I love readings on holiness, as these fall into my long theme of perfection on this blog. Today, the great Basil, notes that to be holy is not merely living the life of the virtues, but dying to self, to sin, to the world.
Again, baptism must be the most misunderstood sacrament today. Many Catholics no longer believe that an unbaptized person is any different than a baptized one. But, oh, yes. The difference is eternal.
Basil is speaking to adult converts, who are breaking away from their life of sin in baptism. The beginning of new life can happen to a newly baptized adult, child, or baby. Using the same metaphor of the race as St. Paul, St. Basil remarks that once we start the race to holiness after baptism, we must continue until we reach the finish line.
Apparently, in this race track of Basil's acquaintance, the runners had to stop at one point, turn around and run back to finish the race. This reverse of direction provides a clear symbol of one turning away from all sin and living in the new life of grace.
The symbol of the water is not only the real, efficacious cleansing of the baptized person from Original Sin, but the death to that sin and those inclinations of sin. The person is on the road to perfection. Virtues become part of the soul and intellect.
In baptism, we repeat the Death and Resurrection of Christ, Whose sacrifice on the Cross and the winning of the battle with Evil over sin and death, brings life.
Indeed, we are, at that moment of baptism, washed whiter than snow.
|By one death and resurrection the world was saved from the book On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil, bishop|
When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Saviour made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption.
To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life.
We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.
Our descent into hell takes place when we imitate the burial of Christ by our baptism. The bodies of the baptized are in a sense buried in the water as a symbol of their renunciation of the sins of their unregenerate nature. As the Apostle says: The circumcision you have undergone is not an operation performed by human hands, but the complete stripping away of your unregenerate nature. This is the circumcision that Christ gave us, and it is accomplished by our burial with him in baptism. Baptism cleanses the soul from the pollution of worldly thoughts and inclinations: You will wash me, says the psalmist, and I shall be whiter than snow. We receive this saving baptism only once because there was only one death and one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol.