Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ
Take a moment to remember the last baptism you witnessed. Perhaps you can recall the proud parents and godparents, dressed in their Sunday best, standing around the baptismal font. In their arms they hold their young, freshly-bathed child, hoping that she won’t create a fuss. Before them stands the minister or priest, neatly dressed in suit and tie, or robe, or colorful vestments. The font stands ready. The congregation looks on with curiosity and pleasure, wondering how the child will respond to what is about to happen. The atmosphere is peaceful and serene. It is a family occasion, a beautiful moment that will long be remembered.
Fifty years ago John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Over the past few days we have seen those horrific images repeated over and over again. And we watch the horror with a strange fascination, rather like 12 years ago on September 11th, as we watched again and again the horrific images of the falling twin towers, as they were repeated over and over again.
Evil has always been a source of fascination. We can hardly bear to look, but find it hard to look away. Writers over the centuries have been drawn to it constantly. In Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio we have a riotous and fantastic description of hell and purgatory. By comparison, his depiction of heaven – Paradiso – is rather dull.
In the calendar of the church we remember today the life and witness of a seventh-century monk from Rome named Paulinus. In year 625, Paulinus was made a bishop. He was among the second generation of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory I to assist Augustine in evangelizing England. The church historian, the Venerable Bede, described Paulinus as “a tall man with a slight stoop. He had black hair, an ascetic face, a thin hooked nose, and a venerable and awe-inspiring presence.”[i] Paulinus began his work in York, where there were already a few Christians. Paulinus engaged in long private conversations about the Christian faith with King Edwin. The king sought advice from his councilors, whether he should become a Christian. One of the councilors responded by telling a parable:
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!!
The psalmist says that “weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning!” (Ps. 30:5) And there is no more joyous morning for Christian people than this morning, the morning of Resurrection!
Through Lent and Holy Week, we have symbolically passed through a “night of weeping” in which we followed Jesus on the Way of suffering and death so that we might share with him the joy that comes on this morning! We are disciples of this Way that he both lived and taught – the way of dying and rising. We have identified ourselves with him, and with this Way – and we have found it to be the Way that leads to Life!
Rose’s baptism at the Monastery was a practical and urgent event. At the time of Rose’s baptism our family was in great peril because of family disintegration. Beyond the immediate horizon I knew that Rose would be facing deep suffering. Because of this, her baptism was of immense importance to me. I prayed and hoped that her baptism would offer her a memory of her holiness: a memory that would help her to remember that, no matter the external circumstances, she is beloved, that there is a part of her that remains untouched by time, pain, or confusion. I hope and pray still that this memory will always help her to choose the path of love. I am grateful to the Brothers for making this possible for our family, for their friendship, and for their devotion to a life of love.
– José Hidalgo
John and David were brothers, two young men who worshipped in my parish in England. They had not been baptized as babies, but now felt the time was right. They asked me if I could baptize them by total immersion. So, on a beautiful summer’s day we and their family and friends gathered around a swimming pool. Having taken advice from the local Baptist minister, I climbed down into the water, in blue jeans and an alb, and baptized them.
It left a powerful impression on me. Baptism inside a church at the font is always a moving experience, with the water symbolizing washing, cleansing, thirst quenching, reviving. But when those two young men were plunged down beneath the deep water scared, and then came up again – there was a real sense of dying – and rising again. I had never before felt so powerfully how in our baptism we share in the death of Jesus, and also share in his resurrection. I remember blessing the waters with the moving prayer from the English prayer book: “We thank you Lord, that through the deep waters of death, you brought your Son, and raised him to life in triumph.”