Grasped by God, Held by Family
I was honored to play the role of godfather this weekend. My new nephew, born three weeks ago, was baptized on Saturday. I made the flight from Indiana to South Dakota for the sacrament—it was a short trip, but filled with good time to connect with family.
And family is what baptism is all about—at its root. It is a sacrament that brings people into a radically new and inclusive and sacred family—the family of the Church, where we are all siblings as children of God.
The baptizing deacon spread chrism on his head during the rite, and its fragrance is intoxicating. My new nephew smelled of chrism for the whole weekend, and I never tired of smelling his head.
The chrism oil is specially consecrated by the bishop once a year during a special Mass in Holy Week. The bishop mixes a perfume into the oil and then prays for the Holy Spirit to bless the oil while blowing over it, reminding us of the wind that blew at Pentecost.
It was a touching reminder to know that the oil that was placed on my nephew’s head was mixed and blessed by the bishop, who was blessed, himself, by other bishops at his ordination. These many hands reach all the way back to Jesus, who touched his disciples—the first leaders of the Church. These disciples designated and blessed other bishops, and 2,000 years later, in a small church building in a small mountain town in western South Dakota, my new nephew was blessed by the touch of all of these hands as well. He has been grasped by God.
It was my first time meeting and holding my new nephew. He was so tiny! You’d think I would remember that, having three children myself. But I am around our children every day, and they are well on their way to being able to care for themselves. It is easy to forget how very small newborns are. My new nephew is dependent in every conceivable way—he can’t even burp without help.
It is a great sign that the Church welcomes people in baptism, especially when they are at their most vulnerable. It is a declaration that none of us can get by on our own—that we all need to be held by family, which includes an uncle like myself as well as the wider community of faith that helps us all grow in our journey towards God.