As you might know, I just love baptisms. Since 1979 the Church has told us that the celebration of baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, All Saints’ Day, and today, on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Many recommend that, as far as possible, baptisms be reserved for these occasions. I don’t buy that, all of it, at least. I’ll baptize anybody who hasn’t already been baptized, and I’ll baptize them at their convenience.
We don’t have a baptism this weekend, but it seems appropriate to talk about it bit anyway. There are lots of funny baptism stories. From years past we get the story of St. Patrick baptizing King Aengus: “It was in the mid 5th century, when King Aengus was being baptized by St. Patrick, that during the sacrament St. Patrick leaned forward on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the King’s foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick noticed the pool of blood at the King’s feet, immediately realized what had happened, and, remorsefully begging the King’s forgiveness, he asked, “Why did you suffer this pain in silence?” The King replied, “I thought it was part of the ritual.””1
Closer to home, we have the story of a supply priest who was doing a baptism at my father-in-law’s church (St. Patrick’s, interestingly enough); this priest was Anglo, he was a white guy, but he wanted to baptize the baby in his parent’s native language, Vietnamese. The priest got through most of it pretty well, except that at the actual moment of baptism, he managed to call the child, in Vietnamese, a “little puppy.” This is precisely why I don’t try to learn much Vietnamese.
“The early Christians certainly made the most of baptism. “Tertullian describes the event as practiced in the 2nd-century church: “When we are going to enter the water,” he says, “we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then, when we are taken up, we taste first a mixture of milk and honey. And from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week.” Those early Christians, no doubt, had the odor of sanctity about them, yet they wanted to hold on to that high moment as long as possible.
“In the early Christian centuries, converts were baptized naked. Did you know that? Now that would perk up a Sunday morning worship service! And they put on white robes when they came up out of the water. It was a sign that they had literally put on Christ like a garment. They wore those robes for a period as a reminder of who they were and what they had done.”2
As a reminder of who they were and what they had done. I remember when Fr. Salmon was here weekly on the runup to my ordination, and he would tell us all that soon enough I would be called ‘Father’ mostly as a reminder to me of who I am, so I could act accordingly. The same goes for all of us in our baptisms, I think. Last week we talked about the Coptic Church in Egypt; they have a good way of reminding themselves and each other of their baptisms. “In a rite of passage unique among Christian churches (in Egypt), the cross is tattooed on children’s wrists. It hurts a little but the pain doesn’t last. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages – when Muslims forced Copts to wear the cross as a sign of identity. Today they wear it as a sign of pride.”3
While I’m not advocating that we start tattooing the children (but maybe the adults), what is it that we can do to remind us of our baptism? The Church provides us with those “days most appropriate for baptism” like today; she provides us actual baptisms that we can witness and rejoice over; and she provides us with an altar on which the supreme sacrifice is made for the baptized and indeed the whole world. What else? Many of us wear a simple cross around our necks or carry a rosary, some of us refer to each other and to other Christians as our brothers and sisters in Christ. But I think the best way to remember our baptisms is to act, in every day life, as if we were baptized; to treat others as we would treat Christ, to act as if we wore Christ as a garment white as snow, as if we died with Christ in our baptism and then rose again with Him. Because in our baptisms, we did.