Monday, 20 April 2009

"Christ claims you for his own"

It seems incredible that a whole year has passed since the very first Women’s Guild blog entry and what a year it’s been judging by the statistics!

A little while ago I met a new member of our regular congregation who told me he was being prepared for baptism and asked whether I would act as his sponsor/godmother along with another friend of ours. I felt quite overwhelmed at this: what an honour, but also what a responsibility! I tried to gather information on what I ought to do to prepare for his baptism and for my own role in the future (hilarity ensued when I searched for ‘Godmother’ on and was reliably informed that Godmother was not only a ‘female godparent’ but also a ‘cocktail made with Italian Amaretto liqueur and vodka’..!). The baptism itself was conducted at the mass of the Easter Vigil and proved to be a profound and moving experience. It followed the Litany of Saints during which the assembled congregation processed from the choir to the back of the church, clutching our unlit candles and huddling around a small table with a bowl from the kitchen (the church is in a priory and therefore has no font). There was something pleasing about the litany: the list of excellent and devoted men and women who had gone before us - who had been baptised just as my friend and godson was about to be. On a night when our senses cannot help but be opened to the voice and presence of God, to watch a young man enter the Church, the body of Christ, was a tremendously exciting occasion. The priest’s pronouncement ‘Christ claims you for his own’ – simultaneously terrifying and wonderful – particularly emphasised to me in that moment my own identity as one of God’s children and the importance of my duty to act as a servant of God and of others.

On my return to ‘real life’ I read the Holy Father’s homily at the vigil mass at S. Peter’s which spoke very powerfully of the meaning and wonder of baptism:

“... The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. [...] Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. [...] In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!”

(The whole homily is available to read in translation here.)

Year by year, Lord,
we recall the mystery of Easter,
the mystery which restored mankind to its lost dignity
and brought the hope of resurrection.
Grant that we may possess eternally in love

what we now worship in faith.

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