On this day the Church remembers the baptism of Jesus, usually reckoned as the beginning of his public ministry. With this feast the Christmas season comes to its conclusion, and the season of ordinary time begins tomorrow.
I cannot recall my baptism because it was on Dec. 5, 1977, and I was nine weeks old. That there was a baptism, there is no doubt: the baptismal certificate is on file at St. Kevin Parish in Flushing, Queens, and I successfully obtained a copy of it for my application to the Capuchin postulancy program. I have seen photographs of the occasion, so there were eyewitnesses. One of the photos appears to depict the very moment when the priest sprinkled the water while reciting the words of the baptismal formula ("I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"). Still, I have no memory of the event. I cannot recall the moment.
This does not mean I do not remember my baptism. It is a felt experience every time I dip my fingers into holy water and make the sign of the cross when I enter a church. It it re-presented for me whenever I witness the baptism of an infant, child, or adult. It becomes immediate on those occasions when the congregation renews its baptismal vows during liturgy.
There are times when baptism comes to mind beyond the sacred space of worship. For instance, when I am in the shower, I say to myself, as the water jets down, "Remember your baptism." Since bathing is the first thing I do almost every day, this mantra is a good way to consecrate the day ahead. Also, whenever I take walks by streams and rivers, I look and I listen to the currents and think of living water, carrying life, making life possible, channeling the Spirit of God.
There have been other extraordinary reminders of baptism. Receiving the sacrament of confirmation on June 11, 2000, was such an occasion and one of the most powerful religious experiences I ever had. (About this, I hope to write more someday.)
Four summers ago I visited Niagara Falls for the first time. My friend from Buffalo took the photo I have adopted to represent my likeness on this blog. I have chosen this picture because it is more than a pleasing-looking image. It captures a sacramental moment. While looking at the millions of gallons of water running over, I was meditating on baptism and thinking that there, at Niagara Falls, God continues to baptize the world and its peoples. God never ceases to baptize creation.
Life is renewed, constantly. All creatures of nature are filled by the Creator with grace and favor. As for human creatures, continually we are regenerated, physically and morally. Continually, we are invited to fulfillment and commissioned to live life to its fullest, in right relationship with our Creator, with each other, and with all God's creatures.
On this day and, I hope, every day, I aim to remember my baptism and renew my commitment to the baptismal vows. In pursuit of the religious vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, I aim to live out my baptismal vows in a particular way, after the manner of Francis himself, who gave high praise to the virtues of living water:
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly,
precious, and pure.
Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures