Yesterday, I celebrated the sacrament of Baptism in St Mark’s Church, Vienna (Near Washington DC) a lovely gathering that I was glad to be part of. The baby was Brendan, whose parents’ wedding I celebrated six years ago and whose sister I also baptised a few years ago. As well as Brendan, there was another baby, Madeline, for baptism. I only met her family before Mass but was happy to do so. It was Sunday Mass and a wonderful Community celebration.
I was joined in the celebration by the local Pastor, Fr Pat and a plethora of parishioners involved in various ministries, from Welcoming People to Baptism Ministry Coordinators. It was amazing to see how many people were actively involved in preparing the congregation to welcome Brendan and Madeline.
There was a lovely moment in the Mass when two parishioners came forward, each holding a large glass jug of water which they poured together into the Baptismal Font. There was something very powerful, demonstrative and inviting in this gesture.
I spoke at the Mass and was happy to do so. It’s good at times to have a change of voice and a change of faces in front of you. We often talk about changing around on Sundays to give people and priests a bit of variety – I think it is worth looking at.
I spoke to the people about the old saying that in preaching we should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. That being the case, I felt it appropriate to speak about the sad death during the week of Robin Williams (R.I.P.).
He was such a gifted actor – free and wild in word and movement. I feel sure he was, at times, a director’s nightmare, but how entertaining he must have been for all on set. He could improvise like few others in the profession but always, in the interest of the movie, had to come back to the script. That was the fullness of his contribution to be faithful to the script and the script writer. He did this so well. How much more so in some of the serious roles he played. Through his fidelity to the script and the work of the screen writer, playwright or producer he brought all who watched to a place of wonder, encounter and potentially, change. This was his gift.
The script to which we are called to give witness and fidelity is the script of The Creed. Yes, there may be times when we improvise – wander a bit from the text, lose contact with it but it remains our guiding light. It is to this Creed we welcome Brendan and Madeline today. The script we put before them is belief in God – Father, Son and Spirit, belief in the forgiveness of sins, belief in The Holy Catholic Church, belief in the Communion of Saints, belief in life everlasting …. this is our script. The parents, at the door of the church committed themselves to hand on this script to a son and a daughter. The Sponsors agreed to help them and the community stands around them. It is this script – the Creed – that guides and shapes the steps and decisions of our lives.
Familiarity with this script comes through prayer. Learning to pray will be a huge part of the lives of Brendan and Madeline and a task that primarily rests with their families in the home and, in time, with the Parish Community so well represented here today. The woman in today’s Gospel turns to Jesus in prayer but her prayer appears to go unheeded. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter who is “tormented”. She knew what she was asking for and what she needed, like the Blind Man on the roadside outside Jericho. She did not have to ask the audience, go fifty-fifty or phone a friend. She knew what she needed – what her little girl needed. How saddened she must have been to think Jesus was not listening to her. Sadly, in life, we may well have that experience too. We may well feel our prayers are falling on deaf ears and be inclined to give up. To do so would be a regrettable mistake since Jesus is indeed our friend. The answer to our prayers may not always fit with our plans or expectations but he leaves no prayer unattended. There was a priest at home when I was a child. He had great devotion to our Lady and once spoke of a man’s prayer to Mary. “You can’t say you cant. You won’t say you won’t. So, you will, won’t you?” It was a passionate plea, rooted in belief in Mary’s Goodness and love for us all. It is a prayer that could well come into Jesus’ hearing too. “You can’t say you cant’. You won’t say you won’t. So, you will, won’t you?”
Earlier today, Pope Francis baptized a man in Korea. The man requested baptism when he met the Holy Father. The man’s son was one of the victims of the Ferry disaster that took the lives of so many children. The ceremony took place this morning and the man chose the name Francis. There’s little wondering why he did that. The names chosen today are also chosen for a reason – there’s a story behind them and the children should be told that story so that it becomes theirs – to share and hand on to others.
There’s a piece of Scripture that I like to use at baptisms. It comes from the Old Testament when the prophet Micah was praying. Like a lot of others, he had a superstitious approach to God and felt that you had to bribe God to keep him on your side, lest he send all sorts of disaster and sickness your way. He asked God what He expected of him in terms of offering and sacrifice. Would it take his first born son, some of his property or wealth – whatever it took he seemed prepared to give to keep God “sweet”. God’s answer is short, direct and in truth, the lines I’d like the families of Brendan and Madeline to bring home today along with their son and daughter. God said to Micah, “This is what I ask of you, only this: That you act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.”
That is the challenge before us all today – that through our own lives and life-choices, we teach these children and all who look to us for example what it means to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.
Finally, I would like to go back to Robin Williams for a moment. Among the many quotes of his cited during the week, there was one that has turned itself over repeatedly in my head. He once said “I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”
What a statement! We must do all in our power – as family and community – as Church and Parish, to ensure people do not end up surrounded by [us] in a way that makes them feel alone. This very celebration, in the setting of Sunday Mass, says this must never, ever happen.