Teachers have a great bumper sticker: "If you can read this, thank a teacher."
Another favorite of mine is, "Freedom isn't free. Thank a Vet!"
We Catholics ought to have one that says, "If you've been baptized, thank the Church." Or maybe: "Baptized? God has big plans for you." Or even: "Baptism = Love That's Outta This World."
Not that my faith can be reduced to bumper sticker slogans, but now and again, I get a little complacent. I fail to recall the magnitude of the gift of faith that has been handed on to me, the rudder that guides me through every storm, both meteorological and metaphorical.
When life gets depressing or hard to bear, it is the bedrock I fall back on, recalling the simple promises of faith that baptism assures:
- That God really does love me and forgives me; He sees and knows everything and never leaves us alone.
- That God's plan, with its truth, beauty, and goodness really does overcome the daunting specter of evil.
- That there is more to this life than what we really see, that heaven awaits us.
Christianity is not about me or you searching for God; it's about God coming in search of us. Period. A lot of people miss that.
Ours is a religion whose scripture, liturgy, and tradition speak of this relationship with the One who already knows our name, and desires to be in communion with us and in whose Name we may already be baptized. "For God so loved the world that he sent his own Son . . ." (Jn. 3:16); that's God taking the initiative, repairing the breach we've experienced since Eden. This is a loving God seeking us in a relationship that is both uniquely personal and eternal, and today he employs the Church and her people to make the invitation.
Jesus specifically asked his followers to make disciples of all the nations, to baptize the people they met "in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." To this day, we members of the church share in his mission, to reveal God to the very hearts that were made to receive him. Two thousand years later, that practice continues.
I can trace my faith in Christ to the graces first imparted at my baptism.
If you were baptized, you have someone to thank for bringing you, or leading you, to the font of life. Coming from a heritage of both French and Irish Catholic immigrants, I have a lot of people to thank, stretching back generations. Their faith and love live on in me.
On a recent pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, my husband and I found it marvelous to worship and pray with the international throngs of Catholic faithful at the Grotto—where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, and where so many healings have taken place—and in the shrine's three basilicas. But Catholicism isn't just a global faith, it is a personal faith—the same faith that my parents offered to me when I was baptized over a half century ago, and the same faith that I have brought my children up in.
Prior to the trip to Lourdes, I learned that my paternal grandmother's home village was located in the south of France. Intrigued, my husband and I rented a car and explored the little town of Lembeye, where my immigrant grandmother began her life.
As beautiful as Lourdes was (in terms of the grandeur of being a world famous sacred destination), Lembeye was, on a personal level, just as beautiful to me. There, I entered into the Eglise de l'Assomption à Lembeye, the Church of the Assumption at Lembeye, an old 19th-century church—the only one in town—and likely the place where my grandmother was baptized and received her first sacraments. I could not be sure, since I do not have Nana's baptismal certificate, but this little French church might very well have been the source of my faith origins. Today I continue to reap the benefits of the faith that has been handed on to me from earlier generations.
When I was a young first communicant, my grandmother gave me her rosary beads as a gift. I still have them today, but more important, I have the faith that they represent, long after her passing. As I walked the streets of Lembeye, and as my husband and I lunched on cheese and baguettes in the church courtyard, I imagined her presence as a little girl. I not only have a familial history, a blood relationship, with my grandmother, but a faith connection as well. Even today I am united to her through the body and blood of Jesus Christ who is the Head of the Body of Christ, and all its members. Both in Lourdes, and in Lembeye, I had a sense of the eternal communion of saints, found in the so-called church militant (or the church now striving) on earth, the church suffering (or being purified)in purgatory, and the church triumphant (those enjoying their eternal reward) in heaven.