I very much believe in baptism. It is one of two sacraments ordained and commanded by Christ. He himself underwent it at the hands of John in the River Jordan. Baptism is how a person is joined to the Church. Some people call it a rite of initiation, for others it means we’re born again; but I’m not sure those words convey its supreme importance. By baptism we become one with Christ; if we’re old enough to talk we make vows to be one with him. If not, those vows are said by adults on our behalf, but the oneness stays the same, whatever our age.
I believe in infant baptism, ideally the 8th day after birth. I believe in all baptisms at any age. I got the water when I was two or three. My Methodist-baptized mother joined the Episcopal Church and had all three of us baptized; Steve was 5, Dick was 7. Mom said Fr. Ferguson paraded us around the church, showing us off as the newest Christians in the world.
I don’t remember it, but she loved it. I still believe the walk down the center aisle, holding the hand of the new initiate, is the right way to baptize a soul. We must have been a sight, three little stairstep boys, holding hands.
A couple of years ago on Christmas Eve I was present for more baptisms in my home parish; new adult converts and their children, as well as a grandson of the parish, who might have been 10 years old. I know his granddad, the former religion beat writer for the local newspaper, a nice man. How thrilling it must have been for him to live to see the baptism of his grandson. It was thrilling for me to be present for the baptism of Byron’s grandson.
Tonight, another Christmas Eve, we have freezing rain, and I can’t make it to church. This bothers me, but the weather was predicted and I have a backup plan for worship. It’s not as soul-feeding as midnight mass, but it will nourish me nonetheless.
This year, I have someone new in my life, a little rat terrier named Luke. He’s an excellent boy. I planned ahead and gave him a great feast (he likes Skippy Premium), so big he couldn’t eat it all. But while he ate, I sat on my kitchen steps and told him about Jesus as best I could. What is it like to recount the story of salvation in your own words? Have you ever done that, with anyone, even a dog who has no idea what Christmas means? All Luke knows is Skippy.
I did okay, with a simple retelling of the birth, life, parents, ministry, miracles, persecution, execution and resurrection of the Lord of Life. Luke kept eating.
When he was done (with chunks of beef and chicken yet remaining), I reached into his water dish and baptized him in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I hope I didn’t trivialize Christianity, but I want my boy in heaven. He was very patient while I did my little water thing.
He has no sins to repent of, but I want him with me forever. He wasn’t born again; maybe I was, maybe not.
St. Francis blessed the animals, but the truth is they bless us. They’re simple little beings who react on instinct and impulse—but oh my, is he a lover already. Should not he belong in the company of saints?
He let me do this, then went outside in the freezing rain. He doesn’t like the wet and cold, but he likes sniffing every chance he gets.
Back inside, we played a little while, then he went back in his house; all is well, peace on earth. He’s now snuggled up in a Purdue Boilermakers blanket, safe and snug. He has no idea what “baptism” means, but then neither do adult humans.
God said, and people heard him say it, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Merry Christmas, Luke. We’re going to heaven, buddy. We’re going to laugh and play and belly-rub, and there’s an endless supply of Skippy. Miles and miles to run with no one saying you can’t!
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.++