Written by Sherry
Wednesday, 21 November 2007 04:56
Archbishop Bruno Forte, who is a member of the International Theological Commission, has recently issued a pastoral letter on Baptism that I found encouraging and challenging: (via Zenit)in light of all the work we have done over the past year in preparation for Making Disciples.
Proclamation of Christ is essential: (ok, you knew this was coming)
The proclamation of the Gospel, he said, is a necessary requisite for baptism, even though in past years this duty of the baptized "was almost discounted and the importance of preparation for baptism was rather neglected."
"In the complex society in which we live, multireligious and multicultural, the urgency of proclaiming the faith and of Christ's call to conversion shows itself in all its necessity," observed the 58-year-old prelate.
And I love this consoling thought:
"He who receives baptism is not alone: God who is love will guard you always."
"Thanks to the gift of baptism," said Archbishop Forte, "we have the certainty of belonging always to God, and we can experience the sweetness of being in the hands of one who will never betray us."
Sweetness indeed for those of us who are seeking God but struggle with hope or scrupulosity or depression or abandonment issues.
Some implications re: salvation and the Church
He continued: "This definitive relationship with God consists fittingly of the 'character' imprinted by baptism, the bond with him, which thanks to his fidelity cannot be canceled, will unite us always to his family, the Church."
Sherry's note: As the Catholic Encyclopedia has noted, theologians have speculated that baptized human beings can bear their baptismal character into hell itself. Literally nothing we can do, no sin, no apostasy, can erase the mark of baptism. Just as obviously, if we can bear, in some unfathomable way, our baptismal bond with God and his Church into hell itself, being marked with this character is not a guarantee that we will reach our ultimate happiness and spend eternity with God.
I sometimes wonder if we have not inverted the meaning of baptismal character. I am simultaneously running across Catholics who, caught up in the culture wars mindset, act and talk as though liturgical preferences or doctrinal differences or open dissent or indifference can make a person cease to be Catholic and many lapsed Catholics who assume they can just jettison their baptismal identity any time they choose. At the same time, we have noticed a near universal pastoral practice that de facto assumes that all the baptized are “saved” by the sheer fact of their sacramental incorporation into the Body of Christ regardless of their personal response to the grace they have received.
The Catholic belief is: Once a Christian, always a Christian but not “once saved, always saved.” We could still end up spending eternity apart from God. Because, as St. Augustine observed, God will not save us without us.
One really challenging ecumenical implication of “once a Christian, always a Christian”:
For this reason, the archbishop wrote, "there exists among all the baptized [...] a communion stronger than their differences, which -- although it exists in different degrees -- is the basis of the ecumenical commitment, conducive to overcome the historical divisions among them."
The "passion for the unity that Christ wants," confirmed Archbishop Forte, is therefore "inscribed in the same baptismal grace."
This same mark, which cannot be erased even in hell, creates a communion stronger than our differences. This is true even though the communion exists in different degrees.
The Archbishop seems to be saying that Even the most distant baptismal communion between Christians is stronger than the differences between us.
Amazing. I need to chew on that one for a while.