“This is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith.”(1)
Those of you who attended the Easter Vigil last Saturday evening will recall that we blessed the Baptismal water to be used in the coming year, and that we renewed our baptismal promises. Even though we had no converts to Baptize, the Church asks us to bless the water and to commemorate our own Baptisms, which took place however many years ago. The vigil of Easter is the primary Baptismal day for adult converts, who must spend weeks or months in learning the beliefs of Catholics before they can be admitted to the Sacraments.
Before the 1950s the Church repeated all of the Easter ceremonies relating to Baptism on the Vigil of Pentecost, the other traditional day for Baptisms. In many places, the Vigil of the Epiphany (on January 5th) is also a Baptismal day, and even where it is not, there is still a special blessing for holy water.
In Rome the Baptisms are conducted by the Pope (or his delegate) in the Baptistery of Constantine, followed by the Vigil Mass in the Pope’s cathedral, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, where the newly Baptized receive our Lord in Holy Communion for the first time. At their Baptism the neophytes receive a white garment—much like the long garment worn by the priest at Holy Mass. The white garment is a symbol of Baptismal innocence, and the newly baptized are cautioned to preserve their souls in the state of immaculate innocence.
The white garments are worn all week when the converts assist at Holy Mass and evening Vespers. But on Easter Saturday the garments are returned after Vespers, and, at least in Rome, the newly baptized are given a wax disk, called an “Agnus Dei—Lamb of God,” blessed by the Pope, impressed with the image of a lamb. At one time there was also a Mass offered for the “Annotine converts”—those Baptized a year ago at the Vigil. The putting aside of the white garments gives the name to this Sunday as the Domenica in albis deponendis—sometimes mistakenly shortened to Domenica in albis, or Sunday in white.”
It should not surprise us that today’s Mass is rich in calling attention to the importance of Faith. Baptism is the Sacrament of Faith. Apart from some dire emergency, no one is Baptized as an adult without first studying and learning the truths of the Catholic Faith—and then agreeing that he does, in fact, believe each one of them. Faith, you will recall, is the belief in the things God has revealed—if for no other reason than because they originate with God, the ultimate ground of Truth, Who neither deceives, nor can be deceived.
“The water and the blood,” in Saint John’s epistle, refer to the fact that we have Baptism only because Our Lord was willing to shed His blood on the Cross, for the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of mankind. We can also think of the water and the blood as Baptism and Holy Communion, by which of both our Faith is strengthened and we are made radically holy. “The spirit, the water and the blood,” adds the dimension of Sacramental Confirmation. And, if the Sacraments are earthly recognitions of spiritual realities, John promises “three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.” Our Faith is further strengthened by “the testimony of God in Himself.”
Today’s Gospel also points to the victory gained by Faith.(2) As always, it helps to read the Gospel in context—a few verses or more before and after the brief Sunday selection. In the same chapter 20, just a few verses earlier, Saint John relates that his faith in the resurrection was a gift from God. On a number of occasions, our Lord predicted that He would rise from the dead.(3) But John says in verse 9: “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.” He cannot mean that they didn’t know it—he must mean that they did not yet understand it. The miracle of Faith is that he and Peter came instantly to belief just by seeing the (negative) evidence of the scattered burial windings in the sepulcher. “He saw, and [he] believed.”(4)
Contrast this with Saint Thomas in today’s Gospel. His fellow Apostles all reported that they had seen Jesus, risen from the dead. But Thomas would not believe unless he saw for himself. He went so far as to say he would not believe even his own eyes: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Sometimes people don’t want to believe even the testimony of trustworthy friends. Perhaps it is due to pride: “I don’t trust your judgement as well as I trust my own.” Perhaps it is due to fear of being made the fool: “they may burst into laughter if I believe something proposed as a joke.” “Or perhaps others will laugh at me, even if what I believe is the truth,”
We have the testimony of the Apostle Thomas, who conducted a careful inquiry before believing in the Resurrection. That makes it easier for us. “blessed are [we] that have not seen, and have [yet] believed.” We have the graces of Baptism and the other Sacraments—it should be easier for us to believe and to profess our faith.
But we live in a hostile world—one in which people would rather do what they feel like doing, rather than doing what they know to be true and good—a world in which feelings trump facts—a world in which bad people demand approval for their bad behavior, and strive to punish the good people who refuse that approval.
Those of us who have received “the spirit, the water, and the blood”—those of us who have professed or renewed our Baptismal promises—we have an obligation to profess the Catholic Faith, in spite of opposition, ridicule, and even threat of death. “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater”—Faith is belief in what God has revealed to be true—Faith is the victory that overcomes the world!
(1) Epistle: I John v: 4-10 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drb&bk=69&ch=5&l=4#x
(2) Gospel: John xx:19-31 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drb&bk=50&ch=20&l=19#x
(3) Matthew: xvi: 21; xvii: 22; xx: 19; Mark: ix: 30; x:34; Luke ix:22; xiii: 32; xviii: 33; xxiv: 7 etc.
(4) John xx: 8 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drb&bk=50&ch=20&l=8#x