Friday, May 29, 2009

1-11-2009: Baptism of the Lord (B)

Isaiah 55:1-11/Isaiah 12:2-6/1 John 5:1-9/Mark 1:7-11
I’ve just read in today’s paper the disturbing news that the bishop of Brooklyn’s identity was recently compromised when his social security number was stolen. Such a situation tends to become a nightmare regarding its resolution and, hopefully, Bishop DiMarzio will not find it too much of a distraction from his important ministry. It does, however, present a segue into the meaning behind today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Pope John Paul II added to the existing mysteries of the Rosary what he called the Luminous Mysteries, beginning with the Baptism of the Lord. The word mysterion, in Greek, translates into Latin as sacramentum - in English, as sacrament. And, while baptism has always been understood as a sacrament, what precisely is it a sacrament of?

We generally think of Baptism as effecting the washing away of Original and personal sin. But it could not have been thus for Jesus who did not suffer from either. When Jesus emerged from the Jordan after being baptized by John a voice from heaven declared: You are my beloved Son. The voice declares, not only for the listener but also for Jesus himself, the unfolding mystery of his true identity. I would suggest that Baptism is primarily the sacrament of identity, not only for Jesus, but for us as well: the baptismal rite begins by asking parents the crucial question: What name do you give your child?

Names carry an importance that the ancients recognized, though many moderns have forgotten or choose to overlook. Some bishops are guilty of this oversight as well, an assessment to which I can personally attest having helped many adopted persons search for their families of origin despite a disingenuous church bureaucracy. Many baptismal certificates have been officially issued which have deliberately changed the name of the person baptized. Children relinquished to adoption, who had first been baptized by the mothers who gave them birth and named at baptism by them, have been renamed by their adoptive parents – the second name being recorded on the so-called “amended” birth certificate. To their shame, bishops have permitted baptismal certificates to be amended (i.e. falsified) as well, stating that the child was baptized with his adoptive name, which in most cases is not true. One can almost understand the motivation of certain bishops who have permitted and encouraged this practice (the bishops of Brooklyn included), seeking to protect the child from a certain stigma, real or imagined. But when they refuse to allow the adopted adult access to his original baptismal certificate, keeping secret from him his very name, then one must wonder about the bishops’ motivation and challenge their dubious integrity in this regard. Although my adoptive parents kept the name with which I was baptized, my baptismal certificate falsifies the church and the date of my baptism. In the case of many other adopted persons, however, the church has deliberately falsified the names with which they were baptized, contradicting the very intention of baptism itself –identifying the child by name before God.

That name, we believe, is the very name by which the Lord will call us through death into his kingdom. No one has the right to take from us (or keep secret from us) the name by which we were baptized, for whatever seemingly good reason or intention. Identity theft (perhaps Bishop DiMarzio would now agree) remains an evil and deplorable act, whether instigated by common thieves, state officials or church bureaucrats.

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