I was three weeks old when I was baptized into the worldwide communion of Roman Catholic Church in the “lower church” (undercroft) of Our Lady Help of Christians with my father and godparents (and maybe a few others) in attendance. Thinking about that this morning on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord made me reflect on how the ritual and understanding of baptism in our Church has evolved even in the span of my lifetime.
Taking it all the way back to Jesus, it’s interesting to read all of the canonical gospels as they differ slightly, especially in the role of John, the Baptizer. John, the one we call the “forerunner” is very popular in his preaching and draws large crowds when he preaches, usually close to some body of water, his purpose to invite people to immersion which symbolizes being washed clean of their sins. Some think he is the long-awaited Messiah, but he says no to that, promising that the one they are waiting for is much greater than he, whose sandals he is not even worthy to loosen. So humility is the order of the day when Jesus arrives asking humbly for baptism and John, recognizing him, saying that Jesus should be the one baptizing him.
The ritual still has that flavor of humility, seen most clearly when the candidates are adults who bend their heads over a font or plunge themselves into a pool to be cleansed of sin and live a new life. Now, however, the baptism is understood and celebrated as the initiation of a new member into the Christian community and is cause for great joy and responsibility on the part of the members. I am always moved by such celebrations, whether for an adult who has made a conscious decision to embrace the spiritual path to which baptism is the gateway or for the child whose parents and godparents pledge to raise their child in the faith.
While I don’t remember the actual event of my own baptism, I do know the seriousness with which my parents undertook my education in faith and the love of God which was the center of their lives. Today then, I bless their memory and offer gratitude to God for all those people who have strengthened my faith and deepened my understanding of life in God and in community. Rejoicing in this truth, I sing with the psalmist: O bless the Lord, my soul!