Whoever Believes and is Baptized

(Homily for Ascension of Our Lord)

When we began the Sundays of Ordinary Time, we heard Jesus' opening words: "The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News." Today, on the Feast of the Ascension, we hear his closing words. They deserve particular attention. Jesus tells us:

Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Faith and baptism bring salvation. Jesus does not mention any good work - or rather, belief and reception of the sacraments are the work he desires. This goes against the grain of our culture, but when you think about, it makes sense. If Jesus has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, as ruler of heaven and earth, the one vital thing we must do is join ourselves to him. We do that by faith - which is his free gift - and by the sacraments (also a free gift).

Early Christian writers attest to the necessity of baptism for salvation. An ancient document called The Shepherd of Hermas states: "there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins." In about 200 A.D. Tertullian compared Christians to little fish who "after the example of our [Great] Fish, Jesus Christ, are born in water." He writes about how we have no safety unless we "permanently abide in water." Tertullian had harsh words for a group of Gnostics who were trying to do away with baptism. They are "poisonous serpents" whose venom has killed the souls of many Christians. (see On Baptism)

Believe and be baptized, Jesus tells us. Those are practically his final instructions. I have to say that as a priest one of the greatest joys is to baptize adults at the Easter Vigil and to baptize the children of Christian parents. How beautiful it is to offer such a great gift!

To confirm the gifts of faith and baptism, Jesus speaks about some signs which will follow: driving out demons, speaking new languages, picking up serpents, drinking deadly drinks and healing the sick by laying on of hands. Many of these signs have already been fulfilled in the Acts of the Apostles: the diverse languages at Pentecost and the protection of St. Paul after being bitten by a deadly serpent. Others signs, such as authority over demons and the healing of the sick by the power of Christ, continue in the Church. All these signs are important, but we need to keep in mind their purpose: to lead us to faith and the sacramental life.

These past few weeks we have witnessed a lot of hype about a movie which was supposed to reveal the truth about Christianity. It turns out that what it revealed was well known to us as Catholics: the "sacred feminine" which we have always recognized in the Blessed Virgin Mary - and to some degree in every woman. The bigger truth about Christianity is infinitely more exciting: that you and I can have a present - and eternal - relationship with Ruler of the universe. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.

**********

Spanish Version

From the Archives (Ascension Homilies):

2015 (Year B): Disciple Makers Week 7: Be Part of the Story
2014 (Year A): Journey to Hope Week 7
2013 (Year C): The Way He Opened
2012 (Year B): He Took Prisoners Captive
2011 (Year A): The Personal Center
2010 (Year C): Disappear vs. Leave
2009 (Year B): What Good-Bye Means
2008 (Year A): Ascension Quotes
2007 (Year C): Separation of Church and State
2006 (Year B): Whoever Believes and is Baptized
2005 (Year A): There the Action Lies
2004 (Year C): Forgiveness - In His Name
2003 (Year B): What Does "He Ascended" Mean?
2002 (Year A): Finding the Way Home (Ascension & Mother's Day)
2001 (Year C): Submission to Jesus
2000 (Year B): Beyond the Secular Paradigm
1999 (Year A): A Wake Up Call
1998 (Year C): Jesus' Rule Vs. Cafeteria Catholicism

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