By Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes
This is an excerpt from Bishop Gerald Barnes’ homily at the Diocesan Migration Mass, held at Sacred Heart Church in Rancho Cucamonga on January 12.
There’s a story about this priest who is baptizing a little six-month old infant who is sound asleep, through the questions through the anointing of the chest, through the recitation of the creed. The baby just slept and slept and slept. Well, then it was time to pour the water over the baby’s forehead and the baby woke up. He just woke up and the water flowed on the baby.
The priest was just amazed that the baby woke up just at that time. After the baptism was over and they were taking the customary pictures the priest tells the mother, “you know, I was just taken with how the baby opened its eyes just in the right time when I was going to pour the water.” And the mother said, “well, I squeezed the baby’s toes because I didn’t want the baby to sleep through his baptism.”
Unfortunately, many of us sleep through our baptism. Because our baptism is not just one event that happened when they took us to church and that water was poured on us. That baptism has made us who we are and we cannot sleep through it. The baptism that we receive gives us our identity. I may be Tongan or Korean or Chamorro, I may be an African-American or Portuguese-American or Mexican- American or Vietnamese-American. I may be from Indonesia or the Philippines, I may be from Guatemala or from Spain but when I am baptized I am first a Christian. Our baptism gives us our identity. Our baptism tells us where we fit because it makes us part of a new family. Our baptism tells us we belong to the Lord. We are his beloved daughters and sons. Our baptism tells us how we are to relate to each other. We are to relate in the way that Jesus taught us. Our baptism tells us what we are to do, it reminds us that we are loved, and we are not just loved on Christmas day when we get our gift, we are not just loved on our birthday when someone greets us, we are loved every day, every minute of our lives by our God. We are also his beloved children. That’s why we cannot sleep through our baptism.
Yet some of us know that there are people who feel unloved. There are people who don’t know where they fit. There are people who feel unimportant, there are people who feel lost, there are people who feel separated and hurt by others who are their brothers and sisters. Today, our Catholic Church calls us to focus on a special group of our brothers and sisters - those that are migrants, those that have had to leave their homes for whatever reason. Those that are here because of political problems and war and violence in their countries. Those that are here because of the economic disparity in their homelands. Those that are here because of persecution, because of their ethnicity, their pride, their gender, their status, their color. Those that are here because they simply want a better life for themselves and their families. The church today in this whole week, asks us as Christians to focus on these brothers and sisters, some of whom are in darkness, feel unloved and unwanted, are treated as second class, who are oppressed who are not equal. And so we come back to our baptism, we say, what do we do? Jesus’ baptism sent him on his mission because baptism puts you in movement. He did what he had to do starting on the day of his baptism. We are called to do what we must do and Jesus in the Gospel today tells John that everything has to be in its right order that there must be justice. Which is another way of saying; it must be according to what God wants.
And so we come once again to our immigrant brothers and sisters and we know that the will of God is that all people are treated equal. Our baptism tells us that all men and women all people have the dignity that God gives them and are to be treated with respect. Our baptism tells us that we must be there in solidarity especially with those that are still in darkness, because of oppression, because of injustice, because of inequality, because of prejudice and racism. Our baptism tells us that we must work to bring together families when unjust laws separate families. Our baptism tells us that we must be there to work, to right the laws that are unjust and that this time we focus on the unjust laws in our own country that treat immigrants as second class, and that willfully separate families. You and I are called to go into that darkness to bring out of the darkness our brothers and sisters who are hurting just because of where they came from and just because our laws do not permit them to enter our country in a dignified way. We have been sent in mission because of our baptism and that is why we are involved in the reformation of the laws of immigration in this country. So as a Church we celebrate the victories that we have had and we are grateful for the politicians that have worked with us and are beginning to address, especially in our state, some of the unjust laws especially towards our young people. We are grateful to God for helping to change the mind of some of our politicians that are working with us and see the importance of the dignity of the human person and we work with others to advocate further change especially at the national level for a complete comprehensive immigration reform for everyone.
Why do we do this? Because we’ve been baptized into Christ.
Don’t sleep through your baptism, If you know somebody who’s sleeping, pinch their toes so that they wake up and live who they are as baptized children of God.