Wednesday, April 25, 2018


At a General Audience on January 8, 2014, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Pope Francis referenced Saint Paul's famous identification of Baptism with Christ's death (Romans 6:3-4) to describe Baptism as no mere "formality" but as "an act that touches the depths of our existence. A baptized child and an unbaptized child are not the same. A person who is baptized and a person who is not baptized are not the same. We, by Baptism, are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life which is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love in all of history; and thanks to this love we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, of sin and of death, but in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters."

The Pope then encouraged his hearers to be aware of the date of their baptism. "It is important to know the day on which I was immersed in that current of Jesus' salvation. ... To know the date of our Baptism is to know a blessed day. The danger of not knowing it is losing awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. Thus, we end up considering it only as an event that took place in the past – and not by our own will but by that of our parents – and, thus, has no impact on the present. Indeed, we must reawaken the memory of our Baptism. We are called to live our Baptism every day, as the current reality of our lives. If we manage to follow Jesus and to remain in the Church, despite our limitations and with our weaknesses and with our sins, it is precisely through the Sacrament that we have become new creatures and are clothed in Christ. It is by the power of Baptism, in fact, that, freed of original sin, we are inserted into Jesus' relation to God the Father; that we are bearers of a new hope, for Baptism gives us this new hope: the hope of going on the path of salvation our whole life long. And this hope nothing and no one can extinguish, for it is a hope that does not disappoint. Remember, hope in the Lord never disappoints. Thanks to Baptism, we are capable of forgiving and of loving even those who offend us and do evil to us. By our Baptism, we recognize in the least and in the poor the face of the Lord who visits us and makes himself close. Baptism helps us to recognize in the face of the needy, the suffering, and also of our neighbor, the face of Jesus. All this is possible thanks to the power of Baptism!"

What a wonderful catechesis - simple and pointed - on the lifelong significance of an event which, for most of us, took place when we were infants and so cannot possible be remembered! But, just as we cannot possibly remember the actual day of our birth, we can all know and celebrate its anniversary on our birthday, we can all know and commemorate the anniversary of our baptism. 

And so, today, I recall and commemorate my own baptism - 70 years ago today.

In her classic 1955 amalgam of liturgical and popular piety, Around the Year with the Trapp Family, Maria Trapp recommended that families reverently wrap and keep their children’s baptismal candles – “and remind each other to light our candle for any of us in case of sudden death, as a symbol that we want to die in our baptismal innocence, that the light which was kindled at that solemn moment has not been extinguished voluntarily by us.” Maria Trapp regretted that, as refugees, most of her family no longer possessed their original baptismal candles. Actually, neither do I. I have many pictures of my baptism to  recall the event, but I have never seen my baptismal candle. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if, in keeping with the liturgical minimalism which ruled in the American Church at that time, the priest would brought one lighted candle to the baptistry, which he then presented to each set of godparents and then immediately took back! Unlike the common practice nowadays of lighting an baptismal candle during the ceremony and then actually giving it to each family, I suspect my godparents never actually got a candle and never brought one home and that no one would have known what to do with one if they had! 

Obviously, one can go through life perfectly fine without having one's own baptismal candle as a keepsake of the event. But, as Pope Francis is trying to teach us, we ought not to go through life forgetting our baptism or thinking of it merely as some social ceremony celebrated by our families way back in the distant past. Commemorating the anniversary of our baptism may indeed help us to recover more of Bsptism's lifelong and ongoing significance for each of us and for the Church we are each an inseparable part of now ,thanks precisely to our Baptism. 

(Photo: the Baptismal Font at Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN .)

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