Last night I drove to St. Anne's Parish in Barrington, Illinois to present the baptism and confirmation session to their intergenerational catechetical gathering. One of the stories I shared was about an experience I had several years ago. The good folks at the North American Forum on the Catechumenate had invited me to help lead a pilgrimage through Italy. The focus of the pilgrimage was a bit out of the ordinary: we were going to Italy to visit places with significant baptism fonts or baptismal spaces. It was an amazing trip. Two particular places stand out in my memory. One was the baptistry beneath the Duomo in Milan, pictured below. This archeological find is believed to be the original baptistry, which means that this is most probably the site where St. Ambrose baptized Augustine. We pilgrims stood around the font and sang baptismal hymns.
The second place that stands out in my mind is the baptistry of St. John at the Duomo in Florence. This was our first stop on the pilgrimage. The baptistry in Florence is a separate building that is situated in the plaza in front of the cathedral. It is a stunning octagonal building. It is perhaps most famous for its bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Actually these bronzes are copies of the originals, which are stored in a nearby museum for safekeeping. I don't think our tour guide grasped the fact that we were keenly interested in visiting baptismal sites. She was going on and on about these famous doors. All we wanted to do was go into the baptistry building itself. When she finished her description of the doors, she motioned for us to leave the area. When I told her that we had traveled from the United States and Canada specifically to visit baptistries, she found a way (with the help of a several thousand lira) for us to gain access. When I walked into the baptistry with my fellow pilgrims, I was filled with disappointment. The actual font had been removed years earlier and the tour guide rambled on about the fact that a famous Italian princess had been married in the building. Standing there feeling dejected, I suddenly felt a poke in my side. My mother, who happened to be on the pilgrimage, had elbowed me and when I looked at her, I noticed that she, and most of the rest of the group, were staring straight up. When I looked up, I was stunned. The ceiling was adorned with a huge mosaic. The image of Christ dominated the scene and there had to be hundreds of saints and angels there as well. I could only imagine what it must have been like to be baptized in this building. After having been baptized—having "put on Christ"—the newly baptized would have risen from the font and looked up. What that person saw was what awaits the baptized: a place in the kingdom of heaven; their own spot on that ceiling! I told the people at St. Anne's last night that our Christian journey is a pilgrimage from the font to our place on the ceiling. All along the way we strive to become more and more like Christ. I can only imagine that moment when (hopefully) I arrive in the kingdom of heaven. I live in the hope that God the Father will recognize me because he recognizes his Son when he sees me. And for this blessed hope, today is a day that I gotta sing and I gotta pray!