baptism

Invitations.

Truth be told, I love an invitation to celebrate with anyone who is seeking to join the church. As a cradle Catholic, sometimes I envy the experience of those who have an impactful, dramatic conversion story—at least one in which they played a role. I am an emotional mess at Easter Vigil as I witness the humility and desire on the faces and in the posture of the elect who are actively responding to their invitation (even more so, if I have been lucky enough to learn about that journey in some way).

On the other hand, I treasure the fact that I was claimed for Christ long before I was able to do it for myself. I am grateful for the grace, the guides I’ve been given, and the foundation ‘ever ancient, ever new’ that lays too-big a framework, one that necessitates growing into. Being on the lookout for the Reign of God which is already present and not yet come is a lot to ask of anyone—infant or otherwise. The two baptismal experiences are distinct, one no better than another, yet we each have a conversion that is constantly at work within us whether we have grown up in a church or have been ignited with new zeal.

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Matthew’s Gospel today is also about timing and not knowing what (or whom) is coming. St. Matthew urges his audience to ‘stay awake’ through the not knowing, when we will be called upon to welcome the Christ— in hopes that we might be found attending diligently to both the invitations we have received and the vocations we have been called to. Sometimes this means the less glamorous long-haul, other times it means immediate readiness.

Today is the day I was baptized 33 years ago. I remember nothing of it, and feel a little disappointed about that. I have of course heard stories about it and have been to the church since then. To my delight and amusement, my dear college friend (and once fellow environmental studies major), is now the Pastor of that parish.

But that was before I honestly came to terms with the gifts I had been given and the course load I should be taking, and how perhaps I was meant to be engaging with more people—fewer trees. Before my heart had been broken by folks living on the margins, and before I worked in young adult ministry or began writing, or raising babies.

Aren’t these sorts of discoveries exactly what is meant by the phrase: “God draws straight with crooked lines?”  My priest friend is a campout-leading, bee-keeping pastor in the North woods—two charisms, one fiat. Seemingly dormant seeds planted, geminate right on time. (Whether or not we are aware). These are the details or our stories, and all of them are laden with significance.

We know it isn’t about whose got great stories; only how we live the stories we have been given. The Christian person should be in a continual state of conversion, or we run the risk of becoming stale, irrelevant. Sometimes the most intriguing stories of conversion are of those who have been plodding along faithfully and have come to a different/deeper/more specific place of living than the one from which they began.

Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

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Tonight over dinner I will re-light the candle, the light of Christ, given to me to be kept burning; a practice I’ve only recently begun. I will marvel with the knowledge that I have been claimed and that my participation in this faith story is asked of me as actively today as it was 33 years ago. There is no passivity in this invitation—there never was.

Praying the Lord's Prayer in Eastertide

Besides the smell of the Easter lilies and the beauty of the paschal candle, one of the things I love most about Eastertide is mediating on the mystery of holy baptism and the new life it gives us. Over the course of Lent, we journeyed with the catechumens who prepared for new life in that font of holy mother the Church. But we also underwent our own process of penance and renewal so that with them, we could renew our own baptismal promises of renouncing Satan and all his works and empty show and professing our belief in Christ and the Holy Catholic Church. At the heart of our baptism is our divine adoption as children of God: we are reborn as sons and daughters in Christ Jesus because we have been grafted onto His Mystical Body and thus share in His Sonship. Thus, just as when Christ was baptized in the Jordan River and the Heavenly Father declared, “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”, because we are members of Christ’s Body and sons in the Son, the Father says this upon all of us. And if baptism is at the heart of the Easter celebration of new life, then divine adoption is at the core of baptism. And if all of that is true, then the Lord’s Prayer is worthy of a central place in our Easter prayer.

Tertullian said that the Lord’s Prayer is a summary of the whole gospel. And St. Augustine said that there is no genuine Christian petition that isn’t found in the Oratio Dominica. St. Thomas Aquinas states that “the Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. In it we ask, not only for all things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.” Thus the Catechism is able to assert that the rightness of our life in Christ hinges directly upon the rightness of our prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer has always been tied to holy baptism. Not only is it prayed at all baptismal services, but the catechumen solemnly receives it as a stage of preparation for the rite itself, because this handing on (tradition) “signifies new birth into divine life.” (CCC 2769) Many church fathers wrote sermons on the Lord’s Prayer to catechumens and neophytes.

How powerful those words the priest uses to invite us to filial trust before reciting the prayer in the Eucharistic liturgy: “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say.” Isn’t that interesting? “We dare to say.” Why would the Roman liturgy speak life this? Because it is only by new life in Christ that we can speak with such boldness and confidence. Before baptism, God was our Creator and by analogy a father to us. But now through Christ taking us to Himself, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Father. This is not by analogy or symbolic: we truly become children of God. This is the new life we celebrate for 50 days with paschal joy in the Church’s liturgy. If we ponder this constantly in our own prayer during this holy season of Easter, then we will live the joy the Church keeps inviting us into. Living this identity out in real life is what makes saints.