Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Happy Rebirthday!

I thought that I'd said enough about birthdays a few weeks ago when I turned 47. At the risk of calling a bit more attention to myself, I'll share with you something even more important. Today is my rebirthday, that is, the anniversary of my baptism into Christ and his Church. This is surely more important than the simple animal fact of physically leaving the womb and entering the world.

We seem to have it all wrong. We all know and celebrate our birthdays, but how many of you celebrate (or even know) the anniversary of your rebirthday? To be born is no great thing; everybody does it. But to be born again (or born "from above"; there's a play on the Greek word in the Gospel) of water and the Spirit is marvelous indeed: it makes you eligible for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven!

I'm not sure why I celebrate my birthday anyway (I don't do or expect much of anything). As the saying goes, I didn't ask to be born. But if my brain were functioning at a level somewhat beyond that of a newborn, I would have asked to be reborn in baptism right away. Thankfully, my parents understood my inchoate intentions and had me baptized in less than a month after my entry into this cold, cruel world. That's the first and perhaps best thing they ever did for me. (That's not me in the picture, by the way; I'm just a bit more prudent about how I present myself to the public.)

In the Byzantine tradition, the Church does not quibble about whether or not you have the ability to decide for yourself on the issue of the sacraments of initiation. The Church knows that it's the only thing that really matters, in time and in eternity, so to prevent us from stupidly avoiding reception into the Church at a later, more corrupt and rebellious age, she snatches us from the hand of the devil right away. At whatever age a person is baptized (even as an infant), he is also chrismated (confirmed) and given Holy Communion (just a drop of Precious Blood for those with no teeth and newborn brains). So we're off to a good start.

It's rather silly to deprive a child of the grace of the sacraments, throw him into the world with its myriad seductions and deceptions, and then say, "He'll have to decide for himself whether or not he wants to be baptized." I can't think of anything more foolish or spiritually dangerous. If you love your child, you will give him or her a fighting chance, at least, to make the right choices when the time comes, by immersing them in the grace of God through holy baptism as soon as possible. But if you withhold the grace of the sacraments while you wait--and be clear on this, the world is not going to withhold its enticements and snares--then you deliberately place your child at a disadvantage, for you refuse to arm the child with grace against the world, the flesh, and the devil. So get those kids to the sacraments before the world claims them by default!

To all who were baptized on this day I wish a happy rebirthday. Let us try to think of the things of God and celebrate the more important events. I'm looking forward to my eternal rebirthday, when the Lord makes all things new as He mercifully receives me into the Kingdom of Heaven. I'll celebrate that one forever!