Celebrating a Family Baptism

by Loretta Pehanich

This is no ordinary day. I will take a vial of Jordan River water and pour drops into the font where my grandchild will be baptized. Her brother will help me as I retell the story, simplified, of how this water came from the place where Jesus was baptized by John.

His baby sister, Cecilia, will be welcomed into the Church today in a gown worn by three generations of her mother’s family. I feel privileged when asked if I’ll iron the paper-thin dress while my daughter-in-law gets everyone else ready in their Sunday best. I pray as I iron, talking to St. Cecilia and others in the Communion of Saints: “Iron out any wrinkles in this day, O God. Calm stressed parents who want everything to be perfect.” I smile as I remember how my siblings and I compared our godparents. To us, my brother’s were the best set, since they always remembered his Baptism with gifts or cards confirming their love and support.

My husband and I discouraged gift-bringing for our children’s Baptisms, because what greater gift could they receive than the Holy Spirit? Well, the Eucharist of course. I admit that we give our grandchildren icons of patron saints, or angels if their names are unusual. I hope these small tokens will remind them that they have strong advocates in heaven.

I smell eggs in the kitchen, where a bit of oil in the pan adds flavor. Oil will play a part in the Baptism, too, as it indelibly marks Cecilia. I have clothes stained forever by oil. “You will always belong, dear ones,” I pray, “even when you struggle with faith, as adult children sometimes do. No matter what you do, you are marked for life. Even if you reject us, you cannot take away that indelible mark.”

I wonder if oil-painting T-shirts will help my grandchildren remember this lesson.

My Baptism comes to mind as I shower in the morning. I pray, “Let this water cleanse me of yesterday’s mistakes, help me to start fresh, and remind me I am God’s child forever.”

It’s easy to think of ways to use water to remind children of Baptism. For example, when I help with bath time and monitor water play, I will squirt water from plastic fish and remind children as they giggle that water blessed them on their Baptism day.

And then there are the candles. Some families light a child’s baptismal candle annually to celebrate the day as years pass. Cecilia’s candle will stand on the fireplace for a month, reminding the family and guests that she belongs to an important faith family. She lights up our hearts, and we hope she’ll shine always with Christ’s light. What if we were to remember her baptismal date annually by lighting that candle? And it would be cool if that same candle made an appearance on her wedding day, if she marries. In some ceremonies, the bride and groom use the flames from two individual candles to light a new central one.

Cecilia’s Baptism ceremony is over now, and the celebration moves from sacristy to home. “Everyone we know is here,” my grandson tells me. “Baptisms are about parties, and food, and presents. Families celebrate a lot.”

I think our family does, because celebrating is fun. Jesus loved a good party. Our favorite foods await us on the buffet table, since they are part of our traditions and storytelling. They will evoke memories of the Baptism when Danny wouldn’t stop crying or when Ted smiled adorably when he emerged from a good dunking in the deep, pre-warmed font.

Baptism gives us another reason for fanfare, perhaps for music and dancing (or at least lots of running around among the cousins and children). Baptism is an occasion for grace and a time to gather friends, family, neighbors, and the Christian community to claim a new member for Christ, and for ourselves.

Welcome to the family, little one.

Loretta Pehanich

Loretta Pehanich

Loretta Pehanich is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director with a lifetime in ministry and service, including 20 years in small faith-sharing groups. She leads retreats and workshops on prayer and busy lifestyles.

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