In the beloved musical, "Gigi", Gaston Lachaille's effervescent uncle, Honore, and Gigi's aunt, Madame Alvarez, reminisce about their love affair in the song "I Remember It Well." Even though Honore's memory was fuzzy, Mamita lovingly corrected him, appreciating his feeble efforts at recalling their romance.
Two weeks ago, the Church marks the Solemnity of the Baptism, thus concluding the Christmas season. During one of his Wednesday audiences, Pope Francis challenged his listeners to learn their baptismal dates and celebrate their entrances into the Church with nearly the same joy that they do when marking their birthdays. This past week, I decided to take him up on the challenge.
My father and I were talking about my baptismal date. He told me that my late mother was a stickler for Tradition. The custom at the time (1960s) was that the baby should be baptized 40 days after birth. Looking at my birth date, (October 15th), I tried to calculate, more or less, when the 40th day was. I figured it would have been somewhere between November 24-26. As my mother had a penchant for hiding things for safekeeping, hiding them so well that even she could not find them, I called the parish where I had been baptized. The parish secretary kindly looked up the information based on the data that I had provided her and promptly gave me the date: November 26th.
I remember having seen the pictures of my baptism. The celebrant was clad in cassock and surplice. I remember my mother telling me that the rite had been in Latin and that it was not celebrated during Mass.
Obviously, as a 40-day old baby, I have no memory of what happened. I base whatever I know of the event from my parents' recollections. But, while I have no physical (for lack of a better word) conscious memory of this most important event, I believe that my soul does as this was the moment that I was washed clean of original sin and bathed in God's grace. It was the moment when I became incorporated into the Body of Christ.
But, Baptism is not the end of our journey; it is the beginning. It is not enough to have received Baptism because, lamentably, the flame of the light of Christ can be extinguished if we do not make the right choices. Christ gives us the means to help us along the way through the Sacraments. Baptism is the gateway to the Sacraments. Our parents and Godparents made promises for us when we were baptized (those of us who went through infant Baptism) and, because our parents are our first teachers, they were charged with ensuring that we were brought up in the Faith. That includes ensuring that we receive the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation. They also need to ensure that we understand the importance of assisting at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.
In his book, Milestones, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes about the importance of Baptism. His situation is somewhat unique in that he was born on April 16, 1927, and baptized that same day at the Easter Vigil. His life is forever intertwined with the Paschal Mystery, as ours should be.
If you can, call up the parish where you were baptized and see if the staff can pull up your baptismal date. Mark it on your calendar and celebrate it just as you would your own birthday. After all, that is the day that you were claimed for Christ and baptized into his Body, the Church.