Because of original sin, we come into the world with a soul which is supernaturally dead. We come into the world with only the natural endowments of human nature. The supernatural life which is the result of God's personal and intimate indwelling, is absent from the soul.
Original sin is not, in the strict sense, a "blot" upon the soul. Indeed, original sin is not a "something" at all. It is the absence of something that should be there. It is a darkness where there ought to be light.
Jesus instituted the sacrament of Baptism to apply to each individual soul the atonement which He made on the Cross for original sin.
Jesus will not force His gift upon us, the gift of supernatural life for which He paid. He holds the gift out to us hopefully, but each of us must freely accept it.
We make that acceptance by receiving the sacrament of Baptism.
When the sacrament of Baptism is administered, the spiritual vacuum which we call original sin disappears as God becomes present in the soul, and the soul is caught up into that sharing of God's own life which we call sanctifying grace.
The sacrament of Baptism not only gives us sanctifying grace: it also makes us adopted children of God and heirs of heaven.
We say "adopted" children because God the Father has only one begotten Son-Jesus Christ. He is God's only Son through generation; the rest of us become God's children by adoption.
As children of God, we receive our inheritance at the very moment of our adoption, at the very moment of Baptism. Our inheritance is eternal union with God, and we have that inheritance now, once we are baptized.
Nobody can take this inheritance away. Not even God, who has bound Himself by irrevocable promise never to take back what He has given. We ourselves can renounce our rights-as we will do if we commit mortal sin-but no one else can deprive us of our heritage.
The point to be emphasized, and never to be forgotten, is that we are potentially in heaven the moment we are baptized.
Two big things happen to us when we are baptized.
Precisely because we possess the baptismal character, we have the right to receive the other sacraments. None of them can mean a thing to us until first the capacity for receiving the other sacraments has been established in the soul by the character of Baptism.
This is because it is by the character of actual Baptism that we "put on Christ," in the words of St. Paul. It is the character of Baptism, according to St. Thomas, that "configures" us to Christ and makes us participants in His eternal priesthood.
By Baptism we are given the power-and the obligation-to share with Christ in those things which pertain to divine worship: the Mass and the sacraments.
The impression of the baptismal character upon the soul also makes us members of the Church. The "mark" of Baptism is what differentiates between those who are members of the Church, Christ's Mystical Body, and those who are not.
This membership also imposes upon us an obligation to discharge the duties that go with our Christlikeness, our membership in Christ's Church. This means to:
* Lead a life according to the pattern that Christ has given us * Give obedience to Christ's representatives, our bishops and especially our Holy Father the Pope.
Baptism is necessary for salvation for anyone who has heard the Gospel of Christ and has the possibility of requesting Baptism.
"Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:5). And His command to the Apostles was: "Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe" (and, by inference, is not baptized) "shall be condemned" (Mark 16: 15-16).
(The Catechism's section on Baptism also describes this requirement; see numbers 1257-1261.)
We can understand, then, why it is that the Church insists that babies be baptized as soon as possible after birth-as soon as the infant can safely be carried to church.
It is an article of faith that anyone who dies in the state of original sin is excluded from heaven, from the vision of God. However, the Church has never officially taught that the souls of infants who die without Baptism do not see God; it may be that God has some way of compensating in such souls for their lack of Baptism. But if so, God has not revealed it to us.
Most theologians are of the opinion that the souls of unbaptized infants enjoy a high degree of natural happiness (to which they give the name of "limbo") but not the supernatural and supreme happiness of the beatific vision. In any event, our obligation is to follow the safer course: never through our fault to let a soul enter eternity without Baptism.
For parents, this means that they should not unduly delay the Baptism of their newborn child.
If someone were to ask you, "What is the most important thing in life for everybody without exception?," You would, if your Catholic training has been adequate, answer without hesitation, "Baptism!"
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