St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside
One of the most rewarding duties I have as a permanent deacon at my parish of St. Catherine is the baptizing of infants (those under the age of seven). It is an honor to be a witness and welcome a new member into God’s family.
One day, a distraught mother called me with this question, “Can I change who is the God father of my child?”
In the course of the ensuing conversation, I learned that while her brother was not a danger to others, he was in jail.
“Who would want him for a Godfather?”
“Pray for him.” I said. “Things aren’t going very well for him right now and being a God parent might be just the thing that turns his life around.”
Her story is a fitting reminder from the Year of St. Paul that God’s mercy and forgiveness is available to anyone. Even to a feared persecutor of Christians, as Saul (later Paul) was to learn on the Road to Damascus.
God did not give up on Saul and, as Paul, became the great missionary to the Gentiles and a pillar of his church.
I’m sure Paul’s many detractors might have asked the disciples the same thing, “Who would want him for a missionary?”
The answer, “God.”
Somehow we have this mistaken notion that Catholics are a bunch of saints. That we spring to life fully mature and never in need the sacrament of reconciliation.
The truth of the matter is we’re a bunch of self-professed sinners, seeking to get right with the Lord and one another in community. We recognize our weaknesses and admit our faults. We seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. And we rejoice and marvel at God’s unbridled love for his creation.
Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving we attempt to gain control over our waywardness and through the sacrament of Baptism we are reborn a new creation in God, free from the bounds of sin and called to become our best selves.
But it is a process.
Our personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ begins with the sacrament of Baptism but it doesn’t end there. Like any infant, we must grow spiritually. We must be fed. We must be nurtured. And like a child, we must be instructed and trained. We must form our faith.
God parents assist the parents in this process. They may be saintly, but that is not a requirement. They need to be active, trying to live their Catholic faith to the best of their ability. And this includes knowing when they have sinned, seeking out the sacrament of reconciliation and making amends.
Since we all fall short of perfection on occasion, it would be of mutual benefit if each of us reflected on our own baptism on a regular (monthly?) basis. We need to remind ourselves that salvation is a free gift from God. That we don’t deserve it, can’t earn it, but our loving Father, desiring to share his eternal life with us offers it to those who will humbly receive it.
Let us celebrate this gift and embrace one another with joy, mercy and love. Knowing that none of us are saints yet, but through our openness to the Holy Spirit let us pray for one another that God’s founded hope in us may bear much fruit.
The same founded hope Jesus had when he prayed to his Father concerning the disciples:
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” -- John 17:20-21
Let us believe together.