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First Communion, Every Communion

aaaaOn All Saints Day, my lovely eight year old daughter received her First Holy Communion. I have been preparing for this day since the day she was born. It sounds like hyperbole, but truly, once I had my baby girl, I was emotional with anticipation for this very day. There is a criticism of Catholics that comments on the inappropriateness of dressing our little girls like brides for this day. However, I cannot think of any other way more appropriate. In my heart, I know she is preparing to meet her bridegroom, Christ– who is Groom to the Church, who sacrifices all for the sake of His Church. The Church is filled with symbolic meaning, so offering a symbolic aspect to our children’s’ first reception of Christ is perfectly feasible. It should be filled with symbolism and greater meaning: purity of white garments, walking down the aisle, the ceremony, the tradition. She was giddy with anticipation. We bought her the right dress and veil; we prepared just the right hairstyle. We invited our family and took photos and had a lovely celebration. She knew this was an important day.fhc
The first time she wore a white gown was her Baptism. Her white lace baptism gown was just a dress rehearsal for the white dress, which was also lace, my little girl would later wear. The chrism and water prepared her to receive Christ, though that would not happen for another eight years. Her baptism purified her of original sin and the Sacrament of Reconciliation further cleansed her to be ready for this important sacrament. Holy Eucharist sets us apart from all other faiths. Others may baptize or even marry, however no one else but the Catholic Church has the actual body and blood of Christ, and THAT is a big deal. So even when, or if, my little girl wears a white dress again and walks down the aisle again, it would never be so important as when she receives Christ.
Tears rolled down my face as I watched my daughter open her mouth to eat and to drink His body and blood. I have been so anxious and excited for her day, I almost forgot about my own privilege of receiving Him. I forgot about just how blessed I am to take Christ every time I go to Mass. I should be just as giddy as my sweet girl was on her First Holy Communion Day every day. It is a blessing that God gives us his Son, and He asked us to “Do this in memory of Me.” We get to experience Him any time we want, so I very much want to get back that excitement and emotion of receiving Christ. I want to spend my time leading up to receiving Communion in sincere preparation, not necessarily the right hairdo or a white dress, because God sees beyond that. He does, however, see my heart. He can see how I have prepared in my inmost being to become one with Him.
I want us all to go back to that very first time and feel the excitement, feel the love that we anticipate experiencing, and feel the beauty that God accomplishes in us. Complacency has no business in Faith.fhc2

Apologetics Baptism Conversion Doctrine Ecumenism Faith Formation Sacraments Spiritual Growth Tiffany P

The Baptism of our Lord: the Reason Baptismal Regeneration is True

    In the spirit of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which was celebrated yesterday, my heart has been on this first baptism and the eternal effects that moment had on all Christians. Obviously, Jesus didn’t need the waters of baptism to purify or cleanse Himself, so that tends to raise the question of why did Jesus get baptized? I was taught in my Baptist childhood that Jesus got baptized to set the example for all future Christians. This is more or less the extent of the answer given by Baptist and other evangelical Protestant leaders, simply because they believe that baptism is merely a symbolic act: an “outward sign of an inward decision”, comparable to the Sacrament of Confirmation for Catholics. Going underneath the water represents the former person dying, and the rising up out of the water shows the emergence of a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). And while evangelical Protestants are not typically big into ceremonies or ritualistic acts, this one is embraced because Christ did it first.

These types of Protestants have it halfway right. Jesus indeed was baptized to set precedent for the Sacrament, so we may know that it’s an act of obedience that is to be taken seriously. However, as Catholics, we know that it is not merely a symbol of having been born again, but the very moment in which we are born into new creations in Christ:

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. –John 3:5

Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. –Colossians 2:12-13

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, –Titus 3:5b

With this knowledge in mind, Jesus’ baptism does more than just set the example, but rather His baptism is the reason why water performs this miracle on our soul. Not because there is anything magical about the water; contrary to common Protestant disputes, we are not relying on a superstition about the power of water. Jesus’ baptism served to purify all the waters—current and future—so that through His baptism the waters will have the ability to cleanse our souls.

Ignatius of Antioch, student under the apostle John who wrote extensively about baptism in the third chapter of his Gospel, wrote about this miracle:

“For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary by the dispensation of God, as well as of the seed of David as of the Holy Spirit: he was born, and was baptized, that by himself submitting he might purify the water (Letter to the Ephesians, 18).

Other Church fathers also touched on this subject:

 St. Ambrose of Milan: “The Lord was baptized, not to be cleansed himself but to cleanse the waters, so that those waters, cleansed by the flesh of Christ which knew no sin, might have the power of baptism. Whoever comes, therefore, to the washing of Christ lays aside his sins” (Commentary on Luke 2:83, A.D. 389).

St. Maximus of Turin: “Someone might ask, “Why would a holy man desire baptism?” Listen to the answer: Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. For the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water. For when the Savior is washed all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then, so that Christians will follow after him with confidence” (Sermon on the Feast of the Epiphany, c. 430)

In our Catholic tradition, we incorporate beautiful symbols into our baptism ceremonies: the candles symbolize the light of Christ, the white garments symbolize new life, the chrism representing the Holy Spirit. But even without these elements, a baptism is still valid and effective in making one a born again, new creation, so long as it is done in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and water is the element used. Water is the only mandatory physical component in a valid, saving baptism, because Christ’s baptism has blessed the water. The water saves because Christ’s baptism has instilled His grace within it, equipping it to purify our souls.

At my own baptism in 2004, standing alongside my Baptist pastor in the baptismal pool, I heard him say the words “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are buried in the likeness of his death…” and under the water I briefly went, rising up again a second later, “…and raised to walk in the newness of life.”

At the time, I thought what was taking place was a representative ceremony to show everyone that I have decided to follow Christ. I thought I was stepping into waters only because I was modeling what Jesus did first. But now I know that at the moment I rose up out of the water, I was truly being “raised to walk in the newness of life”: the “newness” being the new creation that I became at that moment, as the effects of Christ’s baptism 2,000 years ago still remaining in those waters purified my soul and welcomed me to the family of God.

Apologetics Communion Confession Conversion Ecumenism Evangelization Matrimony Sacraments Spiritual Growth Testimonials Tiffany P

The False Dichotomy of Religion versus Relationship with God

In 2007, the year I graduated high school and the year Facebook began to popularize, the “religious views” section of my profile stated: “Relationship with Christ—religion has nothing to do with it”. This statement wasn’t something unique that I came up with, but rather the mantra of evangelical Protestantism, the faith tradition of my upbringing. The Baptist and non-denominational faith communities instill in their congregants the belief that true Christianity is not a “religion” comprised of rules and rituals, but simply a personal relationship with Christ without rules or rituals. They continue to state that religious traditions and regulations are merely a trap set to deprive people of that deeper friendship with Christ, and adherence to such traditions can keep people from experiencing eternal life if people cling to religion “instead of” developing that relationship.

The intent that surrounds these ideologies is honorable. Faithful evangelical Protestants have an intense love for Jesus and heart for worship, and it frustrates them to see people who bare the Christian title going through the motions of worship and tradition, while showing no evidence of Christ otherwise in their daily life. As faithful Catholics, we sympathize with such frustrations. It pains us to see our fellow Catholics recite the words at Mass without meditating on their meaning and receive the Sacraments without openly embracing the graces that flow from them. Evangelical Protestants address this issue by creating unofficial categories for all those who identify as Christians, as seen through statements such as, “You should have a relationship with God instead of being religious”.  This, however, is a false dichotomy.

In the words of Father Claude Burns, who wrote and recited a poem addressing the issue of relationship vs. religion, “blaming religion for contradiction is like staring at death and blaming the hearse…those who choose to sit in the pews and refuse the good news is not the fault of religion”. Anywhere you go, you will find those who are blindly going through the motions without a true heart for Christ. While this is a severe problem in the Church that needs to be addressed, the answer is not to abandon the traditions Christ handed down to us; quite the opposite, we should cling tighter to them and strive to teach their meanings more diligently. Christ never condemns traditions in themselves, as many Protestants claim, but only the empty practice of them. True religion will enhance and deepen our ongoing relationship with God if practiced as He intended: with a full and focused heart. Similarly, the fruits produced from our relationship with God should stir in us a desire to be faithful to His commands and to the Church He built. “Religion” and “Relationship”, therefore, are not contradictory to each other, but rather they are beautifully intertwined and feed off one another.

As a former evangelical Protestant, this is something I had to slowly come to learn. Though confident as I was in my decision to become Catholic, realizing that it is the historical Church established by Jesus and commissioned by the apostles, I remained hesitant to become too devout in her Traditions and too dependent on the Sacraments. The Christian teachings of my upbringing imparted in me the belief that my relationship with God should be the foundation of my faith and becoming too religious would hinder that friendship. The Sacraments themselves showed me the faults in the latter part of that statement.

Indeed, my relationship with Christ is the center of my faith. The Sacraments have brought that relationship to a more intimate level by allowing me to experience God with all of my human senses. In the Holy Eucharist, I taste Christ. In Reconciliation, I hear Christ’s physical voice, spoken through one of his servants, say “I absolve you of your sins”. When the incense is used during mass, I smell the prayers of the faithful being lifted up to the Heavens. I feel and see Christ’s love daily through my Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. None of this is to say that my relationship with Christ was not deep or sincere as a Protestant; it certainly was alive and real and I was growing daily as a Christian. However, the religious rituals of Christ’s one Church have brought me to a new level of intimacy with Him, and this is because He physically dwells in the Sacraments.

Father Claude ends his poem with this final remark: “So as for religion, I love it. I have one because Jesus rose from the dead and won. I believe when Jesus said it is finished, His religion had just begun”. As someone who formerly claimed to hate religion, I now echo these thoughts. I am convicted that the Christ who came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” gets the greatest glory when His religion is practiced the way He intended: with hearts open and alert, striving to know Him more.

Fr. Pontifex Responds to Jefferson Bethkes Hate Religion, But Love Jesus