Homily Baptism of the Lord Jan 12, 2020
As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord today, we naturally are reminded of our own Baptism. And so I would like today to do more of a sermon, more of a teaching, than a homily, which is a faith reflection on the readings.
Most of us, I presume, have been Baptized. And many of us were baptized as Catholics when we were children. How many here were baptized as babies???
For those of us who were Baptized as infants, we may not know what date it was when we were baptized. Some people now have a very nice custom of saving their children’s Baptismal candle, and they bring it out on the anniversary of their children’s Baptism and light it, and say a prayer. That is a very nice custom, because our Baptism was a very important and significant event in our spiritual lives. It was certainly for Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel, and it is also a crucial day in out faith life.
But most of us, unless we were Baptized as adults, don’t even know the date of our Baptism. Most of us do not know the name of the bishop or priest or deacon who baptized us. Many of us may not even be able to remember who are Godparents are.
I had to have a copy of my Baptismal certificate when I entered the Paulists, and have kept it in my file of important papers, and I looked it up. I was baptized not quite two weeks after I was born. An aunt and an uncle were Godparents and a Fr Keitz, of whom I know nothing, celebrated the Baptism.
If you don’t know when you were Baptized, or who your godparents are, you may want to look that up. I encourage you to pray for the minister who baptized you, and for your godparents.
Baptism is precious. It is important. But it is not magic. It depends on faith. It depends on the faith of the person being baptized if they are old enough, and in the case of an infant, it depends on the faith of the parents and the godparents and the whole Christian community.
We take this seriously. A long time ago when I was a new priest serving in the interior of Alaska, a couple showed up asking to have their baby baptized. He had a big beard, they were really woodsy, she looked real frontier type in overalls. I had never seen them before. So I asked them why they wanted their baby baptized. And they honestly told me that Grandma was coming up from the lower 48 for a visit, and she was always ragging on their rear ends to get the baby baptized, so they wanted to go through the Baptism to shut her up. They were very honest. Woodsy Alaskans are like that.
I told them that we were counting on their Faith for the Baptism, that they would publicly have to proclaim the Creed. I went through Creed with them and then asked if they believed all that. They said, well no, they don’t go to church, they don’t believe. And I asked if they were willing to be hypocritical by publicly proclaiming the Creed. Of course they didn’t, and so they decided NOT to have their child baptized. Which was the right decision.
Baptism is not magic. // And while I have mentioned Grandma’s, I have occasionally heard of a case where parents have become frustrated because their grown children were not having the parents’ Grandchildren baptized. And then, when the child has been left with the grandparents to babysit, unbeknownst to the parents, the grandmother surreptitiously Baptized the child in the sink or the bathtub.
I do NOT recommend this approach; in fact, I strongly discourage it.
It is true that any Christian, in the case of danger of death, can Baptize by pouring water over the head of the person and saying, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Many of a delivery room nurse, or emergency room nurse, has done this kind of emergency Baptism. Some of these nurses were women, and I wonder if they were acting “in persona Cristi” when they Baptized. But that is a discussion for another time.
I have done emergency Baptisms in Neonatal Intensive Care Units, and even in the delivery room immediately at birth. The most unusual involved a visit I made to a missionary friend of mine, Sr. Evie Vasquez, in Rio Blanco, Guatemala. She was driving me in her jeep to visit another town. Along the road we saw a young native woman walking, carrying a very small child. Sr. Evie pulled over and offered her a lift. The woman was going to the hospital because the child was sick. Sr. Evie asked the baby’s name. The response surprised me. “It doesn’t have a name.”
You see in that part of Guatemala you get your name at Baptism. Before that you don’t have a name.
Knowing that the poor woman would be going to the hospital with her new baby ONLY if it was critical and dire, Sr. Evie pulled over to the side of the road, handed me her water bottle, and said, “Baptize him.” There on the side of the road I baptized little Carlos. I have often wondered what happened to him, and I pray for him.
Baptism is really important, and the effects are eternal. But you have only one chance at it. Once you are baptized you can never be baptized again. As St. Paul says in Ephesians chapter four: “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of all…”
Occasionally, someone baptized in another denomination wants to be re-baptized as a Catholic. Sorry, only ONE Baptism.
Baptism is powerful. It changes our status by uniting us to Jesus Christ. We share in His role of Priest, Prophet and King. Our fundamental identity is changed, and we are joined to Christ so that we may resemble Him, not in facial features or skin color or anything like that, but in becoming beloved children of God. And that is an identity that lasts for all eternity.
I hope that as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today we will all take some time to reflect on the gift of Baptism; not something we have earned; not something we deserve; but a wonderful gift that keeps giving for all eternity.
Happy Baptism of the Lord!