So, here’s the first thing: I’ve never felt so blessed and so utterly unimportant as I did in the moments when I was baptizing Lala.
You understand in an instant, if you’re paying attention, why it is that John the Baptist is so frequently portrayed as pointing to Jesus.
Really, anyone can baptize. You can we a wicked SOB or a saint. You can be an atheist who’s just fulfilling the wishes of the parents or you can be the Pope. A jackass or a whiskey priest or a five-year-old girl can do it. The kid isn’t more baptized by the Pope than he would be by the atheist.
Maybe this is why Jesus made it so easy. Jesus apparently knows his people well enough to know that making it complicated is a formula for disaster. Make it easy. If you make it easy, we get more people, and that’s the whole idea. More, more, more. Jesus is profligate when you are not inclined to be profligate. More. How many people is enough for Jesus? All of them. If we get all of them, that’s enough.
So, when you baptize someone, that’s where you start. All the ceremonial– and it is magnificent ceremonial, and If you can read the blessing of the water without tears you are more of a man than I am– is just intended to heighten the awareness of this bald fact. God wants more children. He’s crazy about it. The Octomom is a lightweight compared to God. He wants you and everybody.
So, anyway, the parents are two people I’ve loved for a long time. I was filled with anxiety back in 2008 when we awaited the news that mom had applied to transfer to Colgate, and I rejoiced when she got in. I rejoiced when she and the dad got married. I rejoiced when they cooked chicken paprikash and when we had the interfaith barbecue one summer and when they graduated and, well, there’s a lot to celebrate with them, as they are wonderful.
And then she was pregnant and then the baby was born and he was impossibly beautiful and I said, “Hey, you know, I’ll be a deacon soon, and if you don’t have plans for a baptism but want him baptized, I’m game.” Thanks be to God, they took me up on it.
I practiced a number of times with one of my daughter’s dolls. I did OK. There’s a certain nonchalance when you’re practicing most things, but I will admit that when one of my students held the doll over the font and I poured water on the doll’s head, I cried. For that moment, it was about the grace that my ordination had given.
But I’ll tell you what– when you’re doing the baptism, it’s completely different, and whatever it is about it is NOT about you or your emotions. It’s about the fact that you, child of God, are able to stand and bear witness to what God is doing with your hands and with the water you poured into the font. Jesus takes over, and you’re his stunt double. If you do a half-assed job, if you missed the miracle of adoption into God’s family, well, that’s your problem. But if you just pay attention, God’s got a show for you. God’s love, your hands.
Baptizing Lala instantly transformed everything I thought I knew about the sacraments. I suddenly saw priests in a different light. Your surrender is all that’s required for the grace to be given. Well, no– even your surrender isn’t required. Your surrender is only required if you want to see it, if you want to see with your own eyes what God has given you to do.