In the second reading of this second Sunday in ordinary time, St Paul reminds us that through baptism we have been joined to the Lord: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.” St Paul then exhorts us to “avoid immorality.” (1 Cor 6:13c-15a)
Augustine in his work On Baptism, explains that baptism dispels the darkness of sin, however Augustine warned that the baptized christian can return to darkness after being baptized. Baptized Christians can pass “through the light of baptism back to their own darkness, their sins, which in the moment of their baptism had been dispelled by the holiness of the sacrament, but to which they can return.” (On Baptism I.12.19)
It is then as if the darkness that was dispelled at baptism could return, or rather the Christian could return to it. The guilt of original sin and of personal sins before baptism do not return, but the effects affecting our will and intellect remain after baptism. Hence, Augustine beckons us to be on guard against this weakness or else we can return to the darkness of sin. (On Baptism I.12.19)
Augustine writes that the power of the sacrament to affect us depends on our disposition, since “the divine excellence abides in its sacrament, whether to the salvation of those who use it well, or to the destruction of those who use it wrong” (On Baptism III.10.15). Those who use the sacrament well “are those who struggle and fight against sin; this is the whole life of the saints.” Those who use the sacrament wrongly, or rather who fail to use sanctifying grace, are those who do not fight against evil tendencies and temptations, but succumb to them without putting up any resistance, and sin carries them away from goodness, and they follow along willingly (Sermon 151,7). One could extend the logic to other sacraments and can easily conceive that one’s disposition in living one’s baptism applies to the other sacraments as well, such as the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Augustine provides the following example regarding the efficacy of baptism by comparing it to how the brightness of light is perceived differently by different people: Think of two men who have been baptized, and one is worse than the other: it does not follow that the sacrament which they have received is worse in the one than in the other. If one of the men is virtuous and the other one wicked, it does not follow that the baptism is defective in the evil man and good in the virtuous one; but it is good in both. Just as the light of the sun, or even of a lamp, is certainly not less bright when displayed to bad eyes than when seen by better eyes. It is the same light in both cases, although it either cheers or hurts the eyes differently according to the difference in their abilities to receive the light. (On Baptism IV.20.28)
In Sermon 151, Augustine supplies yet another example that highlights the need to stand fast in the struggle against sinful tendencies and to pray for the strength to do so:
I am going to give you an example so that you can better understand. You know that there are sober men —they are few, but there are some. You also know that there are men who drink too much -these abound. Now, suppose the sober one is baptized: as far as drunkenness is concerned, he has nothing to struggle or contend with. He probably has other sinful desires to fight against, but drinking is not one of them. But, so that you understand the other cases, let us suppose now that the one baptized is the man who gets drunk often. He was baptized: all sins of drunkenness were forgiven; yet the habit remains and opposes resistance to sober living. In fact, despite being born again, this man has something to fight against. All his past vices were forgiven: yet he must pay attention, stay alert, and fight so as not to get drunk again…. If the desire to drink arises, do not give in to it; do not quench it by yielding to it, but slay it by offering resistance. Still, as long as the desire exists, it will be your enemy. If you do not consent to it and you do not drink again, the desire will wane and weaken with each day that passes. If you do not have the strength to face your enemy, pray to God that you may fulfill what the Apostle commands: “Do not give in to the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14).
Augustine concludes: “What I have said about drunkenness, it is valid for all other vices and sinful tendencies. Some tendencies are inborn, and others we have acquired through a bad habit…Therefore, we ought to be always defensive against sinful tendencies, since they might decrease in us, but they never totally disappear.” (Sermon 151,4-5)
Fr. Carlos Medina, O.S.A.