For the most part, our grandson Francis seemed mildly amused by his impending baptism on Saturday afternoon.
Then he dozed off, just before the water was about to cascade over his forehead.
At that point, I think I heard a ‘Hallelujah!’ or two escape his lips.
Whatever the precise nature of the utterance, he clearly no longer was a bystander to the proceedings. With the sudden flow of cool, crisp water across his brow, Francis quickly became fully engaged in the moment. And no doubt, this is exactly what Christ has in mind when he gives us sacramental signs such as the waters of rebirth. We aren’t supposed to just think about being born again. Christ wants us to feel it in our bones.
Francis is a little on the young side to get all that, of course. But I suppose that’s why he has loving parents…and Godparents…and grandparents…and really, the whole family at his side. We shiver empathetically with him as the water splashes across his face. And then we stick around to tell the tale, a band of loving long-term witnesses to his baptismal day.
That’s not always the case though, is it? Sometimes, we encounter moments of grace – and it leaves us speechless. So it was for Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, in the story we heard from Luke’s Gospel at Mass today:
[Zechariah] was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
Luke goes on to tell us how Zechariah let fear get the best of him. Surrounded by incense meant to remind him of God’s sacred presence, still Zechariah doubted whether he’d be up to the task the angel had just set before him. He doubted, in effect, whether God’s grace would be sufficient.
The Gospel passage called to mind a sacred presence I myself had experienced just the night before. Francis was at our house, celebrating an early Christmas with his parents and the rest of our ‘sure-trying-to-be-holy’ family. As I held this precious child on my lap after dinner, I caught a whiff of a delightful aroma – the scent of the chrism on the crown of his head, still detectable a full day after his baptism.
A heaven-scent reminder for his Gramps, perhaps: An invitation to recall how we all still share in this very same grace, long after the day of our own baptisms…and for us all to be bold in living out the call to give voice to the Good News.
Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.