Every pregnancy begins a marathon. The moment I see a positive pregnancy test, I know that I have embarked upon a tremendous, exciting, daunting, and exhausting adventure. I immediately begin praying for a healthy pregnancy and for the end of that marathon: labor and delivery.
Yet, even when my pregnancy is over, in those first precious moments holding a newborn baby in my arms, as full of joy and relief as I may be, I know that our baby is not fully born: he might have been born into earthly life, but not yet into a heavenly one.
Every day of pregnancy I pray for our baby’s health, development, and a smooth birth; I also pray daily that my husband and I will be able to bring our little one to the waters of Baptism. It is not until our baby has been brought into the life of Christ that I feel the birth process is finally, beautifully completed.
We concern ourselves with the physical aspect of a newborn baby: is he gaining enough weight? Does she have jaundice? How many wet diapers has the baby produced each day? Of course these are all important concerns.
But our baby is more than a body: he or she has an eternal soul, which—until Baptism—is shrouded in darkness and lacks the light of grace. Thus the Church has always urged Her children to baptize infants as soon as possible.
The immediacy makes sense when we consider the importance of Baptism. As Our Lord Himself said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)
Baptism is not just a symbolic act: it is necessary for salvation. It affects a fundamental change within a person. Through the waters of Baptism, God frees the infant’s soul from the bondage of Satan (the baptismal rite includes an exorcism), wiping away the stain of original sin. Through divine filiation, your child becomes a child of God: a son or daughter of the King. His or her soul is flooded with grace: a temple of the Holy Spirit. “Welcome to the Family,” the saints and angels in heaven could sing, along with all the members of the Body of Christ.
As parents, we want to give our children the very best. We may buy organic food, read to our kids each night, or make sure they wear hats and mittens when it’s chilly outside. Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters do not baptize their children as babies, delaying it until the child can choose Baptism for him or herself. Yet, when our baby cries for food, we don’t withhold the bottle or breast, reasoning that we will wait for the baby to feed him- or herself! Infants are helpless and rely on us, the parents God gave them, to care and provide. Why would we not provide for our child’s eternal wellbeing?
Our son Joseph was born in early December and we had him baptized at two weeks old. My heart overflowed with joy as we watched our pastor pour the holy water over his head, baptizing him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I watched the flame of his baptismal candle, in the hand of his godfather. Our priest prayed that Joseph would keep this flame of faith alive and I imagined Joseph as a child, a teenager, a man … and I even thought of his funeral day—God willing, after a long and fruitful life—when the paschal candle will stand lit by the coffin.
What happened that morning in church as Joseph was baptized has eternal ramifications. Another soul was won for Christ and I can only wonder what God will work through the hands that are now so small, through the mouth that is rooting, through the eyes that can hardly stay open for want of sleep.
Our baby has been born—physically and spiritually! Now begins the lifelong work of nourishing and growing that flame of faith. Part of that involves remembering the momentous event that is one’s Baptism. Every night, my husband blesses each member of the family with holy water—a daily remembrance of our Baptism. We have all of our family’s Baptism days recorded on our calendar so we can celebrate each anniversary. Usually this involves a special dessert after dinner, but always it means renewing one’s baptismal vows (Visit CatholicCulture.org for the prayer).
The last words of Christ before His Ascension into heaven are an invocation to baptize:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a)
How am I leading others to the waters of Baptism? How often do I thank God for the gift of my own Baptism and that of my family members? Do I pray for the priest who baptized me?
The most beautiful exhortation that we can address to each other is to always remember our Baptism. … If we are true to our Baptism, we will spread the light of hope—Baptism is the beginning of hope, that hope—of God, and we will be able to pass on to future generations the meaning of life. (Pope Francis, August 2, 2017 General Audience)
Like the Magi in today’s Gospel, God doesn’t always manifest Himself to us in the ways we assume that He will. Sometimes we find Him in an unexpected place and in an unassuming manner.
The Magi knew that they sought a newborn King. Knowing the infant to be royalty, they assumed He would reside in a majestic palace. Therefore, when the Magi reached Jerusalem, they went directly to the current king, Herod, thinking that he would know where to find this heir to the throne. But they were wrong.
Instead, the Magi had to journey elsewhere … not to a castle, but to a manger; not to the mighty city of Jerusalem, but to the humble town of Bethlehem. The Magi did not expect to find a King in such a place and in such poor conditions. Yet, they put aside their expectations, opening their hearts to this mysterious way God wished to come to them.
They trusted in the manifestation—epiphany—of God in this way. And they responded by giving the newborn King their very best treasures, which symbolize the destiny of this incredible child: gold for his perfect Kingship; frankincense for his royal Priesthood; myrrh to anoint His sacred body, given up to death for each of us.
Maybe you sometimes feel, like the Magi, that you can’t find God in your life. You are seeking Him, but there is emptiness and darkness instead. Where is He? Ask our Blessed Mother to help you. Like the Magi, you will surely always find “the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11).
Are you seeking the newborn King in all the circumstances, places, and people of your day, and—like the Magi—are you ready to respond by giving Him your very best?
Lord, help me never to stop seeking You, knowing that You are the answer to all my deepest hopes and desires. Blessed Mother, please draw me close to your Son. Amen.