With spring in the air and “Alleluia” on our lips, heres a reflection on one of my favorite ministries, from the new edition of The Deacon:
Like a lot of clergy, I have a small green hardcover book I use regularly. It’s an ordination gift, Rite of Baptism for Children. Inside the back cover is a name and a date:
First Baby Baptized
July 1, 2007
Barely a month goes by that I don’t glance at that name, whisper a prayer and smile. I don’t know what became of young Margaret or her family, but our lives are forever entwined by that moment when water and a few nervously spoken words changed everything.
A lot has happened since that July day in 2007, barely a month after my ordination. But I remember vividly that afternoon: the nervous catch in my throat, the way I scrupulously followed every line and rubric — practicing it several times at home before I did it in church — and feeling dampness on my cheek that wasn’t caused by the splash of water from the font. Was there something in my eye? No. It was me. I couldn’t help but sniff back the tears.
Was I really doing this? Incredibly, yes.
I’ve done it hundreds of times since. But that day was the beginning of a unique and enduring love affair.
Put simply, I love baptisms. The water. The prayers. The families. The squirming, squealing, wailing signs of life. The bright, sweet smell of chrism lingers for hours on my thumb.
I know I’m not the only deacon who feels this way; I’ve heard it from others, always with a mixture of embarrassment and wonder. How could something so simple and fundamental have such a hold on us? After all, it is something we do so often — and, let’s face it, it can be done by virtually anyone, if the need arises. It’s so commonplace we can almost take it for granted.
There is something inescapably beautiful and humbling about being able to celebrate this sacrament, of being the “ordinary minister” of it. It goes to the heart of the ritual and, I think, our very vocation.