The Offer (I’m Glad) I Didn’t Refuse: The Baptism

baptism2The day of Abby’s baptism was upon us.  The ceremony was set to take place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Muncie, Mary’s old parish and the parish her mother still attended. The baptism was half an hour away when I arrived at the church’s parking lot, giving myself a few minutes to kill.  I killed those minutes conversing with God one last time before the ceremony.

“Hey… me again. I didn’t really expect to hear from and I reckon there’s no reason to think that You would make Yourself known to me. It would be easy to believe if You gave some sign that You are out there, but that’s probably not how having faith is supposed to work, is it? Thing is, I WANT to believe in You. My heart says You are there. My head, though… it’s struggling.”

I sat in silence watching as more people were arriving. When I spotted Mary and Mitch arrive I figured it was time to go inside.

“Well, I need to get going. I, uh, I hope this is a start. I love that baby girl to pieces and will do whatever I need to… have to… for her…. Thanks for listening.”

I got out of my truck and crossed the parking lot to the church entrance.  I paused before grabbing the door handle to add, “Oh, one more thing. If you could see fit to not burn down the church with Holy Fire once I enter, that would be great. Mary would appreciate it.”  I was hopeful a little levity would go a long way with the Big Guy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

God did not deem it necessary to burn down St. Mary’s after I walked in, a fact Mary happily pointed out when I caught up to her and Mitch.  They led me and Abby’s godmother, Mona, into a room off to one side of the church where the priest performing the baptism explained the ceremony to us, telling us how and when to respond to his questions. It all seemed like a bit much to me and sounded like an all-night affair. The other three parental units had been through all of this before and seemed to be perfectly at ease with the process.

The priest then spoke directly to Mona and me, asking if we were both Catholic. He appeared to eye me suspiciously upon learning that I was not of the Church then had me sign a card attesting to this egregious oversight.  Satisfied that everything was in readiness, the priest ushered us all out to the baptismal font.  I noticed that he was still giving me the skunk eye as we walked out.

I felt like a complete dope after we reached the font.  Looking out at the family and friends who were there to witness this rite of passage I noticed they were all nattily dressed.  Even Joe was wearing a nice suit and tie. Me? I was dressed in blue jeans, tennis shoes, and something between a dress shirt and a Hawaiian shirt.  I thought I heard one of the women in the small group gasp in horror.

The priest wasted no time in starting the ceremony.  He seemed to be moving faster than I anticipated, perhaps to rid his church of the abomination I represented.  He began with a few questions for Mary and Mitch before addressing Mona and me: “Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?”  Mary gave me a wide-eyed look to alert me that it was now our turn to respond.

“We are,” Mona and I answered. Okay, that was a nice ice breaker.  Something easy to get the ol’ juices flowing.

The priest continued. He read some scripture then had a few words to say before rattling off the names of several saints.There was a prayer about anointing with oil and salvation. Christ was mentioned a couple of times. The priest said something about blessing the water right before Mary caught my eye again to let me know it was getting close to our turn again.

“Dear parents and godparents:” the priest began. “You have come here to present this child for baptism. By water and the Holy Spirit she is to receive the gift of new life from God, who is love.”

So far so good.

“On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring her up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives her is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in her heart.”

I think I can do that.

“If your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, renew now the vows of your own baptism. Reject sin; profess your faith in Christ Jesus. This is the faith of the Church. This is the faith in which this child is about to be baptized.”

Uh oh. I’m not sure if I was baptized. Rejecting sin is cool, but I just kind of got on board with the whole “faith” thing and I’m not sure just yet how God and Jesus feel about that.  I considered calling a timeout to discuss this with priest and the parents.

The priest wasted no time. “Do you reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises?”

Mary, Mitch, and Mona all answered, “I do.”  Caught off guard, I responded a split second behind them.  Mitch’s eyebrow twitched.  Mary shot me another look. Mona shifted uneasily next to me. The priest hurried along.

“Do you believe in God [Uh oh!], the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”

All four of us responded as one this time, “I do.” I closed my eyes in case a bolt of lightning came to strike me down.

The priest continued. [Phew!]  “Do you believe in Jesus Christ [Yes, I do!], his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary [Umm], was crucified, died, and was buried [Yes, yes, and yes], rose from the dead [Umm], and is now seated at the right hand of the Father [Like I was saying before…]?

“I do.” I looked at Abby and hoped like heck that God was cool with this.

“Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?”  You’re killing me, Smalls!

“I do.” I was about ready to pass out.

We had finally arrived at the baptism itself and the last question the four of us needed to answer: “Is it your will that Abby should be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?”

“It is,” we answered.  And with that I breathed a sigh of relief.  All that was left for me to do was observe, say “Amen” a few times, say the Lord’s Prayer as best as I could remember it, and to feel joy and love for Abby.

When the ceremony ended, Mary, Mitch, Mona, and I joined our family and friends who were in attendance.  I sought out Joe and took a seat next to him.

“Dude,” he said, “you looked like you were about to piss your pants.”

I responded, “Man, you have no idea.”

“Have you figured out what you’re going to do as Abby’s godfather yet?”

“Yes, I have, Joe. Yes, I have.”

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