As this glorious Easter Season continues to unfold, I hope that you still have the energy to lift your voice in a chorus of "Alleluias." Today is the feast of St. Matthias, apostle. He was the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. I was born on his feast day in 1958. This morning the staff here at WLP surprised me with a birthday breakfast. No one sings "Happy Birthday" like our staff does. It sure helps that so many of them are terrific musicians! This is a wonderful place to work and a wonderful staff to work with and to have the privilege of leading. Our staff is dedicated to bringing the Church the very best in resources for praying and singing. Today is a day I am especially proud of them as I celebrate God's goodness in my own life.
As this period of mystagogy unfolds in our lives, I'd like to ask you to reflect once again on your own baptism. A little story is in order on this special day.
Some of you may know that I studied for the priesthood after leaving high school. I spent eight years at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. As I neared the end of theological studies, it became apparent that, at the time, the ordained priesthood simply wasn't for me. It was a sad and difficult time in my own life, but one for which I am most grateful today. After finishing the Master of Divinity degree, I moved to Altamonte Springs, Florida, and began my ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Church as Director of Liturgy and Music (pictured above). My spiritual formation in the seminary had prepared me well to live a priestly spirituality, but here I was, living in a one-bedroom apartment, right down the road from the Holiday Inn, with its "Why Not? Lounge." Life was very different than what I had prepared for. I felt that my spiritual footing was shaky at best. I then remembered that, even though I was not ordained, I still was a member of the laity—of the priesthood of the laity, and that my baptism was at the foundation of this priesthood.
So, I decided to go on a pilgrimage to the place where I was baptized: St. Anthony's Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I arrived there one day and the religious sister in the rectory helped me gain access to this huge building. My Dad had told me that I had been baptized in the sacristy of St. Anthony's. When I entered this massive church, I made my way to the sanctuary and then into the sacristy, where I found the baptism font—an old wooden font with the kind of top that swings to the side. I approached the font (which obviously had not been used for baptisms in many years) in the hopes that the top would swing open on its hinge pin. And sure enough it did. I just stood there, staring down at the two small porcelain bowls, which were rusty and crusted around the edges. I said to myself, "My little head was right here!" Suddenly I was overwhelmed by what had actually occurred here. It dawned on me that right there, on a day back in 1958, my life changed forever. I simply would never be the same again. This moment was one of those for which I am very grateful. God gives us these moments as times of sheer clarity.
I took a photo of the font and returned to the rectory to thank the religious sister and to let her know I was leaving. She said, "Father wants to see you." I then was introduced to the pastor, who said, "Sister tells me you were baptized here. When were you born?" I told him, and then he beckoned me to follow him into the parlor. Behind a huge mahogany desk was a set of doors, which he opened to reveal stacks and stacks of leather-bound books: the parish records. He lifted one out and asked me for the date of my birth. He turned large page after large page, and then said, "Here you go." He turned the book around so that I could read the entires and, sure enough, there before me was the date May 25, 1958. Next to the date was my name: Gerald Henri Galipeau. Next to my name were the names of my parents: Henri Galipeau and Yvette (Dessert) Galipeau. Next to their names were the names of my godparents: Albert Galipeau (my grandfather - my "Pepere") and Pauline Grady (my dear Aunt Pauline) - God rest them both. I just stood there, staring at the names inscribed with a fountain pen in perfect penmanship. Without my asking, the pastor then opened a drawer of the big desk, pulled out a piece of paper, began writing on it, then placed the paper in the machine that imprints the parish seal, and then handed me my baptism certificate. Just like that! As I took the certificate in my hands, I was reminded of the many ordination invitations from my seminary classmates that I had received in these same hands in the last year. That's when it really dawned on me that this certificate represented so much. It was a sign that I had been baptized in Christ and that I was called to lead a Christ-like life for others for the rest of my life.
Since that very day, I have been most grateful that there were people in my life that loved me so much that they gave me the greatest gift that anyone on this earth can give another: the gift of baptism.
Friends, I'll spend these next eleven days awaiting the 51st anniversary of my own baptism. All I ask is that you take some time to say a prayer of thanksgiving to those who loved you so much that they gave you an opportunity to receive an outpouring of God's grace in your baptism. I found out that May 25, 1958 was a special Sunday in the liturgical year. It was the Feast of Pentecost. I hope that the Holy Spirit fills your lives with a renewed sense that your baptism has made all the difference in the world. And for this, we gotta sing and we gotta pray!