Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fitbits, Family Ties, & Sacrament Forums

Tomorrow I'll be posting a excerpt from my latest Global Sisters Report column, which deals with our baptismal call as it relates to being a faithful citizen. The metaphors and examples used in that article, though, have been doing double duty this week. On Tuesday, I offered a reflection to a group of parents whose children will be making their first Communion or Confirmation this year. My remarks focused on what it means to live your Baptismal call especially in regards to the everyday life of a parent. I offer those remarks here for your reflection and hope they shed light today, in their original context, as much as they will offer tomorrow in a more general sense.

This year, for my thirtieth birthday, I got two birthday presents from my parents. They are presents that have stuck with me.

The first, quite literally, has stayed on me since May. It is a Fitbit. This little band on my wrist has taken the place of my watch and has been tracking the number of steps I take each day.  At first, I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but now I barely notice that it is there, save for the little reminders it gives me to get up and move during the day and the way it gleefully buzzes when I reach ten thousand steps for the day.

The second gift was more of a surprise. It was a letter containing a story I had never really heard… the story of my birth.  In it my parents bantered back and forth on the page about what was important to include.  My mother made a point of saying I’d taken my time coming out. While my father recounted how, because of that, he left in the middle of the day to go to a retirement luncheon for my grandfather.  I laughed and I cried as I read the story. These were things I’d never known but even more so, there was such love in their words that I couldn’t help but give thanks that I’d been born to these people.  Their letter affirmed a part of who I am and poured forth the love parents have for their children.

So, why am I telling you this? What do a Fitbit and a sentimental, biographical letter have to do with the Sacraments or Baptism or anything we’re discussing this evening?

I think that in a way, these gifts give us a good framework for considering the Baptismal call that we live out each day. This call traces itself all the way back to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, of which we heard Matthew’s account proclaimed tonight. 

For all the differing accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the four Gospels, the Baptism of Jesus distinctly appears in each one without exception.  This is where Jesus’ ministry begins. To put that in Fitbit terms, that’s step one on the journey.  For everything that will follow, this moment marks the beginning of the rest of his life… a life lived in and with God, growing daily and spreading to all those he encountered. 

And what is it that he hears as he emerges from the waters of Baptism? “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Before any miracles or healings, any temptations in the desert or before any disciples began to gather, before any parables or teachings, there is only Love.  God declares right then and there… before Jesus has done anything… that he is God’s beloved.  And God does the same for us. 

For the majority of us, we can’t remember our baptism. The call we answered was not of our own accord. But still the people who brought us to these life giving waters believed… and in their love for us, they wanted us to have the gift of that belief, too.  And, I imagine, God smiled on each one of us that day, no matter the circumstances, and said this is my beloved child:  I love you and you are mine.

And from there, we- like Jesus- stepped out into the world.  As with my Fitbit, some days are better than others.  There are nights, I find myself walking up and down the block to get the last few steps to ten thousand in before day’s end. Yet, no matter the day, in our lives of faith the call of our baptism echoes over and over.  Our goal is to strive towards the goodness God sees in us and to share the graces we have been blessed with. This requires attentiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others. That’s a challenge that requires action beyond steps. We must be active in sharing the love of God, remaining faithful to the challenge of the Gospel in our lives- to be more loving, more merciful, and more engaged.        

At the end of the day, you might ask Am I healthier for having a Fitbit? Maybe. But I can tell you I am more conscious because I have this little tracker on my wrist.  The same can be asked of our baptism: Am I healthier for having lived my faith today? Have I been attentive to God in my midst and did I strive to bring God into the everyday actions and being of my life?

Each day we will answer these questions differently; but the hope is that over the span of many days we might be able to answer more affirmatively than not and ultimately, in the process, we will discover the transformative effects of faith lived out.

Part of those transformative effects can be seen in our children.  As parents and guardians, you bear the responsibility of nurturing the faith of your children. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. “You never know how a child will affect the way a family works.” My parents wrote to me this year. Yet, having another child simply expanded their capacity to love. 

As their letter filled in the blanks of my birth story, I realized that the big details were never a mystery. I may not have known how exactly I came into the world, but I already knew the faith, hope, and love they instilled in me by example.  That’s the gift and challenge you’ve been given as parents and are called to continue to give.  Even before your child could say “Amen” you said it for them. You made the same promises that your own parents, mentors, and god parents made for you… each day is a chance to better live those promises, to renew your baptismal call.

In a few moments, Fr. Bob will invite you to formally recall and renew those promises responding with the words “I do.”  As you do that, I hope you’ll think of those people who said “I do” for you and you’ll be aware that your response is not just for you, it is an example to your child too. As you travel the journey of this special year with your child, I hope you’ll remember the deep love from which you were called and recognize it is the same deep love to which you’ve been given.    

Let the Spirit live in you… The same Spirit that came down at Jesus’ Baptism. And take each step knowing you are beloved: called by name, gifted by Grace, and sent out to transform the world by affirming those promises each day with your life.

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