What Baptism Means to Me (And, I Hope, to My Child)

Tomorrow our new baby will be baptized! When I wrote this letter for one of his older brothers on the eve of his own baptism, I tried to capture what I believed about this sacrament. And what I hoped it would mean for the rest of his life. 

Today, as we’re ironing the baptismal gown once again and planning food for the party and welcoming out-of-town relatives, I’m reminded of how much baptism means in our Catholic faith. And how so many of my dreams as a mother are caught up in this splash of holy water across my newborn’s head. 

Today, this letter rings as true as the first night I wrote it:

Dear sweet boy,

Tomorrow you’ll become a Christian. Your wriggling arms and legs will be plunged into a warm pool of water, and your small, warm head will be slathered with oil. A candle will be lit, and a white gown will be worn. Your family and friends will gather to celebrate, and your life will be forever marked by the promises we will witness together. Tomorrow is a most important day.

And so tonight my head is filled with thoughts of what tomorrow means.

A baptism is no small thing, no light decision. It is initiation into the life of Christ, which means a life spent in service and love for all, especially the poorest among us. It is a vow to conform yourself to the shape of the cross, which means a share in the suffering that was Christ’s, over and over again. It is an outpouring of the Spirit, which means a call to give back to the world the gifts you have been given, for the glory of God.

My prayer for you tonight is this: do not take your baptism for granted. And do not be a casual Christian. Spend some good chunk of your time and your life trying to figure out who God is and who you are and why it all matters. 

Because the questions and the challenges of the life of faith matter more than anything in this world. They are the deepest part of our identity, made as we are for relationship with God. 

Tomorrow we will celebrate this simple but amazing fact: each of us is created by God, claimed by Christ, and called by the Spirit. Your own call will emerge gradually, over time, but your story begins in a new way tomorrow. Baptism is new birth and a promise of life that reaches even beyond death.

My dear, sweet boy, faith is a gift I cannot give you. Tomorrow your father and I will pledge our hope and our love and our promise to raise you as best we can in a life of faith. But we cannot hand it to you as simply as we might wish. We can only plant a few seeds, step back, and pray for rain and good sun.

Faith is the fruit of questions and confusion, of heartache and wondering, of hope and love. It will surely ebb and flow, rise and fall, prosper and wither throughout the seasons in your life as it has for me and for all those who struggle to call themselves followers of Christ. 

What your faith will be and where it will lead you is a mystery now. I can only pray that you will keep yourself open to that mystery as it unfolds.

Before you were my child, you were God’s. And tomorrow we will seal that truth with sacramental sign. A church waits to welcome you, a community waits to claim you as their own. In this broken world in which we live, there are few things more beautiful than that.

Though the sight of you, so small and sweet, sleeping quietly next to me, is one of them. May your heart always hold some memory of the peace you know tonight, the joy we will know tomorrow, and the love we will have for you always.

In peace, joy and love -

Your mama

Originally published at Mothering Spirit.

Copyright 2014, Laura Kelly Fanucci