Papal Homework, The Anchor, November 29, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
The Anchor
November 29, 2013


Throughout the Year of Faith that concluded on Sunday, there was the emphasis on faith as a life-long pilgrimage beginning on the day of baptism and concluding with the passage, we pray, through death to eternal life.

To stress the importance of baptism in the life of faith, the Vatican announced a special plenary indulgence for those who during the holy year made a pilgrimage of gratitude and prayer to the site where they became a child of God in the womb of the Church.

One of the important parts of the New Evangelization is to help reconvince those with some exposure to the Christian faith of the importance of baptism and the life to which it leads. This is a subject that’s very painful for many Catholic grandparents who struggle to get their children to bring their grandchildren to the font of Christian life.

One of the reasons why many Catholics in younger generations don’t take the Sacrament of Baptism as seriously as the Church would want is because the vast majority of Catholics don’t’ give enough practical witness to baptism’s importance.

One of the most simple and powerful ways that this is done is by celebrating, as one of the most important feasts of the year, the date of one’s baptism.

When I prepare parents and godparents for the baptism of a new baby, I counsel the godparents to make sure that, before they give birthday or Christmas presents, that they give a special gift to their godchild on the baptismal anniversary.

If every year on the date of the child’s baptism, the child begins to look forward to a gift from his or her godparents — and depending upon proximity — even a visit with a cake or other means to celebrate that day, then the child will grow up knowing that the day of baptism was really quite special.

It can be a day to look over photos or videos of the baptism, to be blessed with holy water saved from the baptism, to light the baptismal candle and pray for fidelity to one’s baptismal promises, to have a one-on-one conversation about the joys and struggles the godchild may be having in life in general or in the faith in particular, to make a pilgrimage to Church on the way to taking the child out, and just to have a good, fun spiritual “tune-up.”

But everything begins with taking seriously the date of baptism. The day of our baptism — even should we live to be well over 100 — is the most important day of our life, the day that made us a child of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of Christ’s body the Church. It’s a day that opened up heaven for us. It deserves to be celebrated. The same thing goes for the date of the baptism of our loved ones.

But relatively few Catholics — even the most faithful Catholics — even know the date of their baptism.

This lesson was recently brought home to me during a re-registration drive at the new parish of St. Bernadette. Our old database was “state of the art 1995.” It wasn’t compatible with many of the inventions over the last couple of decades that make parish communications with various generations much easier and cheaper. It didn’t have any sacramental information listed.

On the new registration sheet, unsurprisingly, almost every married couple was able to put down the date and place of their marriage. But fewer than five percent of parishioners could remember their baptismal information, even though the cover letter with the new registration form asked them to take a few minutes and find the info from the baptismal certificates we presumed they had with their important paperwork.

It’s not just an issue here.

Pope Francis has been speaking a lot about the importance of all Catholics knowing and celebrating the date of their baptism.

On November 13, he said during his Wednesday audience in the presence of a packed St. Peter’s Square, “Baptism is in a certain sense the identity card of the Christian, his birth certificate, and the act of his birth into the Church. All of you know the day on which you were born and you celebrate it as your birthday, don’t you? We all celebrate our birthday. I want to ask you a question, one I have already asked several times, but I’ll ask it again: Who among you remembers the date of your Baptism?”

When very few raised their hands, he said. “Let’s do something: today, when you go home, find out what day you were baptized, look for it, because this is your second birthday. The first birthday is the day you came into life and the second birthday is the one on which you came into the Church. Will you do this? This is your homework!”

On September 11, he asked the same question, got roughly the same percentage of response, and gave the same homework, specifically calling on all Catholics to “carry [the date of their baptism] in their heart and celebrate it” like they celebrate their birthday.

I was baptized on April 19 and every year the way I try to celebrate it is with a special holy hour of gratitude, a renewal of my baptismal promises, a petition of thanksgiving at the Mass I celebrate, and, when I can, by going out to dinner with friends. I also pray in a special way for my parents and godparents, my twin brother, and for the priest who baptized me.

There would obviously be many areas of the Christian life in which I need a lot of improvement, but on the homework Pope Francis has repeatedly given every Catholic, I would like to hope I’d deserve an A!

How about you? What’s the day of your baptism? And how will you celebrate it? If you have kids, grandkids and godchildren, how will you celebrate with them the most important day in their lives?