Monday, April 27, 2015

Baptismal Memories

Sunday morning three children were baptized at the end of our church service. The Pastor called all the family members to come forward and to stand close so they could see their loved ones baptized. There were Mothers, Fathers, brothers and sisters,  a smattering of grandparents and an Aunt or two from out of town. After the family members stood close—the congregation was invited to move from their pews down to the front and get as close to the Baptismal pool as they could. The most moving part of that service was when the Pastor’s eleven year old daughter stood waist-deep in the water as her Daddy-Pastor raised his hand and intoned the baptismal formula. His voice broke under the emotion of the hour.

Looking around, I saw a young man in his forties. My son’s age. In fact he and my son were buddies. And I suddenly remembered that special time when they were baptized one evening years ago. After Sunday's service I went down to see my son’s friend. I hugged him and asked, “Do you remember?” “Oh yes,” he said, “I do remember.”

I remembered too. The year was 1978. It was a Sunday summer afternoon. We were scheduled to baptize that evening. But there was a hitch. When we got to the church we discovered that someone had forgotten to fill the baptistery. No water. We had planned the service carefully around one particular young man who was to be baptized. His father was seriously ill with cancer. We had structured this service between chemotherapy treatments when the father was not so sick. We had asked the father to have the baptismal prayer for his son and the other candidates. So, as happens so often in church, we had to come up with a contingency plan. We called a family in the church with a swimming pool and asked if we could have our service there.

I was heartsick. My own son was to be baptized. This man with cancer had come with great pain to participate in his own son’s baptism. I could just see people standing around snickering. But this was not the case. Something happened that late afternoon with the sun setting and the birds singing. The grace of God moved among us and across that water. None of us present will ever forget that particular baptism. One of the things that made that service so special was the bald-headed father dying of cancer. He pulled from his pocket a prayer he had written for his nine-year old son and the other candidates. This is what he prayed.

“Heavenly Father, at this time we would like to dedicate these young people to You as they choose to become members of Your intimate family through the sacrament of Baptism. Remember how you led Your chosen people out of Egypt by Your show of power at the waters of the Red Sea? Please show the same power for these boys tonight and protect them as You protect us all of Your children. Remember how You led Your chosen people through the waters of the River Jordan to let them enter the Promised Land? Please lead these boys through the trials and joys of life to the heaven You promise to those who follow Your way. Remember how You gave salvation to the world by the blood and water that flowed from your Son’s side on the cross? Please give the same salvation to these boys as they enter the waters of baptism as Your adopted sons.  Remember how You sent the Holy Spirit to Your close followers on Pentecost and gave them the courage to be brave Christians in their words and actions. Please send the same Holy Spirit into these boys tonight so that they can carry out Your teachings in their lives. Be with us all. Heavenly Father, so that we can also live out the power of our baptism in our own lives. Amen.

It was a holy night standing there by the swimming pool.  When the candidates had dried off, the Father with the bald head did a wonderful thing. He opened his car doors and the boys piled in and he took them down to McDonald’s for a baptism celebration. 

This was the Father’s last public appearance. He was a Catholic and I remember when they brought his casket through the doors of the church. There was a quiet pause just before they rolled the coffin down the aisle. The Priest took a tiny vial of water—flung it on the casket and said: “Bernie Caffrey has been baptized!” And the water shimmered and glistened on the top of the casket.

I remembered all these memories as I stood looking up at last Sunday's baptism.

photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

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