January 27, 2006

Faith and Family

Baptismal anniversaries can be special celebrations

The Church celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord recently, yet I suspect for most Catholics, it passed by without notice.

Ordinarily, the feast falls on a Sunday, when parish communities gather together for worship. But because Christmas fell on a Sunday this liturgical year, it was transferred to the Monday after Epiphany, which happened to be Jan. 9.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI baptized several infants at the Sistine Chapel that day. On that occasion, he offered some reflections on the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism.

“Through baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity,” the pope said.

If we sit back and let this truth about baptism—which the Church has proclaimed throughout its history—truly sink in, then we can’t but be struck anew by its transformative power in our lives.

When this happens, the date of our own baptism should become important to us. Baptismal anniversaries in our families should be special days of remembrance.

On Feb. 20, my family will mark the first anniversary of the baptism of my second son, Raphael.

One special thing that we’ll do is bring out and light his baptismal candle at the family supper.

It will also be a moment when I can begin to explain to his big brother, Michael, now that he is getting older and just starting to understand such things, what baptism is all about.

But we’ll also recall a lighter moment from that day. During the Mass at which Raphael was baptized, Cindy, myself, Michael and Raphael brought the offertory gifts to the altar.

Just as we were turning to go back to our pew, it seemed like Michael wanted to give his little brother a kiss. But as he leaned forward toward him, instead of kissing him on the cheek, he bit him.

Little Raphael, only 6 weeks old, who just moments earlier during his baptism hadn’t made a peep, filled the church with wails of pain.

He may have, in the pope’s words, just been “inserted into a gathering of friends, … which in itself bears the promise of eternity,” but Michael’s bite was a humorous reminder that until that eternity dawns for us, we’ll experience pain—even from those friends who make up the family of God.

Yet the grace poured into our hearts at baptism and continually renewed in the other sacraments—especially the sacrament of reconciliation—assures us that we can at least move slowly in the direction of overcoming pain in our relationships.

Now I can say that, a year after Raphael’s baptism, his big brother still frequently fails to grasp how to play with him without causing him to cry, but Michael is learning, albeit slowly.

These things, both light and weighty, come to mind as the first anniversary of Raphael’s baptism approaches.

I encourage families, if they don’t remember the dates of each member’s baptism, to learn when it happened. All it takes is a phone call to the parish where the baptism occurred. A staff member there can usually find it in their baptismal registers.

Then mark the dates on your calendars and celebrate them with joy. They can be one more day for families to rejoice together and, at the same time, renew their appreciation of this great sacrament.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.) †


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