Our Sacred Stories - Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Why do we do this?
Recently I had the honour of gathering at the parish church with several families and welcoming into the Christian community a new member. Ferguson “Fergus” is a little over 4 years of age. Surrounded by family and friends as well as by members of the parish community, Fergus seemed to both tolerate and often enjoy the attention paid to him. Certainly, his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins were in a happy space. Fergus’s baptism was something for everyone to celebrate.
Over the years, in a variety of communities I would estimate I have celebrated the baptisms of 1500 or more new Christians. Some of those we welcomed were adults, most have been children, many infants. Each time it is both a thrill and a joy to welcome these new Christians into the community. Often, we have done this in the setting of a Sunday Eucharist where the whole community welcomes their newest member. Always the welcome is a gift of the whole community.
For Fergus, his baptism was a beginning of his life as a disciple of Jesus. Like the disciples we hear of in the Gospels, or the crowd that surrounded John the Baptist and Jesus at the River Jordan (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22), Fergus was beginning a journey of faith that would be life-long. As he began this journey, the Spirit was poured out upon him as it was upon Jesus. With the Spirit, like Jesus and the disciples who have gone before us, Fergus has been acknowledged as a beloved of God.
Baptism is part of our sacramental tradition. This tradition acknowledges the wonder of all created reality. This created universe, including our humanity is an expression of God’s overwhelming love. We do not easily grasp this. As well, all of the sacraments, including baptism, are part of life journey in a community of faith. Neither Fergus nor any of us make this journey alone.
The baptism of Fergus was a beginning of a communal journey. Many were involved. First of all parents, grandparents and others of his family gathered around him. This family want to share many things with him. Among the gifts they want to share is the faith tradition they have. They wish their child to be surrounded by the same loving faith community that they themselves have had. They want their child to be part of their own journey.
Our faith community wants the same for him. We want him to join us on our own journey, to be part of us. And so we welcome him and express our commitment to share our faith, our love and our support for him in the years to come. We also speak for the whole of the Catholic community of faith. We are a family of faith to which we have now gathered a newly welcomed member.
If we look for it, we will find it. We are a communal faith. Our Christian Scriptures are gifts for this community. Whether gospels or letters or prophetic proclamations, they are for communities of faith. Paul writing to the community in Ephesus is clear about our communal character: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)
Baptism, like all of our sacramental tradition, is about relationships – with God, with the community of faith and with one another. Our Catholic tradition is not about individual seekers. It begins with the old initiating the younger into the tradition. It continues through life always in the context of community, with each of us being carried and carrying one another.
Question for Reflection
Who has carried you on your faith journey?