“I, the Lord, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…” (Isaiah 42:6)
Two nights ago, I was having dinner at the home of some dear friends and they invited all their friends and their children. Months ago, this family had asked me to pray for their grandfather who was found to have a very aggressive cancer, and I promised them that I would offer up every Mass for him until he was healed. That evening, I asked their oldest daughter, who had once upon a time been one of my youth group leaders, how her grandfather was doing, and she told me that he was doing much better and they were thankful for all the prayers. I told her that not a day goes by that I didn’t mention her grandfather by name at Mass. Now nearby one of my little girls, who is not so little anymore, was overhearing our conversation and asked me very directly, “Father, do you pray for me every day?” I responded, “I pray for all my children every day. I pray for all my parishioners, for all those who have been my parishioners, for those who have been my students, and for everyone I have served.” She looked at me as only she would with the “I’m not buying it face” (mind you, I’ve known her since she was 7 and now she’s 18!) and said, “That’s not what I asked you. I asked you if you pray FOR ME every day by name.” I swallowed hard and confessed that I did not but promised that I would pray specifically for her the next morning. Another one of my former students (now 22!) was also overhearing and said, “Hey, I also want in on this. Pray for me too.” I smiled because even though on one level they were trying to give me a hard time, I know that on a deeper level they really wanted to be prayed for…by name! No matter where these wonderful kids are in their walk of faith, they still want that personal touch from God above.
As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today, I wanted to focus on this aspect of the sacrament in which we are called by name because it adds a personal dimension to this great mystery. At the very beginning of the rite of Baptism, the very first question the priest or the deacon asks is “What name do you give your child?” So right there, the parents who have received from God this precious gift are called to name the child so that when the priest or deacon receives him or her at the baptismal font, that child may called by name as the minister says “(Manuel), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We are called by name to become part of God’s family: the Most Blessed Trinity who is present in today’s gospel on the banks of the Jordan in the voice of the Father, in the person of Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. Our Holy Father tweeted this morning, “What happens at Baptism? We become united forever with Jesus, to be born again to a new life.”
But it doesn’t stop there. We are called by name to be part of what Blessed John Paul II calls “the great mission of the Church.” Right after we are baptized the priest or deacon anoints our head with chrism to consecrate us and make us part of Christ’s ministry. From that moment on, we will forever be called Christians. The challenge of today’s feast is to ask ourselves if we are living up to our baptismal calling and of the name Christian. Do people see in me a Christian person? Am I participating actively in “the great mission of the Church?” At baptism, we are indeed called by name by God himself, called by name to be part of God’s family, and called by name to part of the mission of the Church and to be “a light to the nations.” Today we are challenged to answer one very simple question: Are we living up to that calling?