The Baptist and Baptism

Anthony Zimmerman
For Catholicmind
March 6, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

Jesus praised John as the great prophet who had the distinct privilege of preparing the way for His own mission:

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matt 11:7-11).

That last sentence spoken by Jesus, namely that John is the greatest of those ever born of women, yet "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" has puzzled me. The International Bible Commentary explains that John had not yet grasped "the good news of the heavenly Father's restoring love" and that he awaited a previous judgment before that would occur, This explanation claims that, whereas the disciples of Jesus had already entered into this new relationship with Gon, namely as a member of Christ's kingdom, John had not yet done so (p. 1291). Whatever be the merits of that explanation, we do know that entrance into the kingdom of God is a privilege of inestimable spiritual and eternal value.

Acceptance of Christ as Savior and Redeemer elevates us to a new level of sanctity that had not been available before. The thought opens our eyes with wonder, to contemplate how great are the benefits of Christianity. It spurs us anew to announce the kingdom to all peoples of the earth, and to baptize those who are willing, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and if the Holy Spirit. The same consideration motivates us to baptize our infants from early on, a practice that dates back to the Apostles.

It may even be true that this passage of Matthew clarified and opened the way for infant baptism in the early Church. For if even the least of humans, the tiny ones, who enter the kingdom of God through Baptism, are greater than John the Baptist was before he entered it, then we bring immense spiritual value to our infants by incorporating them into the Church, into the Blessed Mystical Body of Christ, through Baptism.

A spurious baptismal formula

That reminds us that it is not beneficial for the people if a pastor tinkers with the formula of Baptism. The sacrament is not valid if we change the formula. Christ left this final message with the Apostles: "Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). A pastor in Australia, however, invented a novel formula.

When it became public that an unauthorized formula was being used at St. Mary's parish in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia, Archbishop John Bathersby asked the pastor, Father Peter Kennedy and the parishioners, whether they wanted to belong to the Catholic Church. The news had spread that for the past ten years the infants of this parish had been "baptized" by Father Kennedy "in the name of the Creator, Liberator and Sustainer." The Archbishop revealed that, according to the canonical advice he had received, the formula was invalid. To be joined to the Church, therefore, the children had to receive Baptism in accordance with the correct formula (report by Paul Likudis, The Wanderer, December 9, 2004). It is a lesson for us that innovative attempts made by pastors are not always beneficial to the people entrusted to them.

Benefits of entering the kingdom of heaven through Baptism

Baptism ushers us into the kingdom of God, the least of whose members surpass the greatness of John the Baptist, as estimated by Christ in this passage of Matthew.

Baptism forgives all sins, original and personal, and all punishment due to personal sin.

Baptism gives us new life through the infusion of the grace of God and adoption into His family. This new life expels sins much as light drives away darkness.

CCC 1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature," member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

1266 The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptised sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:

Thus the whole organism of the Christian's supernatural life has its roots in Baptism.

The Catechism tells about the advantages of the baptised who are now members of the priestly community:

1119 Forming "as it were, one mystical person" with Christ the head, the Church acts in the sacraments as "an organically structured priestly community." Through Baptism and Confirmation the priestly people is enabled to celebrate the liturgy, while those of the faithful "who have received Holy Orders, are appointed to nourish the Church with the word and grace of God in the name of Christ."

One of six people in the world is a baptized Catholic

Church statistics in the 2005 Annuario Pontificio indicate that Catholics number 1.086 billion, an increase of 15 million over the previous year. Thus the Church has grown from the small body of 120 believers in the Upper Room in Jerusalem in the year of Christ's Ascension 2000 years ago, to the world-spanning body of over a billion members today. Christ's command, however, is to teach all nations all that He has commanded us, and He promised to accompany us in this apostolate "until the end of the world." Will that end come soon? I hope rather that Christ will give us ample time to Christianize the world and all its cultures. If He allowed some 200,000 years of human history to pass between the creation of Adam and Eve and the Birth if Christ, why not hope and pray for a similar span of time - for another 200,000 years - before God brings a fiery end to this beautiful world, our lovely habitat.