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Baptism—First Sacrament of Vocation
By: Deborah A. Keenan
It seems as if the things I’m searching for aren’t always in plain sight. Recently, I reached for something I could neither see nor touch. As one might expect, most of what was on that closet shelf rained down on my head and all over the floor.
Fuming, I kicked at the pile and then crouched down to deal with the mess. Unraveling a tangle of scarves and mittens, I unearthed the corner of a worn blue cardboard box. It had been so long since I’d seen that box that I almost didn’t recognize it as mine, but as the only resident of the house, I knew it had to be. Curious, I opened the lid. Under some tissue paper was a tiny white cotton dress, the garment in which I’d been baptized as an infant.
As I lifted the delicate garment from its container, I had the impression of touching the past, coming into contact with an event of which I have no personal memory. Whatever I know of my Baptism I have heard from relatives or seen in snapshots, but here in my hands was a most intimate reminder of the day that will always give direction to my life.
I sat down amidst the jumble of things from the shelf to examine the little dress. As I gently touched the fabric, it came to me that I’m incredibly grateful that someone brought me to the baptismal font, to Jesus and to the Church.
I suspect that, like me, many of us who were baptized as children don’t reflect often enough on the meaning of our own Baptisms. We hear the words and see the actions when we witness the rite for babies and when adults and children celebrate the sacraments of initiation at Easter, but we have put “on the shelf” the reality that we “share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1268). Some of us may even think that Baptism is about the remission of Original Sin and nothing more.
At the font we become part of the Body of Christ and receive the meaning and mission of our Christian lives. We must claim this for ourselves because the way we live will flow from our acceptance. Jesus models this for us when he comes to John to be baptized. The Gospel of Mark (1:9-11) records the baptism of Jesus as his entry into ministry. The other Gospels share similar accounts (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34), all noting the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the voice of God. By his example, the sinless Jesus invites us to be baptized into the loving relationship of the Trinity and to take on his life of service.
Baptism, then, is everyone’s first sacrament of vocation. Each of us will express this in different callings (ordained clergy, married, single or vowed religious), but we all begin at the font. I discovered this for myself when I was asked to speak to adults about the sacraments of vocation. As a single woman, I had information to relate about Marriage and Holy Orders, but no personal experiences to share about living my life within these two sacraments. I needed to clarify for myself how I too have a vocation and a place in the mission of the Church.
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In searching around “on the shelf” for my identity, my own Baptism hit me on my head! The Vatican II document Dogmatic Constitution on the Church proclaims that the laity, through Baptism and Confirmation, are appointed by Christ to bring the Church into areas and situations particular to our lives so that we become the salt of the earth (#33). The Council also states in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity that our right to be apostles springs from our relationship with Christ as the head of the Body, and with that comes the duty to act as priest, prophet and king in our own circumstances (#3). Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, a postconciliar resource from the U.S. bishops, builds on those earlier works to clarify that the laity and the ordained are of “one mind” in the Body of Christ and so both “are ordered to one another and thus are intimately related” (p. 24).
What are we called to do as members of the baptized priesthood? How can our mutuality with the ordained priesthood be expressed?
• PRIEST Be people of prayer, not only at the weekend liturgy, but also every day. Choose a personal prayer practice that you can do faithfully, and the quality of your prayer will be enriched when you pray in community. We turn to our clergy to offer our needs to God in prayer, and they need us for prayer support as well. Send a priest or deacon a note letting him know that you’re praying specifically for him. Encourage others to join you.
• PROPHET Be people who proclaim the gospel and, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “If necessary, use words.” We Catholics have traditionally been a little shy about personal evangelization. Our baptismal garments aren’t meant to be left “on the shelf” when we’re outside of the Church community. We’re called to serve with the mind and heart of Jesus at school and in the workplace, and so be prophets in action.
• KING Be people of faithful service. The document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord stresses mutual respect and collaboration between the laity and ordained. The clergy and parish staff create and offer opportunities for everyone to serve and live out their baptismal promises, but we also share in that ministry. Find your own way to serve and invite others to join you. Don’t forget the homebound as a prayer resource.
Knowing our own identity is the foundation of action. The little blue box that holds my baptismal garment is not in the closet anymore; I set it out in plain sight and claim it as my own.
Permission to Publish received for this article, “Baptism—First Sacrament of Vocation,” by Deborah A. Keenan, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 10-23-2009.
By: Frank Frost
Since most Catholics are baptized as infants, it’s easy to think of Baptism as something passive, as something “received.” But we’re called to be active, to renew our baptismal commitment to be servants of God’s Kingdom here on earth—in broader language: to love our neighbors as ourselves. In popular culture, this is often expressed as self-sacrifice, and the 2000 hit movie Pay It Forward is an example.
■ When were you baptized? What do you know or remember about that event?
■ How often do you reflect on the meaning of your Baptism? What difference has being baptized made in your life?
■ How will you make a more intentional effort to live out your baptismal call to be priest, prophet and king?
At the heart of this story is an assignment a social-studies teacher (Kevin Spacey) uses to challenge his seventh-graders: “Think of an idea to change the world—and put it into ACTION.” Trevor McKinney’s (Haley Joel Osment) idea is to do “something big” and unsolicited for three people, and to ask each of them to do the same for three other people, “paying it forward” in good deeds.
Trevor finds this more difficult than he expected. His first good deed, helping a homeless drug addict (James Caviezel), does not apparently reform the man’s life. Closer to home, he decides to help his teacher fall in love with his mom (Helen Hunt)—which will also benefit himself—but initially fails. And third, he sets out to help a boy in his class who’s being bullied. But the first time he has a chance to stand up for the kid, he doesn’t.
Even as Trevor believes he has failed in his attempts to pay it forward, the idea catches on and becomes a quiet movement with a long reach. It may strike some as a reach too far when Trevor becomes a Christ figure, giving his life in defense of his bullied classmate. But the movie won a huge audience, suggesting that we all desire to make the world a better place—which, to Christians, means living up to our baptismal commitment.
Next time you watch Pay It Forward, ASK YOURSELF:
By: Joan McKamey
“I’m in awe of where God places me and uses me. It’s a privilege to celebrate Baptism for a child or adult, watch how it opens up over time and journey with them from birth to death. I have the opportunity to mentor them, to assist them on the journey,” says Father Kevin McCarthy of his ministry.
■ Most of the recipients, and donors, of “paying it forward” are broken people. Does the effectiveness of “paying it forward” require gratitude on the part of the recipient?
■ How many different ways is unsolicited generosity paid forward in the film? What are some ways I can be altruistic?
A priest of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, for 20 years, Father Kevin has spent the last 13 of those years working in campus ministry and serving the community of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center (more commonly called “St. T’s”) at Valparaiso University. He says, “College was the best four years of my life, the time when I took ownership of my faith. Part of my calling is to work with youth. During seminary, I went to Guatemala to explore work as a missionary. It became clear to me that my calling was not to missionary work in a foreign country but to be a missionary to youth in my own country.
“The key to my ministry is presence, meeting people where they are and walking with them. Through my work in campus ministry, I hope to empower young people to take hold of their faith. Many of our students were baptized as Catholics but are at various stages of faith. Our goal is to bring them in, form them and send them out. Who knows where they will make a difference?
“We’re planting seeds. Who knows when it will come to fruition? The key is to have the utmost confidence that it will. I used to think, I will make it happen. Now I trust this to God and get myself out of the way.
“It all lies in hospitality. I tell people that, in my job, I’m the ultimate hospitality minister. Hospitality feeds a person’s desire to know more and plants a seed. I wait for the moment when they invite me into that desire to know more.”
Father Kevin graduated from the University of Evansville with an operations management degree and was managing a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant when he received and responded to the call to the priesthood. His involvement in feeding people has shifted from the physical to the spiritual. He tells Every Day Catholic, “The eucharistic table is an altar of sacrifice. It’s also an altar of celebration. We try to strike a balance of the two. We gather, weekend after weekend, bringing our successes and failures. The Lord transforms them, and we go out again, learning to take ownership of our faith, living out our baptismal promises and helping others do the same.
“For me, the call of Baptism means keeping our eyes open to the daily presence of God and allowing God to affirm us: We’re not just good, but we’re very, very good. We are children of God. We have the opportunity to live out of that goodness, to share that, to ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news’” (Mark 16:15).
By: Jeanne Hunt
Monica and Rob haven’t managed to present their baby, Tyler, for Baptism yet. It’s just that she and Rob have been so busy since the baby has come: fixing up the nursery, getting accustomed to breastfeeding, shopping for baby clothes at the end-of-season clearance. She’s not even sure Tyler will fit into the family baptismal gown; he’s nine months old now.
Many new parents find the tasks of parenting so overwhelming at first that fitting in their child’s Baptism—attending parish preparation meeting(s) for parents, scheduling a date, planning a party, fitting into pre-pregnancy clothes or shopping for new—too much to juggle. For some, it also brings up unresolved issues concerning their own practice of the faith.
Monica called the parish and signed them up for the Baptism workshop for parents. She was sure she’d heard it all before, but something happened that really changed things: The couple presenting the class began by talking about caring for a baby’s soul just like we care for his body and mind. They said that christening means anointing with oil and that Tyler would be anointed to be like Jesus Christ. Tyler would be a priest, prophet and king, and God would help him measure up.
It’s mainly through Monica and Rob that their baby will receive the gift of faith. Parents teach children the way of the priest, the prophet, the king. The couple said that all of us are asked to be a part of Jesus’ mission. That means that every baptized person becomes a priest.
Monica’s mind wandered as she realized that the nursery, the darling clothes and even becoming a champion at breastfeeding don’t hold a candle to giving Tyler a chance at true happiness. Her beautiful baby boy deserves the best she and Rob have to give, the best God has to give.
Her mind returned to the discussion just as the speakers explained that, through Baptism, God claims their child for all eternity. Now she thinks about her and Rob’s role in Tyler’s eternal life: What an awesome task to model living the Christian way for Tyler—learning together how to serve others, speak about faith with courage and walk with dignity as a child of the King. The workshop ended with a prayer for the wisdom and courage to do the right thing for Tyler, their future priest, prophet and king.
By: Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Place a bowl of water, red paper hearts, pens, a Bible and a candle on a prayer table.
“You Are Mine” (or similar song)
Dearest God, how wonderful are your ways! You have claimed us as your own, called us by name. We are precious to you. Loving us beyond our wildest dreams, you keep and protect us as a mother protects her child. Clear and refreshing water poured upon us changed us and made us your rare treasures. Your love enfolds us in your embrace, purifies us and empowers us. Amen.
Write your baptismal name on the paper heart you received. Then turn the heart over and write the name you like to call God: Savior, Lord, Father, Friend, Shepherd, etc. (Pause.) When you are ready, come forward to the water, bless yourself and say both your baptismal name and the name for God you wrote on your paper heart. Then put the heart into the water.
Play quiet, reflective music as people come forward.
You and I were marked with the Sign of the Cross at Baptism. I invite you to reflect on the meaning of that moment when you were claimed for Christ. Please turn to someone near you and mark them with a cross on their forehead, saying: “I sign you with the cross in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
When this action is completed, say:
Go now to love and serve the Lord as priest, prophet and king. Amen.