Although I have been present for many celebrations of the sacrament of Baptism I have no memory of my own. That’s not unusual in the Roman Catholic Church, since like many of us, I was baptized when I was three weeks old. As was tradition then, it was my aunt Millie and my uncle Dan who witnessed that significant moment and I grew up knowing that, as my godparents, they would be responsible for raising me “in the faith” should my parents die or not be able to do so. I can’t remember any specific conversations with either of them about that duty; I just knew I had a safety net for my spiritual life if it became necessary. (Happily my parents were quite good examples of loving, faithful Christians who lived their faith all the days of their long lives.)
Today we have come to understand that baptism is a significant event not only for the family of the one being baptized but for the entire church congregation as well. There are classes for parents and godparents – often before the baby is born – to help them understand the seriousness of what “initiation into the Christian community” means. On the day of the ceremony many parishes welcome the families at the door of the church before the service begins and have them march in procession with the priest and other ministering participants in the Mass. The baptism ceremony takes place not in private but in the middle of the liturgy and all present are called to pledge their support to the new member. Over the last 25 years, adult converts to the Church are celebrated in the same manner. In his Episcopal congregation, my friend, Father Bill, always wrote a letter to the child being baptized to be kept by the parents to be read when the child was able to understand the love that was present in the baptism ceremony and the support that would be available from the congregation for his/her entire life.
The dictionary definition of baptism includes sprinkling or immersion with water to symbolize purification or regeneration as well as initiation into the Christian church, often accompanied by name-giving. I must admit that sometimes it got tedious to grow up being called Lois Lane and asked the whereabouts of Superman, but eventually I “grew into” my name and have come to understand that each of us is called by name in God’s family and as such we respond in our own unique way to God’s plan for our life. When someone we love addresses us by name it has a particular sound, doesn’t it? It’s a wonderful thing to know we are cherished simply by that sound.
Today our Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord by John when God’s voice is heard from a cloud saying, “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.” Whatever our faith commitment or practice, might we listen for those words in our own life, (e.g. This is my daughter, my beloved Lois, in whom I am well-pleased.) and renew our resolve to live in a way worthy of the name by which we are called?