We Baptize Our New Grandson, Sebastian Nels

Last Sunday, we had yet another baptism in our family — this one of our new grandson, Sebastian Nels. And what a beautiful event it was!

Our daughter, Maggie (Sebastian’s mother) was the MC. Sebastian’s godmothers were outstanding. One, Eden Werring, gave a beautifully sung Jewish blessing; the other, Claudine Maidique read the Gibran classic “On Children.” Rob Silvan, the music minister at our new church here in Connecticut (Talmadge Hill Community Church) led us in singing “Down to the River” (from “O, Brother, Where Art Thou”), “Swimming to the Other Side,” “The Prayer of St. Francis, and “This Little Light of Mine.”

Our son, Patrick, was here with his lovely girlfriend, Michelle. And later, we all retired to Maggie’s beautiful home here in Westport for the after-party. It featured a bluegrass band, a hot-dog food truck, and lots of good conversation and laughter. What fun!

As I remarked to Maggie, it was all perfect in its imperfection. The star of the event, however, was little Sebastian Nels. I’ve never seen a more tranquil baby. His quiet demeanor made the remarks I share below (my homily on the occasion) even more relevant. Please allow me share them with you. To begin with here are the readings:

  • LK 3: 21-22: When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
  • LK 3:21-22: So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
  • MK 10: 13-16: 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

And here is the homily:

“Sebastian’s First Sermon”

Here we are yet again, gathered for yet another baptism. Having done this with Eva, Oscar, Orlando, and Markandeya, it’s now Sebastian’s turn. These experiences are always so memorable.

Of course, Sebastian knows nothing of why we’re doing this. After all, as my good friend, Guy Patrick (also a former priest), reminds us, religion really isn’t for children, much less for babies. It’s an adult thing. And when children express boredom or rebellion against going to church or religious practice, we should patiently tell them, “Don’t worry, if you’re lucky, you’ll one day ‘get it,’ maybe when you grow up. And if you don’t get it then, perhaps you will in some other life.” (At least, that’s what Guy says. I think he’s right. He usually is about these things.)

So, what’s here for adults to “get”? Today’s readings and that beautiful song, “Swimming to the Other Side,” suggest an answer. Baptism, they tell us, is about personal transformation. It’s about navigating from the world’s way of thinking to God’s way, which lies on the other side of the Jordan, where Jesus himself was baptized. It’s about swimming against the world’s current to what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” God’s way of thinking is 180 degrees opposed to that of the world. It’s the very definition of “the other side.”

Think about Jesus’ own baptism. As a 30-something adult, he has evidently reached a decision point about the direction of his life. As a disciple of John, he’s seeking a new course; he wants to “swim to the other side.” So, like so many others (Luke tells us “all the people” were being baptized) he presents himself for a rite of conversion performed by John the Baptist whom Luke describes as completely counter-cultural in his dress, diet, and way of speaking. [Jesus will later describe him as the greatest person who has ever lived (MT 11:11).]

Anyway, Jesus goes down to the Jordan River, is pushed beneath the water, and emerges with a new vocation. He hears a voice that tells him “You are my beloved Son.” Evidently puzzled by that revelation, the next thing he does is to go out into the desert to discover what those words might mean.

He’s on a vision quest. And there, in the desert’s heat and cold, in the company of wild beasts and scorpions, the visions come to him. Fevered from 40 days of starvation and thirst, he sees angels, devils, and fantastic possible futures. He imagines stones as bread. He’s taken to a mountain, and to the pinnacle of the temple. The thought of suicide crosses his mind. He’s shown all the kingdoms of the world. He’s presented with unlimited possibilities.

In all of this, his question is the same as ours. Which will he choose? Will it be the world’s ways of pleasure, power, profit, and prestige? Or will he instead swim against the current and live out his identity as God’s beloved son?

We all know Jesus’ decision. He chose poverty over wealth, non-violence over violence, and identification with the poor, oppressed, tortured and victims of capital punishment. Those were his decisions. They’re what his followers claim commitment to.

What a challenge to us!

Sebastian, quite naturally, understands none of that.

But that doesn’t mean that he’s disconnected from Jesus’ vision quest or that his role here is entirely passive. Quite the contrary. By merely acting like a baby, Sebastian is preaching a sermon – his first one. He’s reminding us of what Jesus discovered in the desert. He’s showing us who we are as we come from the hand of God. He’s reminding us of what’s important in life. And it’s not what the world says. 

It’s not borders or of being American. Sebastian knows nothing of such things – nothing of male privilege, or white privilege, of war, lust, politics, or the power of money.

What he does know is love. He knows that he’s entitled to food and warmth, to the simplest of clothing. He’s aware of his entitlement to care from his mother, father, siblings, grandparents, and from all those strangers who are constantly fawning over him, picking him up, and making all those strange happy sounds. In our adult language, we’d call all of those human rights.

Yes, by simply being a baby, Sebastian is preaching us a sermon. He’s saying, “Be like me.

Set aside what the world values, because those values are categorically opposed to life as those closest to its origins experience it. Swim against the current. Swim to the other side to what Jesus called the God’s Kingdom. At your deepest level, live the consciousness I experience and exemplify.” Become as little children – or as St. Paul puts it: live in a world uncontaminated by race, class, or sexual orientation. In God’s world, Paul says, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

Of course, we don’t know if any of this will stick for Sebastian. We don’t know if in this lifetime he’ll choose to follow Jesus’ teachings. We pray that he will. But at this moment – before he forgets –  his silence couldn’t be more eloquent in reminding us of the nature of life as it comes from the hands of God! This is his first sermon. Let’s all take it all in, remember it, – and now get on with his baptism.

Jesus’ Baptism: His Wasted Life — and Our’s

Readings for Feast of Baptism of the Lord: IS 42:1-4, 6-7; PS 29: 1-4, 9-10; ACTS 10: 34-38; LK 3: 15-16, 21-22

Today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In that context, let’s think about baptism and the differences between the understandings we’ve inherited and those reflected in the practice of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Those differences hold practical implications for our own lives as we wrestle with a faith that may have lost meaning for us, and as we struggle with the relative smallness and insignificance of our lives.

To begin with, think about traditional beliefs about baptism. If you’re like me, you may find them hard to swallow. A friend of mine, theologian Tony Equale, has recently pointed out that theology doesn’t really determine worship patterns. Instead superstitious temple and church rituals have shaped our beliefs. Practice determines belief, not the other way around. (See http://tonyequale.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-religiosity-of-the-people/)

What my friend means is that theology’s job has traditionally been to rationalize what people actually do in their efforts to tame life and achieve contact with the numinous, the mysterious, and the transcendent. They sacrifice chickens, behead bullocks, or vivisect lambs and then burn the animals’ carcasses. The smoke thus ‘feeds’ the Gods who are believed to need nourishment, placation, and cajoling in order to do the will of the people and their priests. Those congregations actually turn out to be more intelligent than the God who must be informed of their needs and what is best for their welfare. That’s superstition.

Catholic beliefs around baptism and the “sacrifice of the Mass” are cases in point. They were actually formed by the People’s credulous practice of baptism which was informed more by ancient ideas of all-powerful angry Gods than by Jesus’ radical teaching that God is Love. I mean early on, in a time of very high rates of infant mortality, popular belief came to see infant baptism as necessary to somehow save deceased children from a hell created by a threatening God.

This practice of the people rather than reflection on the words and deeds of Jesus led St. Augustine at the beginning of the 5th century to theorize that people have been born guilty – at enmity with God. Augustine thought that since children were condemned even before any personal sin on their parts, they must be born in sin. And that must be, Augustine reasoned, because they had inherited sin from their forebears and ultimately from the first human beings, Adam and Eve. Because of that “original sin,” God is justly angry with humans.

Now, as I said, the ancients believed that sacrifice was necessary to placate an angry God like that. So, in the Roman world, where sacrifice was understood in the terms I’ve just explained, Jesus’ death eventually became to be seen as a sacrifice whose primary purpose was to secure God’s approval of the Roman state. In this way, the “Mass” was transformed from a memorial meal to a re-enactment of Jesus’ sacrificial death. It was moved from a table with friends gathered around sharing food, to a “sacrifice” performed at an “altar” by a priest with his back turned to the people who watched the show from afar.

This Mass differed very little from what Romans were used to before Christianity became the state’s official religion in 381. In fact, it is entirely possible that ordinary people saw no difference between the “Mass” and the religious ritual they had been accustomed to when Jupiter or Mithra were worshipped as the official Gods of Rome. In other words, Christianity was transformed by the Roman Empire rather the empire being transformed by Christianity. There was a “theogony,” a battle of the Gods, between Jupiter and the Bible’s Yahweh; and Jupiter won. We’ve been worshipping him ever since.

How different all this is from what happens to Jesus at the baptism which today’s liturgy of the word celebrates! (And that brings me to my point about meaning in our seemingly wasted lives.) In today’s gospel, there is nothing suggesting “original sin.” Nor is Jesus presented as the incarnation of a God who needs to be mollified by sacrifice. Rather, Jesus comes as a disciple of John. (Scripture scholars tell us that John’s words about his inferiority before Jesus were inventions of the early church in a Jewish context where many still believed that John rather than Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.)

So at the age of 30 or so, this young peasant from Nazareth presents himself for a ritual washing at the prophet’s hands in the legendary Jordan River. In Israel’s idealized past, that river had been crossed by slaves escaped from Egypt who on the river’s opposite shore found the “Promised Land” that became their national home. Eventually that crossing came to be understood as transforming a motley horde of renegade slaves into a unified nation of free people at the service of the God who had liberated them from demeaning servitude.

John’s practice of baptism in the Jordan (far from the corruption of the priests’ Temple and its endless sacrifices) summoned his Jewish contemporaries to reclaim their ancient identity that had been lost by the priests and scribes who had sold out to Roman re-enslavement of a once proud and liberated people.

John’s was a revivalist movement of Jewish reform. Those presenting themselves for baptism were expressing a desire to return to their religious roots and to alter their lives in a profound way.

Evidently, that’s why Jesus came to be baptized too. This country boy who (according to Luke’s “infancy narratives”) had begun his life with such promise is now about 30 years old. Perhaps in view of his parents’ expectations of him, his life so far seemed wasted. Perhaps he had resolved to finally make a difference. In any case, by approaching John in the Jordan’s waters, he expresses an intense need for change in his life. He wants to be John’s follower.

So John performs his baptismal ritual. And the miraculous happens. An epiphany occurs for Jesus. He hears a voice. It informs him that he is a child of God. Immediately he sets out on a vision quest to discover what those words might mean. Forty days of prayer and fasting bring on the visions – of angels and devils, of temptations, dangers and possibilities.

In the light of his desert experience, Jesus chooses not only to follow John as the leader of a reform movement. He chooses as well to follow Moses as the liberator of an enslaved people. He has truly crossed the Jordan. So he brings his message to the captive poor. Like him, they too are children of God — God’s specially chosen people. God’s kingdom belongs to them, he says, not to their rich oppressors. The poor must not allow themselves to be misled by the stultifying and domesticating doctrines of the priests and scribes. That was the thrust of Jesus’ teaching.

Coherent acts follow Jesus’ words. He discovers wondrous healing powers within himself. By touch, by faith, by his friendship, he cures stinking lepers, dirty beggars, street walkers who have lost their self-respect, the deaf, the dumb, the blind and lame. Jesus eats food with the social outcasts and street people of his day, sharing nourishment the way God does – without cost or expectation of reciprocation. Jesus finds himself explaining the mysterious, transcendent and ineffable in unforgettable stories that capture the imaginations of simple people hungry for the spiritual sustenance that he offers – that he embodies. No wonder his early followers tried to imitate Jesus by choosing John’s baptism as a sign of membership in their community and by following the Master’s example of sharing food the way God does in their re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper.

That was the understanding of baptism and Lord’s Supper that the first generations of Christians embraced. But it didn’t last long. Within a few generations (and especially after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century) the superstitions I referenced earlier had replaced the understanding and practice of Jesus and the Baptist. Soon baptism became an instrument for saving babies from original sin and hell. Soon the Lord’s Supper became the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” differing very little in ritual and spirit from offerings to Jupiter and Mithra.

Today’s liturgy of the word calls us beyond all of that. It summons us to follow Jesus who shows us the way to truly change our lives. Change comes by leaving behind the superstitious faith that supports empires past and present. Transformation comes when we share our food with each other and with the poor. It happens by committing ourselves to the “other world” represented by God’s Kingdom that has room for everyone, not just for the 1% served by our own churches, priests, scribes and their superstitious rituals.

Today’s liturgy of the word summons us to the banks of the Jordan to stand with Jesus and to hear God’s voice calling us from what has been so far wasted in our lives. Like Jesus, we are daughters and sons of God. We are beloved by the God of Love. Jesus’ example reminds us that It’s not too late to change our commitments and way of life.

After all (if we take our tradition literally) Jesus redeemed the insignificance of his own life in a single meaningful year – or maybe it was three.

A Baptismal Homily: Markandeya Lehnerd-Reilly, May You Be Like Markendeya, the Mystic; May We All Be

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Last Friday (July 3rd), our family had the joy of baptizing our daughter’s and son-in-law’s fourth child, Markandeya Jackson Lehnerd Reilly. I had the privilege of performing the baptism – as I have for each of Maggie and Kerry’s children:  Eva (6 years old), Oscar (4), and Orlando (3). I performed the baptism (with its readings, songs, litany, profession of faith, and rich symbols of water, oil, fire, and new clothes) just off the dock in front of our house in Canadian Lakes, Michigan.

Twenty-five people (all relatives from Peggy’s side of the family) were present. The event was part of a mini-family reunion for Peggy’s siblings and their families. We were all together for about a week celebrating the Fourth of July.

It was great fun.

Here is a brief reflection I gave after reading about Jesus’ own baptism at the hands of his cousin, John,  as described in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark:

Today we celebrate the baptism of Markandeya Lehnerd-Reilly. He has that name because he comes to us from India, where he spent his earliest moments of in utero life.

I first came across the name, Markandeya in the writings of my meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran a native of the Kerala State in India – which many of us here visited not long ago.

Easwaran says that each morning, his grandmother – his spiritual teacher – would go to the temple for Morning Prayer and return with a flower. She’d put it behind her grandson’s ear and pray, “May you be like Markandeya.”

Markendeya is the legendary mystic from ancient India who achieved enlightenment at the age of 16.

Mystics, of course, are spiritual masters. They have realized that: (1) we all have within us a spark of the divine, (2) that spark can be realized (i.e. we can live from that place of divinity); (3) it’s the purpose of life to do so, and (4) once we’ve realized the divine within ourselves, we’ll see it in every other human being and in all of creation.

In any case, Markandeya was one of those mystics. His story goes like this: His parents longed for a child and prayed to God (under the name Shiva) for a son.

Their prayer was granted.

But they had a choice, they could either have a son who would be a great devotee of Shiva and live a short life, or have a less-devoted son who would live a long life. Markandeya’s parents chose the former. As a result, they were told their son would achieve enlightenment, but would die on his 16th birthday.

Markandeya, of course, became a great devotee of Shiva whose name he lisped from his very first days in his cradle. Early on he became enlightened – capable of reaching uncommon depths of meditative unity with the divine.

But then his 16th birthday came.  His parents tearfully told him of the conditions of his birth. Yama, the king of death would soon come for him. On hearing this, Markandeya sat down and entered into deep meditation.

Soon Yama came seeking his victim. But when he entered the room, Shiva rose up from within Markandeya. With one hand on the youth’s head and the other pointing his trident at Yama, he commanded, “Don’ you know that I am Mrityunjaya, the conqueror of death? You have no power over me or over those devoted to me. Markandeya will never die!  Be gone!”

Trembling like a leaf, Yama returned to the underworld.

Today we baptize Markandeya Lehnerd-Reilly. With baptism he enters the community of those who would follow another great mystic, Jesus the Christ. According to our faith, Jesus is our Mrityunjaya, the Great Conqueror of death. Death, we believe, has no dominion over Jesus or over us, his followers.

Jesus’ teaching included the mystical truths that, like him, we are all daughters and sons of God and that the Kingdom of God is within us. His disciple, Paul of Tarsus taught that we are all temples of the Holy Spirit – that Jesus’ Spirit lives within each of us. It is our purpose in life to be channels of the Holy Spirit and bring about the kingdom of God in this world.

Today we’re here to embrace that vocation on Markandeya’s behalf and to re-embrace it for ourselves.

So our prayer for this child today is that he might be like Jesus with whom he is identified in this baptismal ceremony.

May he be like Markandeya.

May we all be like Jesus and Markandeya.

Jesus Decides to Redeem His Wasted Life (Sunday’s Homily)

Readings for Feast of Baptism of the Lord: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011313.cfm

Today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In that context, let’s think about baptism and the differences between the understandings we’ve inherited and those reflected in the practice of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Those differences hold practical implications for our own lives as we wrestle with a faith that may have lost meaning for us, and as we struggle with the relative smallness and insignificance of our lives.

To begin with, think about traditional beliefs about baptism. If you’re like me, you may find them hard to swallow. A friend of mine, theologian Tony Equale, has recently pointed out that theology doesn’t really determine worship patterns. Instead superstitious temple and church rituals have shaped our beliefs. Practice determines belief, not the other way around. (See http://tonyequale.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-religiosity-of-the-people/)

What my friend means is that theology’s job has traditionally been to rationalize what people actually do in their efforts to tame life and achieve contact with the numinous, the mysterious, and the transcendent. They sacrifice chickens, behead bullocks, or vivisect lambs and then burn the animals’ carcasses. The smoke thus ‘feeds’ the Gods who are believed to need nourishment, placation, and cajoling in order to do the will of the people and their priests. Those congregations actually turn out to be more intelligent than the God who must be informed of their needs and what is best for their welfare. That’s superstition.

Catholic beliefs around baptism and the “sacrifice of the Mass” are cases in point. They were actually formed by the People’s credulous practice of baptism which was informed more by ancient ideas of all-powerful angry Gods than by Jesus’ radical teaching that God is Love. I mean early on, in a time of very high rates of infant mortality, popular belief came to see infant baptism as necessary to somehow save deceased children from a hell created by a threatening God.

This practice of the people rather than reflection on the words and deeds of Jesus led St. Augustine at the beginning of the 5th century to theorize that people have been born guilty – at enmity with God. Augustine thought that since children were condemned even before any personal sin on their parts, they must be born in sin. And that must be, Augustine reasoned, because they had inherited sin from their forebears and ultimately from the first human beings, Adam and Eve. Because of that “original sin,” God is justly angry with humans.

Now, as I said, the ancients believed that sacrifice was necessary to placate an angry God like that. So, in the Roman world, where sacrifice was understood in the terms I’ve just explained, Jesus’ death eventually became to be seen as a sacrifice whose primary purpose was to secure God’s approval of the Roman state. In this way, the “Mass” was transformed from a memorial meal to a re-enactment of Jesus’ sacrificial death. It was moved from a table with friends gathered around sharing food, to a “sacrifice” performed at an “altar” by a priest with his back turned to the people who watched the show from afar.

This Mass differed very little from what Romans were used to before Christianity became the state’s official religion in 381. In fact, it is entirely possible that ordinary people saw no difference between the “Mass” and the religious ritual they had been accustomed to when Jupiter or Mithra were worshipped as the official Gods of Rome. In other words, Christianity was transformed by the Roman Empire rather the empire being transformed by Christianity. There was a “theogony,” a battle of the Gods, between Jupiter and the Bible’s Yahweh; and Jupiter won. We’ve been worshipping him ever since.

How different all this is from what happens to Jesus at the baptism which today’s liturgy of the word celebrates! (And that brings me to my point about meaning in our seemingly wasted lives.) In today’s gospel, there is nothing suggesting “original sin.” Nor is Jesus presented as the incarnation of a God who needs to be mollified by sacrifice. Rather, Jesus comes as a disciple of John. (Scripture scholars tell us that John’s words about his inferiority before Jesus were inventions of the early church in a Jewish context where many still believed that John rather than Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.)

So at the age of 30 or so, this young peasant from Nazareth presents himself for a ritual washing at the prophet’s hands in the legendary Jordan River. In Israel’s idealized past, that river had been crossed by slaves escaped from Egypt who on the river’s opposite shore found the “Promised Land” that became their national home. Eventually that crossing came to be understood as transforming a motley horde of renegade slaves into a unified nation of free people at the service of the God who had liberated them from demeaning servitude.

John’s practice of baptism in the Jordan (far from the corruption of the priests’ Temple and its endless sacrifices) summoned his Jewish contemporaries to reclaim their ancient identity that had been lost by the priests and scribes who had sold out to Roman re-enslavement of a once proud and liberated people.

John’s was a revivalist movement of Jewish reform. Those presenting themselves for baptism were expressing a desire to return to their religious roots and to alter their lives in a profound way.

Evidently, that’s why Jesus came to be baptized too. This country boy who (according to Luke’s “infancy narratives”) had begun his life with such promise is now about 30 years old. Perhaps in view of his parents’ expectations of him, his life so far seemed wasted. Perhaps he had resolved to finally make a difference. In any case, by approaching John in the Jordan’s waters, he expresses an intense need for change in his life. He wants to be John’s follower.

So John performs his baptismal ritual. And the miraculous happens. An epiphany occurs for Jesus. He hears a voice. It informs him that he is a child of God. Immediately he sets out on a vision quest to discover what those words might mean. Forty days of prayer and fasting bring on the visions – of angels and devils, of temptations, dangers and possibilities.

In the light of his desert experience, Jesus chooses not only to follow John as the leader of a reform movement. He chooses as well to follow Moses as the liberator of an enslaved people. He has truly crossed the Jordan. So he brings his message to the captive poor. Like him, they too are children of God — God’s specially chosen people. God’s kingdom belongs to them, he says, not to their rich oppressors. The poor must not allow themselves to be misled by the stultifying and domesticating doctrines of the priests and scribes. That was the thrust of Jesus’ teaching.

Coherent acts follow Jesus’ words. He discovers wondrous healing powers within himself. By touch, by faith, by his friendship, he cures stinking lepers, dirty beggars, street walkers who have lost their self-respect, the deaf, the dumb, the blind and lame. Jesus eats food with the social outcasts and street people of his day, sharing nourishment the way God does – without cost or expectation of reciprocation. Jesus finds himself explaining the mysterious, transcendent and ineffable in unforgettable stories that capture the imaginations of simple people hungry for the spiritual sustenance that he offers – that he embodies. No wonder his early followers tried to imitate Jesus by choosing John’s baptism as a sign of membership in their community and by following the Master’s example of sharing food the way God does in their re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper.

That was the understanding of baptism and Lord’s Supper that the first generations of Christians embraced. But it didn’t last long. Within a few generations (and especially after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century) the superstitions I referenced earlier had replaced the understanding and practice of Jesus and the Baptist. Soon baptism became an instrument for saving babies from original sin and hell. Soon the Lord’s Supper became the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” differing very little in ritual and spirit from offerings to Jupiter and Mithra.

Today’s liturgy of the word calls us beyond all of that. It summons us to follow Jesus who shows us the way to truly change our lives. Change comes by leaving behind the superstitious faith that supports empires past and present. Transformation comes when we share our food with each other and with the poor. It happens by committing ourselves to the “other world” represented by God’s Kingdom that has room for everyone, not just for the 1% served by our own churches, priests, scribes and their superstitious rituals.

Today’s liturgy of the word summons us to the banks of the Jordan to stand with Jesus and to hear God’s voice calling us from what has been so far wasted in our lives. Like Jesus, we are daughters and sons of God. We are beloved by the God of Love. Jesus’ example reminds us that It’s not too late to change our commitments and way of life.

After all (if we take our tradition literally) Jesus redeemed the insignificance of his own life in a single meaningful year – or maybe it was three.

Catholic Baptismal Liturgy Edited for Baptism of Orlando Lehnerd-Reilly

THE BAPTISM OF
ORLANDO PETER LEHNERD-REILLY

 

Orlando immediately following his baptism (without a tear)
Mike holds up Orlando following the baby’s baptism
 

Incorporation into “The Body of Christ”
“Nomen est Omen”

The Celebrated: Orlando Peter Lehnerd-Reilly

Celebrants:

–          Maggie and Kerry Lehnerd-Reilly (Parents)

–          MC: Peggy Rivage-Seul (Orlando’s Grandmother)

–          Baptizer: Mike Rivage-Seul (Orlando’s Grandfather)

–          Godparents: Katy Fagan (Orlando’s Great Aunt) and Brendan Rivage-Seul (Orlando’s Uncle)

–          Prayers of the Faithful: Carla Perusquia Torres (Orlando’s Au Pair)

–          Relatives and Friends of Orlando Peter

I

WELCOME

Music: “Down to the River To Pray”

 As I went down in the river to pray

Studying about that good old way

And who shall wear the starry crown

Good Lord, show me the way !

O, sisters let’s go down

Let’s go down, come on down,

O sisters let’s go down

Down in the river to pray.

As I went down in the river to pray

Studying about that good old way

And who shall wear the robe and crown

Good Lord, show me the way !

O, brothers let’s go down. . .starry crown
O, fathers let’s go down. . .robe and crown

O, mothers let’s go down. . .starry crown

O, Orlando let’s go down . . .robe and crown

Peggy:  Welcome, everyone, to this beautiful occasion – the incorporation of yet another member into the Community of Faith we call “The Body of Christ!” We have come together to welcome into our midst little Orlando Peter Lehnerd-Reilly whose parents, Maggie and Kerry, have expressed the desire to raise as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Let me begin by asking the traditional questions. . .Maggie and Kerry, why have you come here today?

Maggie:   We have come to have our son baptized.

Peggy:                         And what is the name you wish to give your son?

Maggie:                       His first name is Orlando.

Kerry:                          And his middle name is Peter, after Orlando’s Grandpa Peter, (and also after one of his sister’s favorite  literary characters, Peter Pan).  

Peggy:                         We are so happy that you have come to have your son baptized. Remember that by doing so you are pledging to train him in the practice of the faith we all share. It will be your duty not simply to teach him in words, but more importantly by your personal example of loving God, each other and his people – especially the poor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

Maggie & Kerry:         We do

Peggy (to the Godparents):     And are you, Katy and Brendan,  ready to help Maggie and Kerry in their duty as Christian parents?

Katy and Brendan:     We are.

Peggy:                         Orlando Peter, the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name, I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents and godparents to do the same. Now to set the tone for this holy gathering, please join me in listening to the scriptural account of Jesus’ own baptism.

II

Liturgy of the Word

Mike (Orlando’s Baba): A reading from the Gospel of Mark. (1:9-15)

Brief Reflections: “Orlando and the Kingdom of God”

Music: “Come to the Water”

Oh let all who thirst, let them come to the water
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord
Without money, without price
Why should you pay the price? Except for the Lord

And let all who seek, let them come to the water
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord
Without money, without strife
Why should you spend your life? Except for the Lord

And let all who toil, let them come to the water
And let all who are weary, let them come to the Lord
All who labor, without rest
How can your soul find rest? Except for the Lord

And let all the poor, let them come to the water
Bring the ones who are laden, bring them all to the Lord
Bring the children, without might
Easy the load and light. Come to the Lord

III

Prayers of the Faithful

Carla

Let us pray in thanksgiving for Orlando Peter whose presence reminds us of our own prophetic calling to live in innocence, gentleness, openness, love, and commitment to peace and justice. Let us pray to the Lord

Let us pray for Orlando’s parents, Maggie and Kerry, that they may grow in their own faith, and share that faith generously with Orlando Peter by word and example. Let us pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for Orlando’s sister, Ineva Kathryn , that she may continue to be a good big sister always setting a loving example for her brother. Let us pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for Orlando’s brother, Oscar Michael, that he may grow into his special name, and lead a life in the example of Oscar Romero. Let us pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for peace in the world, and for the end of war, particularly in Afghanistan, where Orlando’s godfather, Uncle Brendan, will be working next year. Let us pray to the Lord.

And for what else shall we pray? (Pause for spontaneous prayer from the community)

 Peggy: God, our Mother and Father, hear our prayers. Make us all faithful followers of your Son, Jesus, the Christ. Pour out his Spirit of justice, peace and love on little Orlando Peter. May his life make a difference in this world. May he be courageous and strong in the expression of his faith just as were the great heroines and heroes of the faith we now invoke:

 Holy Mary, Mother of God:

All: Pray for us!

St. Joseph, Protector of Jesus and Mary:

All: Pray for us!

St. Francis of Assisi, father of environmentalism:

All: Pray for us!

St. Clare, loving companion of St. Francis:

All: Pray for us!

Martin Luther King, tireless worker for racial justice:

All: Pray for us!

Mahatma Gandhi, “Great Soul” and liberator of millions from colonialism:

All: Pray for us!

Oscar Romero, martyred bishop of El Salvador, patron of liberation theology:

All: Pray for us!

Dorothy Day, companion of the poor, founder of the Catholic Worker:

All: Pray for us!

Caesar Chavez, hero of the United Farm Workers and of the Hispanic community:

All: Pray for us!

All you holy saints of God who worked for justice and peace

All: Pray for us!

IV

Baptism: Incorporation into the “Body of Christ”

Mike: The time has come to incorporate Orlando into the Body of Christ. This beautiful rite makes him an official member of our Community of Faith. Before proceeding, however, we’re asked to recall what our faith means. So please join me in this profession of faith. Everyone, please respond:

Do you renounce the Spirit of the World with its greed, lust, anger, fear, violence and war?

All: We do.

Do you recognize that the promises of the world in its selfishness, advertising, consumerism, and prejudices are empty and lead to death of the Spirit rather than to the fullness of life?

All: We do.

Do you reject then the spirit of the World, its grasping, consumerism, selfishness and wars?

All: We do.

Do you choose instead to follow Christ who healed the sick, fed the hungry, visited the imprisoned, and whose life brought good news to the poor and outcast?

All: We do.

Do you promise to do so, even if it brings you to the same end as Jesus, death at the hands of Empire and of those who falsely thought they were serving God?

All: We do.

Do you believe in God, the Mother and Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?

All: We do.

Mike:   Let us then profess the faith we share:

 All:      We believe in humankind

            And in a world, in which

            There is room for everyone,

            And that it is our task to create

            Such a world.

            We believe in equal rights for all people,

            In love, justice, brotherhood and peace.

            We must continually act out these beliefs.

            We are inspired to do so, because we believe

            In Jesus of Nazareth.

            And we wish to model our lives on his.

            In doing so, we believe that we

            Are drawn into the mysterious relationship

            With the One, whom Jesus called his Father.

            Because of our belief in Jesus,

            We make no claims to exclusivity;

            We shall work together with others

            For a better world.

            We believe in the community of the faithful,

            And in our task to be the salt of the earth

            And the light of the world.

            But all of this in humility,

            Carrying our cross every day.

            And we believe in the resurrection

            Whatever it may mean.

            Amen!

Mike: This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All: Amen.

Mike (to Maggie & Kerry): Is it your will that Orlando Peter be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?

Maggie & Kerry: It is.

Mike: Orlando Peter Lehnerd-Reilly, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

            And of the Son

            And of the Holy Spirit

 Music:             “We Remember”

                        We remember how you loved us

                        To your death

                        And still we celebrate for you are with us still.

                        And we believe that we will see you

                        When you come in your glory, Lord.

                        We remember. We celebrate. We believe.

Mike:   Everyone, please give your blessing to Orlando as we pass among you while we sing “Sabbath Prayer.”

Music:             “Sabbath Prayer”

May the Lord protect and defend you

May he always shield you from shame

May you come to be among us all a shining name

May you be like Peter the apostle

May you be deserving of praise

Strengthen him O Lord and keep him from the stranger’s ways

(bridge) May God bless you and grant you a long life

May the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayer for you

May God make you a good follower of Christ

May he send you teachers who will care for you

May the Lord protect and defend you

May the Lord preserve you from pain

Favor him o lord with happiness and peace

O hear our Sabbath prayer, Amen

V

Final Affirmation of Original Goodness and Light

Anointing after Baptism:

Peggy: Orlando Peter, you have been welcomed into our community of faith. We are enriched by the presence of your Original Goodness. We recognize and accept our call to recover our own innocence as gentle, open, and loving creatures like you. As you grow, we pledge to help you preserve and live out your goodness despite the temptations and deceits of the consumer culture that would shape you by its selfishness and greed. We pray that all of us may be faithful followers of Jesus who lived for others rather than for himself. This anointing reminds us of our call – of your call – to own your power as Priest, Prophet, and Leader in your new community of faith.

All:      Amen

Peggy: Anoints Orlando.

Clothing with the White Garment

 Peggy: Orlando Peter, we now clothe you in this white garment that was worn by your grandfather, Peter, whose name you bear. Recognize this garment as an outward sign of the goodness of God’s presence within you. With your mother, father, family, and friends to help you by word and example, may you continue to manifest that presence in everything you say and do.

All: Amen.

Lighted Candle

Peggy: (After lighting baptismal candle, she hands it to Katy and Brendan) Katy and Brendan, receive the light of Christ on behalf of your godson. I give it to you with the prayer that Orlando might be a light to our world, just as Jesus was. Please help him keep the candle of his faith, love, and good works burning gently and (when necessary) fiercely for the benefit of all.

Peggy: (Hands the candle to Katy) Receive this candle for Orlando.

Katy: May Orlando and all of us be a light to the world!

Peggy: (Takes the candle from Katy and gives it to Brendan.) Receive this candle for Orlando.

Brendan: May Orlando and all of us be a light to the world! (He returns the candle to Peggy)

VII

Conclusion

Peggy: My dear friends, our celebration is ended. Let us go now to love and serve one another and the world.

All:      Thanks be to God.

 Music: “This Little Light Of Mine”

 Chorus:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine (3xs)

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

 I’m going to take this light around the world, and I’m gonna let it shine. .

I won’t let anyone (blow) it out. .

Every day, every day, I’m gonna let my little light shine!

Orlando’s Baptismal Homily: “Welcome, Kingdom Boy!”

Mike reading the text for the day: Mk. 1:9-15    Kerry (holding Orlando) Maggie, Oscar
Well, here we are again at what’s becoming an annual ritual for our clan. This is our third baptism in three years. My first thought standing here is that “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” Maggie and Kerry, see what you can do about that!

Just kidding, of course . . . The truth is we’re all so happy to be here to at this beautiful lakeside setting to welcome into our community of faith Maggie and Kerry’s third child and Peggy’s and my third grandchild. (We all feel so proud.) We have here another child of God filled with the original goodness we celebrated and are still graced with in the presence of big sister, Eva, and big brother, Oscar. We’re here to incorporate Orlando (“Peter Pan,” “Howdy Doody”) into the Body of those aspiring to live in the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yes, we’re here to celebrate “original goodness,” even though since St. Augustine in the 5th century, the emphasis in Christian baptism has been on “Original Sin. ” That seems so negative, doesn’t it, in the presence of the innocence so evident in children like Eva, Oscar, and Orlando?  I remember speaking about that at Eva’s baptism three years ago.

However second thought has made me realize that there is some wisdom in the idea of Original Sin – that we’re born into sin even as infants. And here I’m talking about personal sin. Rather, I’m referencing the atmosphere of selfishness, greed, violence, and purposelessness that all of us are steeped in, and that we imbibe with our mother’s milk. We gulp all of that in with our first breath, and we grow into it getting more and more deeply mired as the years go by. As a result even for the best of us, any thought of other-centeredness, generosity, peacemaking and faith become marginalized as unrealistic, utopian, and naïve. That’s Original Sin.

Embracing it, living according to our culture’s hopeless convictions means we’ve forgotten our baptismal promises and commitment made for us vicariously when we were infants like Orlando. We’ve forgotten what we subsequently embraced consciously on the day of our Confirmation.

The grace and beauty of an occasion like this is that it presents each of us with an opportunity to remember those commitments (vicarious and conscious) and to reorient ourselves on the path that was trod so faithfully by Jesus of Nazareth. It was a utopian path, a prophetic path.  

Think about the Gospel reading we just shared. There Jesus presents himself for baptism at the River Jordan. He’s baptized. The heaven’s open and a voice reveals to him – or reminds him – that he is a beloved child of God, like Orlando here. He goes out into the desert for a forty day retreat – on a vision quest to find out what that revelation might mean. He gets the vision of angels and devils, of rocks turning to bread, of leaping from the pinnacle of the Temple, of all the kingdoms of the world that might be his. With those visions and possibilities in mind, he decides on his path.

The next thing we know, he’s in the Galilee preaching. Mark sums up his message in a single sentence: “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”

In other words, Jesus’ decision was to dedicate his life not to preaching about himself, not to his culture’s beliefs that some people were inherently clean and others unclean, not to the service of the Roman Empire, not even to the ethnocentric Kingdom of David. Instead, his focus was the Kingdom of God. His conviction that it is coming to this world in the here and now is what he calls the Good News. His message is a call to change the world accordingly.

And what is the Kingdom of God? In brief, it is what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar. In that world everything would be reversed: the rich would become poor; the poor would be rich; the first would be last; the last would be first; prostitutes and sinners would enter before the priests and doctors of religious law.

Following Jesus means believing living and working as though that other world were possible here and now despite all evidence to the contrary.

So here we are at another baptism. And our presence on this lakeshore proclaims to Orlando the words Jesus heard on the banks of the Jordan, “You are my beloved Son; my favor rests on you.”  In the years ahead of him, Orlando’s going to try to figure out what those words mean. He’ll see those visions that Jesus saw during his forty day retreat. The world will speak the devil’s lines. “Live for pleasure, profit, prestige, and power. There’s really nothing else to life. After all, you only go around once.”

Today we’re saying “No” on Orlando’s behalf and for ourselves. We’re saying “No” to a life dedicated to pleasure, profit, power and prestige.  We’re saying “Yes” to the Kingdom – to the other world our culture says is impossible, unrealistic and naïve. Our hope is that Orlando will one day make his own the “No” and the “Yes” we speak for him at his baptism.  

By the way, did you know that Orlando’s name means “renowned land” – famous country? In the context of today’s celebration and our Gospel reading, his name can only be a reference to that renowned “Kingdom of God” that meant so much to Jesus. In other words, Orlando’s name, his very presence should be a constant reminder that we are Kingdom people. Orlando is our Kingdom Child, our Kingdom Boy.  As long as he lives, his presence and name should remind us of this day – that our guiding Kingdom vision makes us different in what we hope for, live for, talk about, and work for.

Orlando, Kingdom Boy, thank you for reminding us of who we are!

Now let’s get on with your baptism, beloved child of God.

Mike baptizing Orlando
Orlando’s baptism in Canadian Lakes Michigan, August 12th, 2012
Thursday’s Post: The highly edited Roman Catholic baptismal ritual we used for Orlando