February 18, 2016
A Very Important Date
February 26th is a very important day for me.
No, it’s not my birthday. That was two weeks ago and, at sixty-six, birthdays become less and less exciting!
No, it’s not the date of my ordination as a priest, or even a bishop, as significant as those events were.
No, it’s not the anniversary of my appointment as your archbishop, as high an honor that was, nor of becoming a cardinal.
What is it, then?
It’s the 66th anniversary of my Baptism!
On that Sunday, my dad, (mom, as was custom those days, less than three weeks after my birth, did not come), my Godfather, Robert Nathe, and my Godmother, Lois Radcliffe, brought me to Immaculate Conception Parish in Maplewood, Missouri, (where they had also all been baptized!) The pastor, Father John Ryan, christened 9.2 pound (yes, heavy even back then!) Timothy Michael Dolan—and my life was dramatically transformed.
Telling you about this is a relief, because, just five weeks ago, Pope Francis, on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, gave us all some homework: to find out the date of our Baptism. Assignment completed, Holy Father!
What happened to me that cold Sunday in the back of church?
Our Faith tells us that I was born again. Three weeks prior, I was born a child of two wonderful parents, Bob and Shirley Dolan, as they started their natural family.
On February 26, 1950, I was re-born, by water and the Holy Spirit, as Jesus Himself mandated, as a child of God, a member of another family, a supernatural one, called the Church.
At my first birth three weeks earlier, I had a body, blood, oxygen, and human life. As of my christening on February 26, I was reborn a member of Christ’s Body, the Church, redeemed by His own blood, breathing the Holy Spirit, and had the very life of the Most Blessed Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the gift of sanctifying grace, teeming in my soul.
On February 6, I had entered a creation that was tragically, due to what we call Original Sin, at odds with God. Not after February 26, when God’s grace washed that stain away in my soul.
Thanks to great folks and an expanded family, all of whom would celebrate that happy day after the ceremony back at our little house, I was promised at birth a lot of love, a good upbringing, a fine education, and reasonable success and happiness in whatever number of years I might have on earth.
But on the day of my Baptism, I was given by God the promise of everlasting life, mine to claim, or mine to ignore or refuse.
Before February 26, Satan had a bit of a claim on me; at my rebirth, Father Ryan told him, “Go to hell.”
As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago used to say, “On Judgment Day, Jesus will not be interested in our passport or green card, our diploma or stock portfolio, our resume’ or awards...He will be very interested in our baptismal certificate!”
No wonder Pope Francis wants us to celebrate the day of our christening! (I’d invite you all over for a beer to celebrate on February 26, but I gave it up for Lent.)
I reflect on all this, not just because my own anniversary of spiritual rebirth nears, or because the Holy Father asked us to do so, but, because it’s Lent!
The conclusion of Lent, our goal, is Easter Sunday. At Mass that glorious day, right after the gospel and sermon, we’ll be invited to renew the promise our parents and godparents made for us on that sacred, dramatic day of our baptism. Then we’ll be sprinkled with the Easter water blessed the night before at the Easter Vigil.
A classical way of viewing Lent is as a preparation for the renewal of our baptismal promises and identity at Easter. Thus, for forty days do we battle—by prayer, self-denial, and charity—the sin in our lives that makes us at odds with the light, life, goodness, grace, and intimate unity with God that became our own on the day of our christening.
For almost all of us, the day of our spiritual rebirth, Baptism, is not part of our consciousness; then again, neither was the day of our birth!
For well over a thousand older children and adults in our archdiocese, our beloved catechumens, it will indeed be very conscious, as they are now in the final weeks of what has been an eight-month process of preparation for spiritual rebirth as they are baptized, confirmed, and receive their first Holy Communion on Holy Saturday.
What a grand example they are to all the rest of us, as we see their seriousness and excitement in anticipation of the greatest event of their lives, and are reminded to rekindle the grace of our own baptism this Lent!