Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
If you have not had a chance to visit the church since last Sunday, the removal of Christmas decorations might seem jarring, just as that spot once occupied by your Christmas tree seems rather bare once the tree has found its way to the attic or the curb. The comparatively spare decorations now in the church indicate that we have entered the brief period of Ordinary Time that precedes the great fast of Lent. “Ordinary” of course, is a relative term, for it refers not to our common usage “normal” but to “ordinal” or “numbered” time. These weeks are numbered, but in them, we are not marking any particularly high season. However, Ordinary Time ordinarily (pun somewhat intended) begins with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which in most years falls on a Sunday, but in 2023 was marked this past Monday. The feast of our Lord’s baptism is instructive for our observance of these weeks.
By receiving the baptism of his cousin, St. John the Baptist, Jesus elevates the symbolic act of washing to the level of a sacramental act. That is, the washing with water will not only symbolize cleansing from sin, it will, in fact, effect the cleansing of sin. By entering the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus sanctifies the water of baptism and the act of baptism. So now baptism truly washes us clean of original sin. As He comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him. Just so for us, in baptism, the Holy Spirit begins to abide in our hearts and souls. The voice of God the Father speaks over Jesus, calling Him “beloved Son.” So in baptism, each Christian receives the identity of beloved son or daughter.
In addition to what Jesus does for baptism, and in turn, what baptism does for us, there is another important component to the Lord’s Baptism that speaks to what we will experience in these next several weeks. It is after His baptism that Jesus’ public life begins. Now baptized, He goes to the desert to pray and prepare, and then He takes up the task of proclaiming the Good News. Just as the feast of the Epiphany oriented us to a life of witness – we are sent to manifest Christ to the nations – so the Lord’s baptism and the time that follows reminds us of the task given to us by virtue of our own baptism. All the baptized are called to bear witness to Christ, to take up the mission to proclaim the Good News to all people, and to be the instrument that allows the Holy Spirit to enter the hearts and lives of all.
Baptism is an incredibly important and joyful moment in anyone’s life. At the Easter Vigil, adults who have spent months (sometimes even years) preparing for baptism are welcomed into the Christian community. Almost every Sunday, infants are baptized here, a sign of joy and life for their families, and of hope for the future of the whole Catholic community. There are some practical, pastoral considerations for baptism that I would like to highlight here.
- Baptism ought to happen as soon after the child is born as possible. Pope Benedict XVI was baptized the same day he was born (a somewhat extreme example, perhaps!). I suggest having the baptism in the first three months after birth.
- Schedule the baptism of your child during your pregnancy, if at all possible. Just as you prepare a room and all the necessary baby supplies throughout the nine months of pregnancy, so include preparation for baptism in your preparations for your child’s birth. Scheduling the baptism with so much advance notice also makes it easier for godparents and family members to prepare for any necessary travel.
- Speaking of travel, remember that the most important part of baptism is the baby being baptized. Any guests or other participants are a tremendous blessing, but the most important thing is having the baby baptized.
- Did I already mention baptizing the baby as soon as possible? Please give your baby the gift of God’s life through the saving waters of baptism! What a treasure you entrust to them!
A final note, on a different subject. You may have seen the news that three priests in the Diocese of Bridgeport have just been honored by Pope Francis with the title “Monsignor.” I have had the pleasure of knowing all three for many years. Msgr. Don Guglielmi was pastor of my childhood parish, St. Mark in Stratford, and later served as my spiritual director for a time. Msgr. Bob Crofut was the parochial vicar here at St. Pius when I arrived as pastor, and has been a tremendous example of faithful priesthood. Msgr. Bob Kinnally was parochial vicar here at St. Pius when I was assigned as a seminarian, and I later took his place in 2009. I then had the opportunity to work with him in the Diocese of Bridgeport’s Vocation Office and am blessed to count him as both friend and mentor. These three priests are outstanding examples of service, devotion, and what a priest ought to be. Please join me in congratulating them and praying for their continued ministry!