theophany edited

In times of trouble, unrest and great distress–whether personal, cultural, or political–we must constantly throw ourselves on the mercies of Christ through the grace of his Church. The greatest saints are forged by the greatest tribulations; through which tribulations they resisted the temptation to seek perfection, utopia, or security in this world, and sought above all the secure perfection of the Face of Jesus Christ. It is essential now and always that we know deeply and put into practice that the spiritual regeneration that all crave – knowingly or unknowingly the liberation from sin and shame that all need at their deepest core – is found not in political regimes, cultural fads, or ideological programs, but in the real grace of Jesus Christ dispensed throughout the world through the sacraments of his Church.

St. John Henry Newman’s sermon “Regenerating Baptism” anchors us in baptism as the fount of Christ’s grace, and reminds us that we are really redeemed by this sacrament. Baptism confers the gift of faith, allows entrance into the Church, incorporation into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and removes all trace of original sin. It is no “mere” symbol, but a real work of the Holy Spirit.

In this sermon and throughout his life Newman did much work to distinguish the truth about baptism from the erroneous ways it was viewed in his time. In the more “evangelical” party of the Church of England, actual regeneration by baptism was denied in favor of withholding it until a person was mature enough to “have faith and repentance” prior to, or without, baptism. But the “middle way,” or via media, of more traditionalist Anglicans upheld infant baptism by adhering to tradition and appealing to the precedent of Jewish circumcision, which was administered to infants. Although Newman very much upheld the practice of infant baptism inherited by Tradition, he says both of these views are “defective” in regarding baptism as a mere ritual rather than a sacrament, a real means of grace. 

Newman focuses on Scripture, the clear text of which suggests that the grace of regeneration is conferred because of the Holy Spirit’s work through the baptism itself, not by something else before or after. And, the regeneration baptism offers is open to anybody, at any age. Scripture describes baptism in terms of “regeneration,” not merely in terms of visible entrance into a corporate body. In other words, it actually does something, actually confers some essential grace, to the “individual soul.” It remits sins and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. If it does not, then Newman agrees that infant baptism should not be permissible. But he goes further to suggest that if baptism does not affect regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit, then there is no reason to do it at all, at any age. His terms are stark and true: “Either Baptism is an instrument of the Holy Ghost, or it has no place in Christianity.” If it has “no power above a Jewish rite,” “we should discard it.” 

This is extremely important for us to pay careful attention to. Some Protestant Christians believe baptism to be only a visible sign, or a public proclamation of one’s faith that arises from a different source, often one’s own conviction or feelings. Out of reverence for Scripture, they still baptize if for no other reason than because Christ commands us to explicitly in Scripture. And yet we must press: why did Christ command it? Why would Christ command an empty ritual if He promised to bring the real substance to replace the “shadow” of Jewish customs?

Newman presses farther: the “plain meaning” of Scripture is that baptism actually does something. It “regenerates” an individual soul by the power of the Holy Spirit, giving the gift of faith. Scripture, Christ, and the Apostles all “attach grace to the ordinance of baptism” in a way that was not attached to circumcision. Circumcision is a mere rite, baptism a sacrament. Circumcision is the shadow, baptism the reality, not merely an “outward sign and type of spiritual privilege,” but itself a spiritual privilege. It is now a mystery, a sacrament, the actual “instrument of the application of [God]’s merits to individual believers.” 

Newman cites the Book of Acts, wherein the Apostles baptize “for the forgiveness of sins,” and the baptized are “filled with the Holy Spirit.” He cites John the Baptist, who says his own baptism for repentance will be replaced by a baptism that really forgives sins and is of “fire and the Holy Spirit.” And he cites Colossians 2, where St. Paul calls baptism the “circumcision without hands” by which we join into the power of the Head, Christ Incarnate, a “Baptism” by which our “sins of the flesh” are stripped away and we receive the “Circumcision of Christ.” And one could go even further into Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 3, and Matthew 28. These Scripture passages also show the mere rite has given way to Christ’s real sacramental grace in Baptism. Dead sinners are brought back to life by waters sanctified by the Holy Spirit and prayed over in the way Christ taught us. Faced with such a beautiful and compelling reality, Newman asks, “why should we draw back, like Thomas, doubting of our Lord’s resurrection?”

Our world is going mad with crises, and is seeking redemption in all the wrong places. But the real crisis is in our own souls, and is healed by Christ through his Church. If the sacraments are merely “external signs of an internal grace,” then they are dispensable. But if, as the Church teaches, a sacrament is both sign, symbol, and reality (sacramentum et res), they are necessary and desirable for all.  They are “efficacious signs of grace,” “visible rites” that “signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament… They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (CCC 1131). They are the real means by which Christ communicates his grace, Christ’s real work by the Holy Spirit to save us, to “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify” (CCC 1084, 1 Peter 3:20-21). Christ himself is the “mystery of salvation,” and his Body, the Church, is itself a “sacrament” in an “analogical sense”: the Church both “contains and communicates” the “invisible grace she signifies” (CCC 774). 

This foundational truth must alter the way we view all things human: born into a world marred by sin, our only hope for redemption, for the regeneration of our wounded, dying or dead souls, is Christ’s grace mediated by his Body, the Church, whose visible presence in the world actually makes available the real presence, the healing touch of Christ.

Like this article?

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

Leave a comment

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

Our Books

About Cardinal John Henry Newman

Purchase Book

A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

Purchase Book

Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

Purchase Book

Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

Purchase Book

What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

Purchase Book

Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

Purchase Book

Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
Sermon Blog
David Warren

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Eucharistic Presence

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

Read More »
About Newman
Prof. Barb H. Wyman

The Priestly Office

The sacrifice of the altar as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary is a “bloodless rite,” but nevertheless, like that sacrifice, it too is a “fire of Love,” and a “Fount of Light.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Indwelling Spirit

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

Read More »