Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
March 27, 2016
“Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed; let us then feast with joy in the Lord.” Gospel Verse for Easter Sunday (cf. I Corinthians 5:7b-8a)
For my spiritual reading in Lent, I chose the Baptismal Instructions given by St. John Chrysostom to converts in Antioch around the year 390 A.D. How marvelous the Church is that we can go back into our history, delving into the rich treasure trove of writings by the Fathers of the Church! They speak to us as though they had written yesterday! And what an important work these instructions are. We hear St. John gently leading the sheep of his flock to baptism, to their union with Christ and His Church, explaining to them the teachings of the faith, so that their faith is not just words that they recite in a creed but the living expression of their new life in Jesus Christ.
St. John Chrysostom had only recently been ordained a priest when he gave these instructions. And soon afterward he was elevated to be the Patriarch of Constantinople. St. John Chrysostom had this to say about baptism:
When a man takes and melts down a gold statue which has
become filthy with the filth of years and smoke and dirt and
rust, he returns it to us all-clean and shining. So, too, God
takes this nature of ours when it is rusted with the rust of
sin, when our faults have covered it with abundant soot, and
when it has destroyed the beauty He put into it in the begin-
ning, and He smelts it anew. He plunges it into the waters as
into the smelting furnace and lets the grace of the Spirit fall
on it instead of the flames (9th Instruction, no. 22).
This is what happens to the newly baptized at the Easter Vigil. St. John uses the rich image of smelting. For those of us unfamiliar with this process, a little explanation might help. I have seen it done only once but it left quite an impression.
When you apply enough heat to a precious metal, like gold or silver, it becomes liquid and a separation takes place. Any impurities or foreign matter are separated from the precious metal.
At baptism we are washed by waters, which act as a smelting furnace. The old is burned away. The flames of this furnace are the grace of Holy Spirit. The old enters the waters, and the new arises. Thus, baptism is like a death and rising. For this reason the Church baptizes at Easter and we renew our baptismal promises at the Easter Masses.
Something marvelous and new is happening this Easter. Consider the joy and wonder that Mary Magdalen, Peter and John must have experienced when they discovered the empty tomb. What wonderful thoughts must have filled their minds! Could it be true? Jesus had conquered death. And, finally, when they saw him! What did Mary Magdalen say? “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Rising from the waters, the baptized say the same. “I have seen the Lord.” The old rust and corrosion of sin is burnt away in the smelting of the Easter baptism. “I have seen the Lord.” Indeed, we have seen the Lord in our penitential acts, in the forgiveness He gives us, in the Eucharist that we share, and in the awesome promise of eternal life. “I have seen the Lord.” In every sacramental gift that Jesus left us, “I have seen the Lord.”