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Deacon Richard Budgen's Talk given at the Series of Pastoral Area Talks on 'The Sacraments'

THE SACRAMENTS OF INTIATION ~ DIDCOT 26 NOVEMBER 2009

 
In March, a young man in his twenties came up to me after Mass, and said he
wanted to be Baptised.
I went to see him very week until July when I Baptised him during Mass, and Fr Paul Confirmed him.
In addition, because of his journey into faith and public commitment to Jesus and His Church, his Bolivian fiancée came back to living out her faith.
That whole process was a real highlight for me of my 15 years in the Ordained Ministry, and a blessing for me too.
When an adult comes to faith in the Lord and His Church, it’s a moment of celebration; not only for the person concerned, but also for the Church as a whole.
Also, when it’s an adult, we actually see the Sacraments of Initiation celebrated in the right order. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist.
With children we’ve adapted it to Baptism, Eucharist (First Communion), Confirmation.
Baptism, and Confirmation lead us to the Table of the Lord in the Eucharist, which is: “The source and summit of the whole Christian life.”
Second Vatican Council: Lumen Gentium II: 11
That’s why, as I said just now, it’s a celebration when someone comes to faith: and not only for the Church on earth, but also the Church in Heaven.
It’s as if the Saints at that moment are jostling round the one to be initiated to see who this person is who is joining the ‘School For Saints’ – the Church.
And that’s what the Church truly is, a ‘School For Saints,’ because all of us, by our being Baptised and Confirmed, become Saints in the making.
Eternal life is our destiny now, and in the life beyond: “The valley of the shadow of death.”
Ps. 23: 4
Eternal life, and Heaven is a talk for another day perhaps.
So what happens when we’re Baptised and Confirmed?
Let me take you to the foot of the Cross in the Gospel according to John 19: 28 – 37; and begin by saying that crucifixion was the cruellest, and most degrading form of torture and execution reserved for the dregs of society from which no-one survived.
Because of its very nature and, also, if the Roman soldier supervising the crucifixion did let his prisoner survive, his life became forfeit in the same way.
In his Gospel, John doesn’t try to skirt round or sanitise the event; and yet he has Jesus reigning as King from the Cross.
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate at His trial in John’s Gospel?
“‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’” Jn. 18: 36 – 37
I’m sure you’ve heard it said lots of times that Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church, but I’d like to challenge that assertion.
If we actually listen to what the Church has taught down the centuries, and Pope Benedict reiterates the Tradition in his words I quoted at the beginning of this talk that, namely on the Cross: “The water of life flowed from Christ’s side and his saving blood.” This brought the Church to birth.
And that’s stated definitively in the Documents, Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), and Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), of the Second Vatican Council in these words.
Lumen Gentium: “The Church grows visibly through the power of God in the world. This inauguration and this growth are both symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of a crucified Jesus, and are foretold in the words of the Lord referring to His death on the Cross: ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself’ (Jn. 12: 32)
Second Vatican Council: Lumen Gentium 1: 3
 
 
 
And, in Sacrosanctum Concilium: “God who ‘wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4), achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension, whereby ‘dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life’.
For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’” (Prayer before the second lesson for Holy Saturday, as it was in the Roman Missal before the restoration of Holy Week.) Second Vatican Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium 1: 5
So, in both documents, the Church teaches that she was born from the side of Jesus on the Cross; and she uses the Gospel of John to illustrate that truth.
We have Seven Sacraments, but Vatican II expanded our horizons by saying that the entire Church is a Sacrament.
An outward, and visible sign of the reality of the indwelling presence of Christ.
The Church is also the Body of Christ, and this isn’t a new idea. It goes right back to Paul, and most especially in Ephesians 1: 22 – 23 where he writes of Jesus: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Eph. 1: 22 – 23   
And the Body of Christ – the Church – receives its life from the Body of Christ on the Cross.
But, of course, if Jesus had remained as a dead body in a tomb outside the city walls in Jerusalem; if He hadn’t risen from the dead then, as Paul says: “Your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” 1 Cor. 15: 17 – 18
So, whatever we have to say about the Church, the Body of Christ, and our being grafted into His Body through Baptism and Confirmation, has to be said through the open entrance of the Lord’s Empty Tomb.
Through the constant, and consistent witness – the Tradition – of the Church to the fact that: “He has risen!” Lk. 24: 6
As we reflect this evening on Jesus as: “He slept the sleep of death upon the cross.” Vatican II: SC 1: 5 in John’s Gospel, we must, as I’ve just said, always do so by looking out of the Empty Tomb.
“Why look for the living among the dead? Lk. 24: 5
Because, if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, Baptism and Confirmation would just be empty gestures devoid of any means of giving us life in all its fullness as Jesus promises to us in
John 10: 10: “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.”
Now lets look at Baptism in a little more detail; and the classic text that describes what happens to us is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 6, which I’ll read to you: “Don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Rm. 6: 3 – 11
We die with Jesus. We go into the Tomb with Jesus. We rise to new, and eternal life with, and in, Jesus.
Nothing less than all of this happens to us in Baptism through the power of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – just as Paul reminds us a little further on in Romans: “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives your spirit life because you have been made right with God.” Rm. 8: 9 – 10
And it’s as well to remember that this deep, and well thought out theology; this teaching on Baptism in Romans 6, was written by Paul a scant 24 years after Jesus rose from the dead.
So, even in Baptism, the Holy Spirit is the agent of our dying, and rising with Jesus.
And, if we go once again to the foot of the Cross in the company of John, the Beloved Disciple, we’ll find out why.
In John 19: 28 & 30: “Knowing that everything had now been completed, and so that the Scripture should be completely fulfilled [Jesus] said, ‘it is fulfilled’ and bowing his head and gave up his spirit.”
But John didn’t mean that Jesus gave up His spirit with a small ‘s.’
No, he means that Jesus gave up His Spirit with a big ‘S.’
After the Marriage at Cana in John 2, Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover and finds His Father’s House being used as a market, so He drives all of the merchants out: “Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Jn. 2: 18 – 22 
Those who heard His words thought He was going to destroy the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem that had taken so long to build, and was still being completed.
Jesus meant his Body, the true Temple of the Holy Spirit.
For Jews, the Temple was literally the centre of God’s Universe because, screened by a curtain 60′x30′ – the same curtain that was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died Mt. 27: 51 – was the Holy of Holies.
There dwelt the ‘Shekhinah,’ the invisible presence of God.
To them, it was inconceivable that the Temple should ever be destroyed, and the Shekhinah of God leave it.
And yet, in AD 70 the unthinkable happened.
The Jews revolted against the Roman occupation, and the Roman army under its Commander, Titus, razed Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground.
Not one stone was left on another; and even to this day it’s never been rebuilt.
But, for that faithful remnant of Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Saviour; and for us Gentiles who follow Him, He is: “Immanuel, ‘God With Us.’” Mt. 1: 23 The Shekhinah of God.
When Jesus gave up His Spirit on the Cross, He was breathing out the Holy Spirit – the Shekhinah, the invisible presence of God – out onto, and into, the Church gathered at the foot of the Cross.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus; John, who wrote the Gospel, and that small group of faithful women.
The Shekhinah of God was no longer confined to a small space in the Temple, but had been exhaled from the Body of Christ into His Body, the Church.
And not just into the Church en masse, which indeed it has, but into each person who yields their lives to Him through faith and Baptism.
 To each one of us here this evening who have been Baptised into Christ.
The very last commandment Jesus gave to His Church was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
 Mt. 28: 18 – 20  
We must do no less than obey the Lord’s words to His Church, and each individual in it.
By being Baptised we take up the Lord’s mandate to go, and make disciples of everyone.
We can’t be closet Catholics, afraid to share our faith with anyone, and everyone.
Yet when we do celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, we must do so with care, and not just hand it out as if it were a bag of sweets... It’s far too precious for that.
A lot of couples today don’t really know why they want their child Baptised; maybe they don’t know because they haven’t been taught what Baptism is, and the indelible effect it produces in a person.
So they come with lots of different reasons other than that they truly want the best for their child by bringing them up as a Christian.
Also, something I often encounter when seeing couples is what I call the ‘Limbo Granny Syndrome.’ Now what can I possibly mean by that!?
Well, it’s when the parents maybe aren’t at all sure about the need to have their child Baptised and, therefore, wouldn’t make the Baptismal promises with a clear conscience, or really mean them.
But the Granny is desperate to have the child Baptised in case they die and go to Limbo, so she’s urging them to do it!
Let’s put to rest the old chestnut about Limbo by quoting Pope Benedict way back in 1985, whilst he was still Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In the 1985 book-length interview, ‘The Ratzinger Report,’ the future Pope Benedict said: “Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally - and here I am speaking more as a theologian and not as prefect of the congregation - I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis.”
Pope John Paul II held much the same view, and Pope Benedict still does as evidenced by putting his signature to a Vatican document in 2007 called: “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised.” International Theological Commission: April 19 2007
Baptism is such a precious gift, which not only gives us grace – the very life of God within us – but also demands of us a life-long response; so we mustn’t undertake it lightly.
Not just for ourselves if we approach it when we’re grown-up; but also to remember that by having a child Baptised, we not only give them this wonderful gift of the grace of God: we also place on their shoulders responsibilities for later in life.
They will be expected – and we hope and pray they do – to take up for themselves the promises made for them by their Parents and Godparents.
So to Baptise your child is not just a naming ceremony, an excuse for a party, something Granny wants you to do.
It’s actually much, much more of a sacred commitment you’re undertaking than when your baby is conceived, and then physically born into your family.
Because: “Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to the life of the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as children of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1313   
And following on from Baptism is Confirmation; and once again let me turn to the Second Vatican Council and its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,
Lumen Gentium.  
And this is what it has to say about Confirmation:
“By the Sacrament of Confirmation they [the Baptised] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are endowed with the special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ more strictly obliged to spread the faith by word and deed.” Vatican II: LG II: 11
At Pentecost: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2: 2 – 4
Let’s remember that the ‘all’ spoken of there doesn’t mean just the Apostles, but also Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and all the other people in the Cenacle, the Upper Room, in Jerusalem.
The coming of the Holy Spirit in this particular way is for the entire Church. All of the People of God.
Immediately, Peter and the other Apostles begin to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone, and everyone.
The Spirit is enabling the Church, born of water and the Spirit at the foot of the Cross, to fulfil the mandate given by Jesus just before He Ascended:
“Go and make disciples of all nations.” Mt. 28: 18
So, Pentecost is not the ‘Birthday of the Church,’ but its ‘Coming of Age.’
The Tradition of the Catholic Church sees the Sacrament of Confirmation as perpetuating throughout time, until Jesus comes again, the grace of Pentecost in the Church.
Which means that each of us who have been Confirmed are given the same mandate as those the Spirit came upon, and indwelt at the first Pentecost, to: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Mt. 28: 18
That’s its primary meaning.
But, in the context of those who were Baptised as babies, it can be an opportunity, pastorally, for them to own for themselves the promises made for them at their Baptism.
Because, as far as I’m aware there’s no other way for them do to so at present in the Church.
Again, this means we need to treat the Sacrament of Confirmation as a precious gift, which isn’t just dispensed when someone reaches a certain age in their teenage years.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” Jn. 3: 5
So, through the Sacraments of Initiation, we’re born again of water and the Spirit; but I just want to emphasise the fact that to receive them – and indeed the whole experience of being a Christian – should be a joyful and completely fulfilling encounter with the Lord.
Because, as Pope Benedict said: “Our happiness depends, in the end, on the encounter with Jesus and on friendship with Him.” Benedict XVI: Address to Students 10 April 2006
The German Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death by the Nazis for his opposition to their Godless rule.
As he left his cell to be hanged he said: “This is the end – but for me, the
beginning of life.”
This summed up his whole life of being joyful, whatever his circumstances, because he was a Christian.
And this had made him embark on what was almost a crusade to get the Christian Church as a whole to be faithful, and true to her Lord.
He wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”
I believe we have too easily walked away from: “The incredible wealth of [God’s] grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus” Eph. 2: 7
And instead we have gone down the road of ‘cheap grace.’
As Catholic Christians we have such riches poured out upon us by the Lord in the great Sacrament, which is His Church, and through the seven other Sacraments He’s gifted to us.
May we not sully them by the sin of treating them as objects of ‘cheap grace’ lest we become like the Christians of Laodicea to whom the Lord speaks these words in the Book of Revelation:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.”  Rev. 3: 15 – 17, 19 – 20