Last week I celebrated an anniversary I cherish. It’s not the kind of day you light candles on a cake or pop champagne corks — I couldn’t do that anyway since I gave up desserts and drinking for Lent. It’s not even the kind of celebration anybody else knows about – although a few of you thoughtful people did send me greetings. But, it’s still the anniversary of the most important event in my life.
It was the sixtieth anniversary of my baptism.
I was baptized at Immaculate Conception Church, Maplewood, Missouri, on February 26, 1950, by the pastor, Father John Ryan, with my Aunt Lois and Robert Nathe as Godparents.
Obviously, since I was not yet three-weeks old, I recall nothing of that sacred event. So what? What happened to me that winter day in that suburb of St. Louis was pure gift from a lavishly loving God. Just as I had nothing to do with the miraculous gift of human life on the day of my natural birth twenty-days prior, so I hadn’t a say in the overwhelmingly gracious gift of supernatural life given me by our Father at my baptism.
What happened that cold day in the corner of that parish church where Bob and Shirley Dolan, my folks, had been themselves baptized, raised Catholics, and married only ten months before?
— I became an adopted child of God!
— The lack of God’s life with which we all enter this world — we call it original sin — was washed away by the waters of the sacrament, and my soul was flooded with the radiance of God’s very own life – grace!
— Jesus Christ claimed me as His own, a beneficiary of the salvation He won for me by His cross and resurrection! (That’s why we call it a christening, as we become Christ!);
— I became a member of a supernatural family, the Church;
— God, my new Father, invited me to spend eternity with Him in heaven!
— Jesus told Satan — who wanted me badly — to get lost, since I now belonged to Christ! (Satan still won’t give up!)
— The gifts of faith, hope, and charity were instilled in my heart!
Not bad for a wintry day in Maplewood! Every other blessing in life flows from that glorious event.
When I stand before God at the end of my life, He won’t ask to see my passport, my stock portfolio, my résumé, my academic degrees, my certificate of priestly ordination or consecration as a bishop. But a baptismal certificate will be of immense interest!
I rejoice in all of this because it’s Lent. Classically, Lent is the season of the Church year that we ask the Lord to restore our baptismal radiance. God, our Father, always wants to see us as He did on the day of our baptism. Tragically, we do our best through life to tarnish the lustre of that day.
During Lent, as we prepare to actually renew our baptismal promises at Easter, we ask Jesus to renew in us the grace of our christening.
We’ve got two big helps:
— the sacrament of penance. Through a good confession, our souls are restored to the innocence, beauty, order, and radiance of the day of our baptism;
— the example of our wonderful catechumens, those women and men who as adults have accepted the invitation of God our Father, issued through His Son, Jesus, to become intimately united to Him through baptism (and the eucharist and confirmation) at the Easter Vigil, and have been preparing in our parishes through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
We’re in God’s hands! He’s known us from our mother’s womb; we’ve been the “apple of His eye” since then; He washed us clean and claimed us as His own on the day of our baptism; and He wants us on His lap for all eternity. When He looks at us, He sees us as we were on the day of our baptism. Lent’s the time we reclaim that identity.