When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
I recently had a very different sort of experience when I made a home visit to some parishioners. We always have extensive conversations before I give them Communion. This last visit, their grandson Randy was home after school. Even though he’s only in elementary school, he likes to talk to adults and always engages me. But this time, he really took me by surprise when he suddenly said, “Father Bill, I just want to thank you.”
My natural response was to ask, “For what, Randy?”
“Why, for baptizing me at church.” While I had not forgotten that he had asked on his own to be baptized, and that he had made his own declaration of intention during the service and stood up proudly at the font to receive baptism, I was surprised to hear how deep an impression that had made upon him. So, when the visit with his grandparents was winding down, and I opened my Communion kit and began to lay out the elements, Randy asked whether he could receive as well. “Of course you can,” was my response. “After all, you are just as much a member of the Church is anyone else here.” And so with deep seriousness, young Randy received Communion along with his grandparents.
I mention this story for two reasons. First, even as a priest who believes that his special duties as a priest are to administer sacraments, I sometimes forget how very special and powerful those sacraments can be. Not only for those such as shut-ins or the sick whose access to the Eucharist is more limited than those who can attend church regularly, but also for all who seek God’s grace in this formal way as they deal with private, personal struggles in their daily lives. Whether it is an encounter using recognized sacraments such as Holy Communion or the anointing of the sick for healing, or the other Christian actions which convey God’s grace, such as various forms of touch or laying upon of hands, shared prayer, or being present to hear the needs of another in Christ’s name – all of these are extraordinary in their own ways. And while the call of an ordained priest is specifically to administer sacraments, our belief in the priesthood of all believers affirms how many ministers of the Gospel there are among us and in how many ways God’s presence and grace are made manifest by our service to others.
Remember this, my brothers and sisters who are also called to ministry in the Spirit: that no act which shows the love of God is ever trifling or insignificant in God’s sight.
The other point I wish to make concerning Randy and his expression of thankfulness to me concerns humility. This child, still in elementary school, was cognizant that something important had happened at his baptism – and he was outwardly thankful for it. I’m not sure exactly what Randy had in mind by saying that. Clearly, he understood that he was now part of the Church. He understood that he had a place in that congregation, making him as much a member as any adult present. Did he have a theology that told him he had been “buried with Christ in a death like his and raised with him in a resurrection like his?” I am more than 50 years older than Randy and have had the benefit of seminary training, and I cannot fully comprehend that statement of Paul’s, yet I believe it and am humbled by my comprehension of it. Randy is still a child, and yet even with his child’s understanding, he knows that he belongs to Christ and can receive Communion with his elders because they are all in communion with God.
His only “mistake” is thinking that he should thank me for his baptism. True, I consider it a blessing to be the one to officiate at this holy moment when, through water and the Spirit, Randy was brought into Christ’s one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. But is to Christ alone, who through his death and resurrection made possible our new life in him, that we should all be thankful. Only by the grace of God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” and the self-giving sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ that we have the baptism which Randy, and I, and all Christians have received. If thanks are to be given, give them only to the Lord of Life, without whose grace we would not know but life truly is.