Until recent years, it had been very common to see a sign that read “John 3:16” at football games, usually held by a spectator sitting behind the goalposts that could be seen when an extra point was being attempted after a touchdown. The sign was intended to lead the viewer to open up his Bible to read the first verse in this week’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This lone verse was used by many evangelical Christians to promote the idea that if one has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, he will be saved.
While it is true that faith is necessary for salvation, Catholics hold a more comprehensive view of the dynamic that makes salvific faith possible: baptism. This first and most necessary sacrament for salvation reminds us of the work of the Holy Trinity that makes its indwelling in a baptized person’s soul.
At the moment of baptism, the recipient of the sacrament receives a permanent, transforming mark on his soul whereby the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are infused. The Holy Trinity makes a permanent indwelling in the recipient’s soul and provides for that person every grace he needs to become a saint. Thus, the sacrament of baptism bestows upon the newly baptized person access to the inner life of God Himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A baptized person, therefore, is teeming with potential — the potential to become holy. The rest of that person’s life is the story of how he responds to the virtues and gifts that God first put into his soul at baptism — how that person actualizes his potential.
It should be noted that it is not merely human effort in believing that leads to salvation. Rather, it is a baptized person’s response to God’s initiative in love to provide that person with the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit necessary to believe, trust and love God as He deserves.
Thus, the sacraments are God’s way of reaching down to the human person to lift him up and offer him the possibility of salvation. This idea compelled St. John to write the second verse of the Gospel passage, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” God desires that all men be saved and the Father sent the Son precisely to accomplish this desire. God first demonstrated His love for us by creating the universe and He confirms this love by sending His Son to redeem us.
This love for man that pours forth from the Godhead reminds us of the eternal dynamic at work within the Trinity: the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father in a love so pure and whole that a third person, the Holy Spirit is breathed forward.
In effect, the Holy Spirit is the agent of love between the Father and the Son. In return, man is invited to reflect this Trinitarian love in his relationships. As the Trinity is a community of love, so too is man called to reflect a community of love within the human family. Man is called to love as love is found within the Holy Trinity. As God seeks each of us personally, may we be reminded that the three persons of the Godhead are the active agents who invite us to believe in, trust and love Him so that we may be saved.