Back to the beginning, The Anchor, March 08, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting Out Into The Deep
March 08, 2013

Just before the Year of Faith began, Benedict XVI, through his Apostolic Penitentiary in the Vatican, published a list of plenary indulgences that Catholics could receive throughout this Holy Year. Plenary indulgences are traditionally given to incentivize actions that will help the faithful grow in faith and love. These indulgences can eliminate the temporal punishment due to sin and can be sought for oneself or for a deceased loved one. Because they are meant to bring someone into total communion with Christ, the indulgenced actions must be united to a good Sacramental Confession with true repentance for all of the sins one had committed, to the worthy reception of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and to prayers for Christ’s vicar on earth, the pope.

For the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict awarded plenary indulgences for attending three days of a mission, like what is occurring in may of the deaneries and parishes throughout the diocese, or three lectures on the “Catechism” or Vatican II documents; going to pray in specially designated churches or in any church on days specially named by the bishop; and one that captured my imagination and resolve from the first time I read it — on any day throughout the Year of Faith, making a “pious visit to the baptistery, or other place in which they received the Sacrament of Baptism, and there renew their baptismal promises in any legitimate form.”

I thought that there was a particular fittingness to granting a plenary indulgence for making a pilgrimage to the place where one was baptized. Benedict XVI, in his letter announcing the Year of Faith, compared faith to a “door” and a “journey.” Baptism is the first and real door of faith, which is one of the reasons why in ancient churches the baptismal fonts were placed near the doors or in the courtyards before entering the church, to signify that we enter into Christ’s Body the Church through Baptism. Baptism is likewise the place where the pilgrimage of faith begins, for most of us before our legs are strong enough even to walk. Baptism is also the place where all our sins are wiped away for the first time and so there’s a particular fittingness to seeking a plenary indulgence through making a journey back to the door through which one’s pilgrimage of faith began.

I had been looking for an appropriate date to head back to St. Michael’s in Lowell. I had been planning to go on April 19, the 43rd anniversary of my Baptism, but as Lent began — with all its symbolism with regard to the preparation of catechumens for Baptism — I just didn’t want to wait any longer. So I decided to make a pilgrimage on my birthday, to thank God for the gift of my life and especially for the gift of my new life in Him. I called Father Al Capone, the pastor of my home parish who has always been so accommodating to me, and asked him if I could pray for a while in the chapel where all the Baptisms took place back in 1970 as well as before the font, since moved into the church, that made me a child of God. He was happy to welcome me home.

Praying in front of the baptismal font was particularly powerful for me. Over the course of years, I’ve often loved to pray before the baptismal fonts that were the spiritual beginnings of some great saints: the baptismal font in the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi where St. Francis and St. Claire were spiritually reborn; the baptismal font in the Sé of Lisbon where St. Anthony of Padua became a child of God; the pia in the parish Church of Wadowice where Blessed John Paul II began his spiritual journey. One of the reasons why I so much favor beautiful stone fonts in beautiful stone churches is because these have the best chance for longevity, for one never knows what will become of those who enter and emerge through the life-giving baptismal waters.

I thought back to the day of my Baptism and began to pray for those who were there. For my parents and my godparents. For my twin brother, who was baptized together with me. He’s often jocularly held his five-minute primogeniture from the womb over me in life, but I’ve always shot back that I was the oldest to be born from the womb of the Church. (I don’t really know who was baptized first — neither my parents nor godparents remember — but I was always pretend as if I was and my name is the first one listed in the baptismal register). I also prayed for the priest who made me a child of God, Father Richard L. Mahoney, OMI, a priest who was very old at the time of the Baptism whom I never had the chance to know, but who gave me the greatest gift of my life.

I also prayed with gratitude to God for the two occasions I have been able to return to that font to baptize my nephew Eddie and my niece and goddaughter Molly.

Baptism was the start of my ongoing pilgrimage of faith and so I reflected on the journey that began there.

It was before the side altar of the Sacred Heart, housing the tabernacle, close now to where the baptismal font is located, where I first became aware, at the age of four, that God had given me an intense desire to be a priest. It happened during daily Mass when I observed elderly Father Jon Cantwell hobble with his bad knees down the marble steps of the sanctuary to give Holy Communion to those old enough and lucky enough to receive Him, and then put Jesus back in the tabernacle right before where we were kneeling in the front row. As he genuflected in excruciating pain before Jesus as he closed the tabernacle door, the realization came to me that the priest must be the luckiest man in the world, capable of holding God in his hands and giving Him to others. It was on that day that I asked God to give me the vocation to be a priest.

It was in that church that I made my first and many other Confessions.

It was there, on May 6, 1978, that I received Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time and so many times thereafter. It was in that beautiful house of God that I became an altar boy, which allowed me to get to know several priests who had a huge impact in fostering my priestly vocation. It was at St. Michael’s that I received the power of Pentecost on May 23, 1986, from the hands of then-Bishop Alfred Hughes, the future Archbishop of New Orleans. It was there that I celebrated my third Mass, on June 29, 1999, and my first wedding — my baby sister Colleen’s — two months later. It was there that I also had the privilege to celebrate several weddings and many funerals of family members and friends in the years since.

My heart began to fill with gratitude for just how many graces God has given me there and how God has been accompanying me ever since throughout the stages of my journey of faith.

Taking in the beauty of that church, which is a tangible sign of the beauty of our faith, I finished my prayer by renewing my baptismal promises and asking God for the grace always to live in accordance with them. I returned to Fall River a new man.

I would encourage everyone to try to make a similar pilgrimage this year. If the church where you were baptized has been closed, please know that you can still receive the indulgence by visiting site of the church where you became a child of God or the font, if it has been relocated to another church. You can also receive a plenary indulgence any year by renewing your baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil and on the anniversary of your Baptism.