Thursday, January 16, 2020


Gossip is an assassination attempt by a coward. 
Jules Feiffer, playwright

What would happen if we declared our homes, our relationships, our lives a gossip-free zone? 
Words have the power to destroy, but they also have the power to heal. Why not adopt the spiritual practice of good-mouthing people behind their backs to see what happens? 

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

He went about doing good and healing those oppressed
 by the devil, for God was with him.
Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38

2020 is a very special year for me. I will be celebrating my 50th anniversary as a priest. I was ordained right here in this Cathedral at the hands of Archbishop McDonough fifty years ago this coming May 16. (Yes, we will have a celebration here at the Cathedral that weekend and you are invited.)

As important as that ordination is for me, it is not as important as this year’s 76th anniversary of my baptism at the hands of my country midwife grandmother, right there is the bed a few minutes after she helped me come into this world on April 28, 1944.  This year is also the 66th anniversary of my Confirmation at the hands of Bishop Maloney, down in my home parish in Rhodelia in 1956. Here, I am reminded of something Bishop Maloney used to say all the time. “My baptism was more important than my ordination as a bishop!”  

What is so special about my own special three days, is that they are the days when I committed myself to “going about doing good” and “healing those oppressed by evil,” as the Acts of the Apostles said about Jesus.  Let me be clear! These three anniversaries are not some personal sentimental nostalgic moments, they are days when I made serious commitments that I plan to keep, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do I part – the commitments to “go about doing good” as an ambassador of Christ! In the same sense, your baptisms are more important than your marriages!

In a few minutes, I will baptize another beautiful baby.  Today this baby will commit to be a partner with Jesus in “going about doing good” and “healing those oppressed by evil.” The baby’s parents and godparents will speak for this child and teach this child to honor this commitment until Confirmation when she will personally take over the responsibility to live out this commitment.

Why do we baptize infants? We baptize infants because the practice of infant baptism has been a consistent tradition in the Church, both in the East and in the West, since the very beginning. It was challenged, of course, during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century when the practice of adult or “believer baptism only” was adopted. That was  just 400 years ago. The practice of infant baptism precedes that by about 1500 years. 
The Scriptures, of course, say very little about infant baptism because the New Testament Scriptures were written at a time when adult Jews and Gentiles were being converted to Christianity. However, there are several passages in Scripture where we are told that “whole households” were baptized. The stories about Stephanas, Cornelius, Lydia and the Philippian jailer are cases in point. The language of the New Testament was Greek and the word used when “whole households” were baptized is oikos which has traditionally included infants. There are no examples in secular or Biblical Greek of the word oikos being used which would restrict its meaning only to adults.  

Even more amazing are some of the extent writings outside the Scriptures. Hippolytus, in his manuscript “Tradition of the Apostles,” writing 1800 years ago, only about 100 years after the Gospel of John was written, describes, in detail, a typical baptism in 215 AD.  It is amazingly close in detail to what we will do here again today. Listen to his 1800 year old description of a baptism.

At dawn a prayer shall be offered over the water. Where there is no scarcity of water the stream shall flow through the baptismal font or pour into it from above. If water is scarce, then use whatever water is available. Baptize the children first; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them. Next baptize the men and last of all the women.

It goes on to describe the anointings, the rejection of Satan and the profession of the Creed.   Remember, he is describing the way baptisms were celebrated in the church 1800 years ago!

Writing a few years later, Origen wrote this:“The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants.” For the Apostles…knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.” 

What we do here today is not very much different from what was done at baptisms very, very early in the church: rejection of sin, profession of faith, the pouring of water, anointings for men, women and children in the presence of a congregation!

Let me point out a couple of things that are especially important in the baptismal ritual. (1) Even though parents and godparents “speak for the child” in infant baptisms, they are asked point blank, “Do you accept the responsibility of training the child in the practice of the faith?” The emphasis is on training the child in the practice of the faith! How sad it is when parents and godparents bring their children for baptism without themselves practicing the faith or being seriously committed to training the child they present for baptism in the practice of that faith! It can be a lie of sorts, especially when they stand there holding that baby while they publicly renew their own baptismal vows! (2) We do this baptism in public, in the presence of the whole community, because we are all responsible to be that supporting community where the Christian ideal is lived out and in which this child will be raised. In that sense, there is no such thing as a “private” baptism.

(3) When the child is anointed on the top of the head with the perfumed oil called chrism, the same oil used in the coronation of kings and queens of old and used even today to anoint the hands of priests when they are ordained, poured on the heads of bishops when they are consecrated and used to anoint the baptized at Confirmation, they are designated as royal children of God and royal heirs to his kingdom.  

(4) The words used when a lighted candle, taken from the big Christ candle, is handed to the parents is quite pointed. “Your child has been enlighted by Christ. He or she is to walk always as a child of light. This light is temporarily entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. We pray that, someday, he or she will still be carrying that light when they go out to meet Christ along with all the saints.”

Finally, my fellow baptized members of the church, as we bring yet another member into the church through baptism, please pay attention to the questions I asked the parents and godparents. Think of your own baptisms. Think of the times you have served as godparents. Was it just a cute ceremony or was it a real commitment to “go about doing good” and “heal those oppressed by evil” as our second reading today put it? Let’s use this day, and this occasion, to recommit ourselves to “go about doing good” and “healing those oppressed by evil” realizing that in Baptism “God is with us!”