All of you probably noticed as you pulled into the parking lot this morning that our church is in the process of getting a much needed facelift and being painted. The painters started towards the end of last week and have made great progress, and I’ve walked the grounds and driven my car up and down Flagler to see the church from all directions and it really does look beautiful. As I was walking yesterday, I could not help but remember the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Clothe yourselves in Christ (Rom 13:14).” The new look exterior of our church should be a reflection of what is inside and where the true beauty of the Church resides: in her people. I could not help but think of this quote from St. Paul because it is part of the Rite of Baptism, and we are, providentially, clothing our church anew and making her even more beautiful as we conclude the Christmas season with the feast of the Baptism of our Lord. This feast reminds us every year that like Christ we too were submerged into the waters of baptism, and that through his baptism we were made new.
On the day of our baptism, our parents brought us to church in white garments. Some of these garments were worn by siblings or by our parents or godparents. These are wonderful traditions. In my first parish, I remember one grandmother had all her grandchildren baptized in the same garment and with each baptism she had the name of the child sown into the inside of that garment. This tradition continued when I baptized her first great grandchild. The white garment is placed on us right after we are baptized and have been anointed with the holy chrism as the priest or deacon says these words: “…you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” These words are directed at the child but also serve as a challenge to the parents and godparents to protect and guide this child who has been claimed and made new by Jesus Christ through the waters of baptism. We are indeed clothed in Christ through these blessed waters and called to walk in holiness of life all the way up to heaven. That is the challenge of baptism and of today’s feast: we are called to be holy. That is our baptismal call that we too often forget.
One of the great challenges of priests and deacons as we baptize children is trying to remind parents of the magnitude of that moment. This isn’t simply a social gathering or a rite of passage that we have to do when I child is born. Actually, much to my dismay, baptisms in this parish, while plentiful, are becoming very rare among the newborn. Yesterday I baptized five children and all of them could walk. I was baptized 4 ½ weeks after I was born. There’s a reason why we baptize our children as infants: we want them to be clothed in Christ and to be claimed as His own right away! But in addressing parents, who sadly are more interested in taking the perfect picture of “event”, my brother priests and deacons labor hard to instill in the parents the awesome responsibility they have to instill in their children from birth the beauty of our faith. From the day I was ordained a deacon almost 13 years ago, I have tried to celebrate each baptism with a sense of hope and wonder of what God has in store for these children. Yesterday, (probably because it was the weekend of the Baptism of the Lord), I re-emphazed to the parents even more passionately than I usually do the importance of guiding these children in the faith. They are God’s innocent children who have been entrusted to us by our Father in heaven to teach them to love God and our neighbor. It is always a joy for me to baptize children, I told them, but I added that it was an even greater joy when I see those newly baptized children the next day and every Sunday at Mass because then I know that the parents have really taken this sacrament and the promises they made seriously, and they are caring for the “divine life” which God has given to their children through baptism. Today’s feast should serve as a reminder to each of us our baptismal call to be holy and to share with all the world, especially our children, the joy of being a Christian.