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November 20, 2012

Baptism, Mercy, and Grace

Today is Jacob’s baptismal day. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that we’re two years out from this.



On the other hand, when I think about how much Jacob can do and say, how aware he is of his world, and how involved he is in daily Mass and prayer time, it’s a comfort to me that life with faith is all he knows. I hope he will rely joyfully on this foundation when it comes time for him to choose faith for himself.


We attended another baptism this weekend at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The sacrament was celebrated in the chapel at the back of the church by a priest who reminded me of the police commissioner of New York City. Physical resemblances aside, he was a joyful man, and the little lady being baptized was peaceful, obliging, and all-out beautiful in her long white gown.


Because I now cry at just about anything bordering on sentimental (I got teary at a Folgers commercial today), I found myself choked up as the ceremony began. I wasn’t thinking about Henry, though we have begun to consider plans for his baptism early next year, nor was I thinking about Jacob. Rather, I was thinking about a reflection on departed souls I heard earlier this month. Our little Ethan was on my mind, front and center.


In November, Catholics are asked to focus their prayer on the souls of the dead. My own baptismal day was earlier this month, November 2, the feast of all souls. The feast is a time to remember and pray for those who have died, especially those in Purgatory, who are not yet totally cleansed and ready to be in the presence of God.


This year, the priest offered a different reflection on the feast than I expected, one that offers an important thought even to those who don’t believe in Purgatory. The focus of the feast, he said, should not be on hopes that if we say the right prayers the right number of times, offer enough Masses, etc. we can speed along the process for departed souls. It’s not that simple.


Instead, we should focus on God’s mercy, on the fact that He wants every one of us to be with Him. I read a separate reflection recently that said that time in Purgatory would be a happy time. At that point, there’s nothing more to get between the soul and God. Everything is full-steam ahead toward Heaven.


As I understand it, the Catholic Church does not claim certainty as to what happens to those babies who die before they can be baptized, including those who died before they were born. What the Church does teach is great hope in God’s tremendous mercy.


That mercy is what I had in mind at the baptism this weekend. God wants His love to shine on and live in every single one of His creations—from the unborn to little ones receiving their first sacraments to adults who struggle with the same sins over and over again.


I know the way I love Jacob is only a fraction of the way God loves all His children. Still, every time I look at our little man, I am amazed at how great and generous love can be.


Happy baptismal day, Jacob! May God’s love and mercy shine on you all your days.

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