersions’
prevent me from building relationships
with others?” Finally, the voice of liberating
awareness: “How might I hold up
another until more help arrives?”
We are strangers no more because
of saving waters. Confident that other
disciples will hold us up when the
going gets rough, we become gentle
handlers of others when they risk
reaching out to us. Baptism does not
fade over time. The call to holiness is always before us as we “live in newness
of life” (Rom 6:4).
Sealed for mission
Soothing oil penetrates; the oil of
chrism penetrates for a lifetime. In the
Sacrament of Confirmation, we are
marked with the Spirit, sealed for what
we are called to be and to do. Jesus’
promise of the Spirit to the apostles is
a promise to the whole Church. In
Confirmation, the same Spirit received
at Pentecost enlivens and strengthens
us for mission.
The bishop (or his delegated
priest) extends his hands over us and
prays that the Spirit will be poured out
upon us. The seven gifts of the Spirit
named in this prayer—wisdom, understanding,
right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and wonder and
awe—can become a natural part of our
lives as relationships in faith blossom.
Through the anointing with the oil
of chrism, we are sealed for mission,
strengthened for living each day as witnesses.
Our lives testify in word and
action to the saving Christ. We witness
in continuity with all who have gone
before us. Our conversion continues;
our witness lives.
The good life
I once knew an evening office maintenance
person named Lily. Because I
often worked late, Lily and I talked regularly.
It did not take long to realize
that she was a person of deep
Christian faith. One evening Lily
bade me farewell; she was leaving
her job to care for a seriously ill
adult daughter. Her last words to
me were “Have a good life.”
Through Confirmation, the
Holy Spirit strengthens us for the
“good life” even though we may
be burdened by hardship. As we
live by faith we may be challenged
to defend what we believe,
doing so with charity motivated
by love. We remain sealed for
mission. I never saw Lily again,
but I believe that she continues to
live a good life. Her witness lives.
Summit and source
TV news anchors entice viewers with the
phrase, “Coming up.” For the initiated
believer, waiting time is over as God’s
promises yield to reality. Each sacrament
summons the community of faith to
the mystery of dying and rising to new
life, the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives himself for all in what
he says and does. His sacrifice is real
and ever before us. In the Eucharist,
Jesus pierces time and history, offering
himself for all people (friend and foe
alike) in this memorial of his life,
death and resurrection. What sustains
us during this “time of new time” is the Eucharist, “the summit and source
of our Christian life” (U.S. Catholic
Catechism for Adults, p. 228).
We gather as one community of
faith, thanking God for Christ’s sacrifice,
now the sacrifice of the entire Church.
We are eager to worship and eager to
serve. As we gather, we can recall Jesus
washing the feet of his disciples and his
institution of the Eucharist.
Our faith deepens our belief in the
Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
While the sacred elements retain the
appearance of bread and wine, “the
underlying reality—that is, the substance—is now the Body and Blood of
Christ” (USCCA, p. 223). Christ is not
almost present, or present if I think he is,
but “substantially present in a way that
is entirely unique” (USCCA, p. 229).
Here and now
Jesus nourishes us. When we present
ourselves for Holy Communion, “we are
not changing Christ into ourselves.
Jesus is transforming us into himself”
(USCCA, p. 227). Jesus’ covenant with
us is not “coming up” but is here and
now, a gift woven from a tapestry of
unconditional love and eternal hope.
Life beyond initiation is not the same as
watching a game clock run down to
“0:00.” Our formation in faith continues.
Initiation draws us into memory
never forgotten. Time is no measure
here, for new life is forever.
We belong to Christ. No wonder
the two disciples on the road to
Emmaus yearned for the stranger who
joined their walk to stay with them. We
can make their words our own as we
pray, “Stay with us...” (Lk 24:29).
Next: God's Desire for Healing
The last time you touched holy water before making the Sign of the Cross,
what were you seeking: Healing? Cleansing? Unity with God and the Church? Salvation?
What do you do to make sure you don’t lose sight of who you are: a witness
“to faith through saving waters”?
How do you hold up others? How do you reach out to “the stranger” and
acknowledge your unity in Christ?
What does it mean to you to live a “good life”? How does your membership
in the Church, the Body of Christ, help you achieve this?