I Baptize Thee…..

The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci.

The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci.

I don’t remember my baptism. Back in 1953, the Catholic Church taught that infants who died unbaptized didn’t go to heaven, but instead went to someplace it called Limbo. As nice as heaven but without the joy of seeing God, the nuns told us. And they could play this game where you tried to go backwards under a bamboo stick while steel drums and guitars were playing reggae music.

Oh, I’m just kidding about the last part. Newborns can’t even walk, much less dance.

Anyhoo, because of this belief, which (thankfully) is no longer part of Catholic dogma, babies were baptized as soon as possible – hopefully within days – maybe even hours — of being born. So undoubtedly most cradle Catholic baby boomers don’t remember their baptisms.

Bill was brought up Baptist, and so he was 12 or 13 when he was baptized. He explained to me that the Baptist church teaches that a person should be old enough to make the decision to be baptized, and so it is generally when they are a pre-teenager.  He was fully submerged rather than having holy water trickled on his head. Wow. When my son Court was baptized at age 1 month, he was inconsolable over that trickle of water. Of course, he was inconsolable for about the first four months of his life.

But I digress….

In Sunday’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is baptized. I’ve always wondered why Jesus was baptized seeings as he had no sins, original or otherwise. I don’t have the answer, of course, but have believed that it was sort of God’s introduction of his Son – our Savior – to the world. After all, after St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son.” So perhaps this was a sign that Jesus was human, but that he was going to fill us with the word of God because Baptism makes us one with God.

Not all of my grandchildren are baptized. This fact ranks among the top things in my life that hurt my heart. After the birth of one of my grandchildren, I met with our pastor.

“My heart is broken,” I told him, “and I don’t know what to do.”

His advice was stellar and I took it to heart, and continue to do so. “Do nothing but love your grandchildren and model your love for God to them,” he said. “They will one day make their own decision, and it will be the right one.” And he assured me that the Catholic Church no longer taught or believed in the notion of Limbo.

While the Catholic Church teaches that the sacrament of Baptism does, indeed, free us from sin, that’s not why I wish all of my grandkids were baptized. Kids don’t sin. They just are kids. However, I just think that Baptism brings us into relationship with God in a formal way, with friends and family in witness. It provides the opportunity for God to say, “This is my beloved (son or daughter). In you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ baptism brought him into the community of the world. Baptism brings us into the community of the church. That fact seems important to me.

Testing: One, Two, Three

abraham-tooking-isaac-to-mount-moriah-illustration-from-a-catechism-l-histoire-sainteFrom the time I was a little girl studying what was called Bible History at my Catholic elementary school, I always heartily disliked one story in the Bible. (It used to be two stories because it took me quite some time to get comfortable with the story of the Prodigal Son, but over the years, I’ve come to understand the meaning of that parable.)

The story that I continually struggle with, however, is the story in the Book of Genesis about God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. No matter how often I read that story, I can’t get comfortable with the idea of God feeling the need to test Abraham’s loyalty. It always sounded mean spirited and insecure, not at all like God.

The story of Abraham and Isaac was the Old Testament reading at Mass yesterday, much to my dismay. So I really tried to be open to the meaning of the story.

It is clear that Abraham fully trusted God in a way that isn’t easy to do. If God asked Abraham to do this oh-so-difficult thing, there must be a reason, or so Abraham firmly believed. And we all know that Abraham’s trust in God was justly rewarded and that the story has a happy ending (well, unless you’re the ram that took Isaac’s place!).

Trusting God with all your heart and soul isn’t easy. And Abraham wasn’t the only one who God tested. We know the story of Job and all of the obstacles he faced throughout his life. And for 40 years, the Israelites faced test after test as they wandered through the desert. Like the Israelites, we are faced with questions every day. Why did he get the promotion instead of me? Why can’t I have as much money as my neighbor? Even more difficult, why did my child become sick? The oft-heard-of why do bad things happen to good people?

Not all of those questions are answered as slickly and peacefully as in Abraham’s situation. Still, as our homilist Fr. Doug asked the congregation, how do you become courageous if you aren’t faced with situations in which you need courage? God tests us every day so that He can help us to become saints.

I hope I can always be as confident in God’s love as Abraham. And if anyone can help me understand the story of Abraham better, help me out!

On an unrelated note, I recently noticed that my Denver church, which has always been called Church of the Risen Christ, is now called Risen Christ Catholic Parish. This change peaked my curiosity, so I started googling Catholic churches with which I am familiar. Sure enough, every single one that I googled (which admittedly wasn’t that many) is calling itself (Fill in the Blank) Catholic Parish or Catholic Community. For example, the church we attend in Mesa is All Saints Catholic Parish. The church we attended before Bill and I married is now St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish.

The tweaked names must mean something. Here’s what I’m guessing: Catholic churches have never been big on “community building.” The focus has always been on worship and the Eucharist. I’m guessing that there is a concerted effort to focus a bit more on being a faith community, emphasis on community. If so, I think that is a positive move. Still and all, I can’t help but cringe a bit every Sunday when I’m asked to greet my neighbor and introduce myself.

You can take the Catholic out of the cradle, but you can’t make her drink (or some such mixed metaphor).