Sunday, November 2, 2014

Born for Heaven

“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

I remember the first time my mother showed me my baptismal certificate when I was a teenager.  I looked at the date, November 2, 1975, and said to her, “Ugh, Mom! You baptized me on the Day of the Dead.”  This was before I became a priest and before I started to make the connection between baptism and death that St. Paul makes in today’s first reading.  By being baptized we are reborn and become participants in the life of Jesus.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude (Catechism 1257).”  This brings us great comfort this day when we commemorate the faithful departed on All Souls Day.  We commend them this day to the loving arms of our God confident that those who have died with Christ will rise with him as well as St. Paul tells us: “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection (v. 6).”

I bring up the connection between baptism and death not only because I was baptized on this day, but because of something that I experienced last week.  We got a call in the office that a young woman about a mile from our church was dying of cancer and desired to be baptized before she died.  At this point, there isn’t time to scrutinize and ask questions or catechize.  Someone in intense agony had requested the sacrament that “assures entry into eternal beatitude” so I rushed to her bed.  I took a small amount of water and baptized this blessed soul with the same gentle touch that I use to baptize infants.  Because of the urgency of the moment, it wasn’t until later on that I reflected that this dying woman was indeed blessed for having been baptized before being called home by the Father.  I felt blessed that I could give her this immortal gift from above.

We tend to forget that we were born not for this world but for our heavenly home.  As St. Augustine reminds us, God has made us for Himself which is why our hearts will be restless until they rest in Him.   Many people ask me how a priest can hold it together when confronted by all these moments of death.  I consider it a blessing.  Of course, I don’t want to see someone suffer, nor see their family suffer with them, but there is something about that moment when the Lord calls a soul home that is so profoundly sacred, and as a friend who recently lost his father told me, “so peaceful and beautiful.”  I am keenly aware that the dying person is moments away from being eternally embraced by their God.  All Souls Day reminds us not only of our own mortality, but that as Christians who are united to each other by the same baptism, we are bound to pray for our faith departed, especially the blessed souls of purgatory so that they may gain admittance to the heavenly kingdom.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in the peace of our God.  Amen.