I recently began writing another book. The following is an excerpt from chapter 3 entitled "No U Turn." We may get tired and worn down by the challenges of life from time to time, but we trust that God's grace will carry us through. That is the power of the sacraments. Here is my reflection on the Sacrament of Baptism. Let this be a reminder that we are in this journey all the way to the end.
No U Turn
God knew us before we were formed in the womb. The love of God and the overflowing grace that comes to us through the power of the sacraments cannot be overemphasized. As the waters of baptism usher us into the family of God we are indelibly marked. There is no turning back. We belong to God. That awareness hopefully fills us with immense joy.
Many of us were baptized as infants. Others experienced the sacrament as an adult. In either case, we all experience the privilege of being God’s children. Furthermore, we also take on the corresponding responsibilities. Privileges and responsibilities go hand in hand when we are a member of a family.
As we renew our baptismal promises at Easter, there is an opportunity to seriously examine our commitment and dedication to the Lord. Unfortunately, this renewal of promises during the Eucharistic liturgy sometimes happens so expeditiously that there is very little time to reflect upon the scope of the pledge we are making. Do we ever take the time to consider the magnitude of the commitment contained in these promises?
Catholic rituals contain marvelous treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The sacraments are an outpouring of God’s grace into our lives. How is it possible that we are able to grow so accustomed to the ritual that it loses its impact upon us? Sadly, as we develop habits and routines we are prone to fall into a rut. It requires a diligent effort on our part to respond to God’s grace with full, conscious, and active participation.
The ritual of baptism for a child starts with a simple question to the parents. “What name do you give your child?” Why is this question important? It is vital to recognize that we are known by name. Let that sink in for a moment. We carry our baptismal name with us throughout our lives. We are known by others through the use of this name. The Creator who knew us before we were formed in the womb also knows us by name. We are held in the palm of His hand. The relationship is extremely intimate.
Parents are then asked, “What do you ask of God’s Church for _____?” Seeking the Sacrament of Baptism is no small matter. The preparation leading up to the baptism should have clearly outlined the obligations and duties being undertaken. The parents accept the responsibility of training the child in the practice of the faith. It is the duty of the parents to bring the child up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us. Furthermore, the parents are to help their child grow up loving God and neighbor. All of this is said directly to the parents at the beginning of the rite. They are then asked a very straightforward question. “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
Too many times I have seen parents delegate their responsibility for bringing the child up in the faith to the local Catholic school or parish religious education program. That is a recipe for failure. The Catholic school and the parish programs can only support the work of the parents. They cannot replace the parents. The faith is taught at home and enhanced at the Catholic school or parish religious education program. We have much room for improvement in this particular understanding of the dynamics between families and the institutional Church.
Godparents are then asked a straightforward question as well. “Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?” Being a godparent requires more than sending a birthday present and Christmas gift each year to the child. Godparents are to be an instrumental part of sharing the duties with the parents of being a solid Christian witness and role model for the child. We have room to grow in making the role of godparent more than a figurehead whose name appears on the baptismal records.
The child is then welcomed into the Christian community with great joy. This is more easily accomplished when baptism takes place at the Eucharistic liturgy. A larger representation of the Christian community is generally present at Mass and can truly welcome the child with great joy. If the baptism takes place outside of Mass it is usually only attended by close family members and friends. The welcome is a little more subdued in these circumstances. The celebrant of baptism traces a cross on the forehead of the child and invites the parents and godparents to do the same.
The symbolism is extremely important in these rituals. The naming of the child, the request for baptism, the explanation of parental responsibility, the role of godparents, the welcome and the signing of the cross on the child’s forehead all communicate vital realities of what is taking place. This is an awesome moment in the life of the child and the entire family. The magnitude of being welcomed as a child of God cannot be overstated. We are heirs to the King. Wow!
The Sacred Scriptures are an important part of the celebration of the sacraments. We listen to a particular passage and the celebrant expounds upon those verses. This prepares us to effectively lift up our voices in prayer as we engage in the prayers of the faithful (intercessions). We pray specifically for the child and the family and we seek the intercession of the saints. Through these gestures we recognize the universal Church in a profound way as well as the communion of the saints.
The ritual then moves into the prayer of exorcism and anointing before baptism. Modern society tends to be taken aback by words like exorcism. However, it is a prayer for the child to be set free from original sin and made a temple of the Lord’s glory. It is also a prayer seeking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is truly a powerful and magnificent prayer.
The child is then anointed on the breast with the oil of catechumens in the name of Christ our Savior. This anointing is for strength and power.
After these preliminary steps, we are now ready to celebrate the sacrament. The first step is to bless the water (outside of the Easter season). The beauty of this prayer of blessing is profound. I simply quote one line to highlight the purpose. “By the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son.” Meditate on that line for just a moment and grasp the enormity of that action.
The ritual then moves into the renunciation of sin and the profession of faith. As is often the case, the baptismal promises can be covered rather quickly. It is possible for us to miss the significance of these questions and answers if we do it in a hurried manner. I invite you to spend time with each of the questions and meditate upon them in a spirit of prayer.
“Do you reject Satan?” If you had to write a 500 word essay in how you reject Satan in your life, would you be able to do it? What does it mean to reject Satan on a daily basis?
“And all his works?” Once again, how?
“And all his empty promises?” Can you name a few of his empty promises that you have rejected?
After these questions are answered about what we are against, it is then time to state what we are for as we express affirmation of the articles of faith. I would encourage you to spend some time meditating on the 12 articles of faith listed in the creed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church breaks these down quite thoroughly. Once again, we are able to respond “I do” quite hastily when we renew our baptismal promises. We are also able to rattle off the creed pretty quickly at Mass on Sundays as well. The tenets of our faith are wrapped up in these statements. How are they impacting us on a day-to-day basis?
The baptism now takes place. The flowing water and the correct words provide the form and matter of the sacrament. This sacred moment is powerful indeed.
There is an anointing on the crown of the head with sacred chrism, the clothing with a white garment, and the presentation of a lighted candle from the paschal candle. The symbolism of each action is rich in meaning. Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King. How do we share in that anointing as a member of His body? The white garment reminds us that we have been clothed in Christ and we are to bring ourselves into everlasting life with our dignity unstained by sin. Finally, the lighted candle reminds us that the flame of faith is to be kept burning brightly. These are no menial rituals and symbols. They are filled with life and purpose.
The ritual closes with the Lord’s Prayer, a blessing of the mother, a blessing of the father, and a blessing over all who are present.
As we look at each step of the ritual of baptism, it is easy to see the profound nature of what is taking place. Subsequently, there can be “No U Turn” once we have entered the family of God. We are in this to run the race to the finish.
If you feel yourself growing lukewarm in the faith, have the fire reignited by asking God for a renewed fervor and an abundance of His grace and mercy.