“tired after Monday’s disappointing golf, I checked the voicemail. It was a woman’s voice “Sir, I would like to have my baby christened next Sunday.” I tensed. She didn’t even know my name. Neither was she aware of our “two month’s notice” requirement, or the need for the pre-baptismal talks. I fumed for a while before ringing back. ”look” I said “it’s not as easy as you think. Can you come round next week so I can fill you in on a few matters?” “no” she said “you’d better come round here.” I did. I came to her house in indignant mode. After all, rules are rules. There are diocesan regulations to be honoured, we cannot just go round, as we used to, baptising everything that moved. It is due to such mistakes in the past that only a fraction of Catholics practise their faith now. The young mother’s face was discoloured. She told me she was just out of hospital after a bad beating at the hands of her boyfriend. There was a sadness in her voice. Looking into the small cot with great love, & a sudden smile, she said “I do not want what happened to me, ever to happen to my baby. I feel she would be safe with your people.” We talked for a while, my heart melted. I promised to do what she wanted, to make it all as easy as possible for her, to protect her little daughter from whatever threatened her fragile presence in a precarious world. Maybe she had got it right & that is the true theology of baptism. Maybe the baby is in reasonably good shape on arrival, but then the people of Jesus gather round it to keep it safe from the unfriendly fire of a world that can no longer distinguish enemy from friend, to be purified nourished & kept safe from the smallness & closedness we call original sin. Baptism is such an exciting sacrament. It is about one of the most intimate moments in a family’s life, & yet is has too, the cosmic reverberations of the universal implications of the first Easter. The finest & most elemental symbols in the world are used with abandon, & the words & titles addressed to the child are spilling over with almost unbelievable wonder & light. Not so long ago, just as my thumb touched the newborn’s forehead to “claim her for Christ” the most beautiful smile spread across her sleepy features. It seemed to me as though that little heart was rejoicing for having found the completion it came to search for! Here is the magic of God in the magic of a baby. Here is infinite power in the vulnerability of a small child. Here is the divine essence in the dynamic fragility of a tiny frame. Baptism is Christmas, Passover & Pentecost rolled into one. This kind of ritual lifts us into another realm of being. It turns the world on its head. A dribbling baby is designated as the temple of the Holy Spirit, a very defenceless human being, who can neither read nor write, is called a divine priestess, a prophetess & a princess. I like to think of baptism as a kind of celebration of the senses, & I like to think of the senses as thresholds of the soul. There is a lovely moment in the baptismal ceremony when the priest touches the ear & mouth of the baby. He prays that she will never be destroyed by the poison of hate-filled talk. May the ears of her heart be ever allured by the music of God’s present moment, with its songs & stories. Touching her mouth, he prays that she will never use her gift of speech for anything but spreading love, encouragement, forgiveness & joy..& this, after all, is more or less what that young mother in my story was asking for her baby. A frightened child calls out to his mother during a night of nightmares. She rushes into his room & tries to comfort her crying son. “there is no danger” she reassures him “there are no ghosts or dragons here; you are well protected by your guardian angels & by my prayers. In fact, God is here to keep you safe.” the child will not be consoled. All her efforts were in vain. “can’t you see” he pleaded “I want something with skin on.” & of course, that is why God took a human body.” [Already Within; Fr Donal O’Leary]
Last weekend, traditionally a lowpoint for Mass attendance as so many are way on holidays, & particularly this year on staycations, thank you to those of you who kept the flame of faith alive for us, 8 at our Sat Vigil Mass, 22 at our Sunday 10am Mass & 7 at our 4pm Mass at Gilling. We are gradually lifting some of the covid restrictions which have kept us safe & reassured throughout lockdown. You are invited now to sit where you like, always aware of the social distancing advice; you don’t need to book in beforehand, but please do still sign in on our track & trace record, “just in case” a case is tracked back to us. Do please continue to wear your face mask in Church & maintain social distancing as you come forward to receive Holy Communion. A moment to thank, on behalf of us all, the few who have, throughout lockdown, sanitised the benches in Church after every Mass..six of you…great work for us all.
I have spoken with Fr Abbot our final Mass in Our Lady & Holy Angels, Gilling, & it will be on Sunday 5 Sept 2021 at 4pm. I have encouraged the parishioners there to be in touch with the many who, for all sorts of reasons, no longer come to Mass there, to invite them back so that we can celebrate the last Mass in our Church together. I was appointed Priest in Charge there for two spells from 1986 totalling 9yrs & I have been back with them now as Parish Priest for the final 18months, & I would like to be with them for the moment of closure. We expect a full Church with coffee/tea & buns afterwards. I would ask those of you from the wider Ampleforth parish to leave that 4pm Mass for the people of Our Lady & the Holy Angels please.
Our Community will be on Retreat next week from Monday 9 Aug to Sunday 15 Aug 2021, led by Abbot Gregory Polam, the Abbot Primate.