Saturday, March 14, 2009
Baptism: Possessing Heavenly Strength of Bone
72 years ago today, two weeks after I was born, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Dayton, OH, at the hands of Reverend Cletus A. King, at the baptismal font which you see above, I received the greatest blessing possible for a human being: rebirth in the Love which is Creator/Redeemer/Life-giving Breath. Though I, a newborn infant, couldn't even walk, I was set on a journey in that Love which has carried me through 72 years by the power of that Love, and which will culminate in returning to that Love on the unknown day in the future when I take my last human breath.
An article appearing in Julian Jottings, a small publication of "Thoughts on Things Spiritual" which the Order of Julian of Norwich issues to its Affiliates every couple of months, arrived in the mail a few days ago. The article, entitled "Passages", was written by our dear and venerable Sister Cornelia, OJN: a reflection on the passage in Ezechiel 37, the prophet's experience in the Valley of the Dry Bones. [It'll be posted soon on: www.order of julian.org/home.html. Go to "iPublications", then click on "Julian Jottings"] How can one ever fully understand, much less express, what happens at Baptism? As I come to gradually appreciate the reality in my own personal life, it becomes clear that I experience quite vividly what Sister Cornelia calls "exegetical poverty" in speaking about it. Nevertheless, Sister Cornelia does a pretty good job, and I want to share just a few of her thoughts with you as I invite you to rejoice with me today on this anniversary of my "rebirth".
She says: "When in the [Ezechiel] story God breathes his Spirit into the bones, a miracle occurs and the bones rise up, fully clothed again in humanity and life. It is easy to see how extraordinary that is. But when God's Spirit enters you in baptism silenter than a breath and because you have a body and seem to be already alive, the enormity of the miracle is lost in the prettiness of the symbols. It is hard to realize that the birth of the Spirit happens so quickly and so silently, to be aware that the bones of the soul have jumped up to meet their God...We are brought completely to life at baptism: by water, chrism, candles, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most Holy Trinity...But the amazingness of baptism may take years to impinge. To realize that it is an hour struck on the world clock: one more stone knocked from Satan's empire of wickedness and sinful desire; the raising up of one more person possessing heavenly strength of bone that could lead to holiness and the service of righteousness -- one more living breathing person for Love in the mystical Body of Christ..."
According to my baptismal certificate, my godparents were my aunt, Florence Fries, and John Froehle, likely my mother's cousin. Aside from them and my parents, Robert and Grace Allagree, I don't know who else was present. Baptisms, in those days, were generally silent, private little events done off in some corner of the church on a Sunday afternoon. That I was "done" within two weeks of being born may or may not have been motivated by the then common Catholic anxiety that a child should be baptized as soon as possible lest something dire happen in the meantime and the child be shuffled off to, as they called it then but never clarified what "it" was, "Limbo". Whether there was any sort of celebration of the event afterwards is also unknown, although given my family's propensity for "the drink", I would imagine that this occasion was eagerly welcomed as a time to share the happiness! But, then, none of that matters, really.
By God's grace I've been privileged to walk since then in the power of that Love originally given, to dedicate most of my years to the Church and to share the mutual ministry of the Good News with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The words of the Book of Common Prayer may differ somewhat from the Rituale Romanum, likely used at my Baptism, but surely sum up what this anniversary is all about:
"Do you believe in God the Father?"
"Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?"
"Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?"
"Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?"
"Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?"
"Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?"
"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"
"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"
Yes, yes, yes: I will, with God's help!