| By Father Dwight Ezop

The Power and Joy of Baptism

Baptizing infants or young children is one of the joys of ministry. The look of hope and joy on the faces of parents and sponsors can be emotional. The funny or surprised look on a child’s face as the water is poured can be a precious moment. Sometimes an infant might sleep through the entire celebration, while at other times a child might be very much awake and more than happy to take part with babbles and tears. In the end, when an infant or child is baptized, parents are making the most important choice possible in sharing the gift of faith with their child.

With the presence of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults in our parish communities, the experience of baptizing adults has become more common. While the sacrament of baptism is the same for both an infant and an adult, the experience can be very different when an adult is making the conscious choice to be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Across nearly 30 years of priesthood, I have been graced to baptize dozens of adults, and each of those experiences has been special. Many of them are memorable. One, in particular, will always stand out to me.

A number of years ago, I met Mike (not his real name) as part of the group of catechumens—adults seeking to be baptized—in the parish I pastored at that time. Mike was pretty memorable. Each week, as the group gathered, Mike always sat a bit apart. He seemed to be very uneasy about being there. Mike often had a glower on his face, making it pretty clear that he was unhappy. He also had an intimidating physical presence. The tattooed “sleeves” on his arms combined with an ever-present ball cap and a frowning face to make Mike’s thoughts pretty clear … or so I thought. 

As the months of the catechumenate process unfolded, I came to understand Mike in a very different way as he shared some of his story. He eventually began to warm up and open up to the process of growing in faith. Personal sharing is often a part of the catechumenate process, and Mike eventually shared that his childhood had been rough and that as a young person he had struggled with a variety of addictions. Eventually, he found support groups to help him to overcome them. He married and with his wife, they had started a family. Together, they had discerned that they wanted to raise their family with faith, and thus they had sought out the Catholic Church. Mike had never been raised with faith, and so the experience of the catechumenate process was completely new to him and was, at times, almost overwhelming. Each time the group met, he was learning about the power of God’s love for him, and that kind of unconditional love had been pretty rare in Mike’s life.

Eventually, the day arrived. At the Easter Vigil, we gathered the adult catechumens at the church’s large baptismal font. Mike was the last of the adults to be baptized. The size of the font allowed adults to step into a large baptismal pool, and as Mike entered the font, he bowed his head and I baptized him. As the last of the water was poured, Mike kept his head bowed, looking intently at the water at his feet. We stood there together for a quiet moment, and then Mike said, “Father Dwight, that water should be black.”  

Mike had rightly grasped the power and impact of baptism. His sins, his anger, his resentment, and everything else he had displayed in the months leading up to that night had been washed away by God through the power of baptism. We embraced, and then Mike stepped out of the font as a new creation. He was a changed person from that day forward. A smile replaced his glower, and Mike had a noticeable ever-present joy and confidence. Praise God for the regenerative power of baptism.

Infant baptism is beautiful and filled with joy. It provides a child with the gift of a solid foundation of faith at the very beginning of life. The baptism of adults has a unique and powerful meaning both for those being baptized and for those of us fortunate enough to be able to share that sacrament. I will always treasure the experience of Mike’s baptism and his reaction. It is a definitive statement of God’s power and action at work in the simple gift of water and the Word. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.

Father Dwight Ezop is the editor-in-chief of FAITH Magazine and pastor of St. Mary Parish, Charlotte and St. Ann Church, Bellevue.