Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Would the Baptized Do?

Yesterday I read with sadness the story of the 11 year-old boy, Jaheem Herrera, who came home from school and hanged himself in his bedroom. Apparently he was the victim of bullying by other children at his elementary school. The reports said that he was called "gay" and taunted because of his accent. I shared this sad news with the young confirmation students who had gathered with their parents for the intergeneration catechetical event at St. Anne's in Barrington, Illinois, on Monday evening. The reason why I brought this story into the presentation was to help drive home a point about baptism. I was trying to get these young people (and the more seasoned Catholics in the room) to embrace the fact that as baptized Christians, we simply cannot take any part in that kind of activity. Because we have "put on Christ," we cannot bully; we cannot taunt someone by calling him "gay." These kinds of behaviors and words were simply not the actions and words of Jesus Christ, in whom we have been baptized. I often wonder how many times in my own life I have turned my own back on my baptism and engaged in behaviors and said words that would never have emanated from Christ. When I reflect on this, I can only turn to God for mercy.
I firmly believe that if we developed a deeper baptismal spirituality and outlook in the Catholic Church, we (and our world) could be transformed more and more. When we are tempted to bully or call out some derogatory insult, we need the strength to pause and ask ourselves, "Is this something that the baptized would do?" 
Several months ago, something that a friend of mine wrote for one of our books here at WLP, started to really make me think about my own baptism. Rev. Paul Turner, in his book Celebrating Initiation: A Guide for Priests was writing about the scrutinies (those penitential rituals celebrated during Lent for the unbaptized who are preparing for baptism—each scrutiny includes a prayer of exorcism). This is what Paul has to say: 
"Underlying the exorcism is the assumption that baptism makes a difference in someone's moral culpability. After you are baptized, you are a member of the body of Christ. You have the gift of God's grace every day of your life. The Holy Spirit will help you make good decisions, based on the Christian life you share. If you sin, it's your own fault. You did not take advantage of the spiritual help that has been with you all along. Life is different for the unbaptized. They have not enjoyed the benefits of sanctifying grace as you have."
When I first read this, my eyes were opened. I am not saying that each of us who is baptized carries around some kind of magical bag of tricks with us. What we do carry within us is God's sanctifying grace every day of our lives. The development of a baptismal spirituality helps us remember the power and potential given to each of us in that first sacrament. This is good stuff, folks. I hope as the Easter Season continues to unfold that you'll say a prayer of thanksgiving for those who who loved you so much that they brought you to the font of baptism. On that day, your life changed forever. From that moment on, you would never be the same again. Here is a snippet from Paul Tate and Paul Berrell's piece Make Us One In Your Love. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Well said and timely. We really need to recover the meaning of the exorcisms and for that matter the whole baptismal spirituality of Lent. This means, I think, that we have to actually talk about what constitutes "sin," a topic that it seems like preachers don't want to touch lest they be deemed politically motivated. We're only likely to hear about generalized sins and particularly about abortion, which means (generally) that we haven't progressed much since the Genesis view of sin as women's work. There was a great article in Worship about a year ago by (I believe) a Presbyterian minister from Texas who analyzed the baptismal promises and reworded them for modern Christians. Exactly what, he was positing, are we saying when we reject Satan, sin, idols, and the glamor of evil? I'm not suggesting that the renunciations be rewritten, but that the catechesis about the renunciations come out of the dark and into the light. Isn't that what Lent is for?

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

The article by David Batchelder appears in the September 2007 issue of Worship Magazine, entitled "Baptismal Renunciations: Making Promises We Do Not Intend to Keep." David is a fellow member of the Christian Initiation Seminar of the North American Academy of Liturgy and is the pastor of West Plano Presbyterian Church in Plano, Texas.