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Like most parishes, I suspect, we’ve had a few more funerals than usual lately. It seems sadly sweet that people who long to share just one more Christmas with family and friends seem not to make it much past that. As hard as it is to lose someone you love at any time, the grief is surely compounded when it happens around the holidays. I think that is one of the reasons I love to sing at funerals. Music brings real comfort to people. It lifts them, grief and all, into the presence of the God who weeps with them.
Anyone who has witnessed a number of funerals will tell you that the moment a Mass of Christian Burial begins, the strength of a family’s faith is pretty much readily apparent. People who implicitly trust God are rarely as devastated by death as those whose spiritual lives are less developed. They walk down the aisle with dignity and a certain kind of confidence. They know the prayers at Mass, and find comfort in saying them. They are sad, of course. Yet in the midst of the sadness they seem able to be grateful. The words of remembrance they share are completely appropriate and natural. They reflect a depth and peace that others reach for, but often cannot seem to hold onto for very long. In short, they leave the church uplifted, reassured, and strengthened by one another in faith.
The end of a book begins on page one. But page one isn’t the first diagnosis or the sudden accident that results in an expected loss. It is how we begin our lives, or rather, our life with God. That is why every funeral begins by recalling a person’s baptism. We meet the deceased at the doors of the church, just as we met him or her in infancy. We cover the casket in the white garment of christening, sprinkle it with holy water, and place it before the Paschal candle. And while it may appear that we are trying to remind God that it is now time to make good on what He promised, it is we who need to be reminded of God’s promise to save those who trust in Him; of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; and of a heaven in which every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more. We gather in prayer on this side of existence to ask the angels and saints to midwife another soul into eternal life.
How we are “hatched” is basically how we will be “dispatched.” The candle, the garment, the water, our family members: these are the constants throughout our lives from beginning to end. Our request, too, is essentially the same. In baptism, we come with our lives as they are and ask God to give us eternal life. We come, accompanied by those who love us, asking that our lives be changed for something better, something more, and something eternal. Yet, many of us make the mistake of thinking that our lives can and will change without the same radical change happening in who we are or how we live. That is not the case, nor is it really what we truly want or need.
That is why the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, though rather understated in most parishes, is so very important. By virtue of His own baptism, Jesus comes into the water with us. He wades into the rivers of human existence, and faces the same currents that threaten to sweep us away. Christ Jesus is God’s total immersion in humanity, His going under, and diving down.
As we close the season of the Incarnation, let us find ourselves at the banks of the River once again. And as we see Jesus rising out of the waters, let us no longer be afraid to follow Him into the water. Most of us were sprinkled as infants. But the Church we are part of and the world we live in need people who will drink deeply of the Holy Spirit they were given, and live deeply the life of Christ without fear of drowning.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.