When our Lord walked the earth, He was baptized (Matt 3:13) and commanded others to baptize (Matt 28:19). He forgave sins (Matt 9:6) and gave others authority to forgive sins (John 20:22-23). He gave us His body in the Eucharist (Mark 14:22-24) and priests to confect it perpetually (Luke 22:19). He blessed marriage (John 2:2) and showed Himself to be the master of life itself (John 11:25). In these are the Sacraments of the Church giving His people new life in Him. They are outward signs of inward grace. Joined with our Lord in one flesh, the Church carries on His mission to call all people to union with Him.
In the Church, there is a timing to each of the Sacraments. Infants can’t confess their sins. Children aren’t ready for marriage or the priesthood. The healthy are not in need of anointing in anticipation of death. Those new to the faith begin their journey in Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation. These are the Sacraments of Christian initiation.
Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace [Cf. Roman Ritual, Rite of Confirmation (OC), Introduction 1]. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” [LG 11; Cf. OC, Introduction 2] (CCC 1285).
It seems strange to hear that Baptism isn’t enough for life in the Spirit since this is the Sacrament most commanded by Christ for the redemption of men. It’s a trinitarian mystery. Baptism is the beginning of our supernatural life adopted as children of God. We are one in flesh with Christ in the Eucharist. The Spirit is the love of God outpoured (CCC 733).
Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5).
Scripture records that there is more to be done after Baptism for life in the Spirit. The Apostles weren’t filled with the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost. This tradition was made clear in the Acts of the Apostles.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17).
Why do we need the Sacraments? Can’t we all just look to Jesus with love and join Him in Heaven as did the good thief on the cross? Our Lord taught us how to live. He gave us beatitudes to understand how to live the fruit of the Spirit. He told us to fast, give alms, and pray to resist temptation. He commissioned His Apostles to preach, teach, and baptize. They gave us the Sacraments for living as part of His family in this valley of tears. There is a purpose to all of it. Dying is short and may be the easy part. Living a life of service to Jesus in communion with His Bride, the Church, is harder and requires us to practice virtue.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).
The thief on the cross didn’t have time to live… only die. He didn’t have time to be baptized or even hear the words of our Lord, let alone put them into practice. He didn’t make a profession of faith or recite a creed. He didn’t even die as a martyr for the faith—he was condemned for his actual crimes. He simply trusted in Jesus and our Lord welcomed Him. We don’t usually get to choose the circumstances of our death… we make choices in how we live.
Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17). In order for someone to come to faith, they must first hear the truth. Faith is a free gift of God, but each believer is tasked with sharing that gift. Once convicted in faith we repent and are born again in Baptism. We live our faith and offer ourselves in sacrificial love for God and those He loves. The longer we have to accomplish this, the greater the need for grace and sacrifice.
I think this parable calls this out well…
The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last (Matt 20:1-16).
The thief on the cross is like the laborers hired at the end of the day. He received the same wage (which is inheritance as sons, not wages for work) as those able to work for 100 years in this world. There is no delineation of pay because there is no delineation of relationship. Each is adopted into the family of God and enjoys the same reward—inheritance. It would be a poor laborer who was hired at the beginning of the day and did no work that day. Work for the Kingdom is part of our calling because there is work to be done and time to do it. Adam’s first calling was to work in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). In Confirmation, we receive the gift of the Spirit that we may work in the vineyards of our Lord and reap a harvest of souls for Him.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much… (Luke 12:48)—including time. Those with time on their hands have work to do with the time available to accomplish it. Those who trust without time to work are also welcomed as sons and daughters. The greater the time, the greater the expectation of work. We are confirmed in the Spirit to be able to live the fruits of the Spirit—the beatitudes—and serve in the Kingdom of God visible in the Church.