This coming Saturday, we will celebrate the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist. St. John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus, and is most well-known for baptizing Christ in the Jordan River. The baptism of Jesus signaled the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Although this Saturday we will recall St. John the Baptist’s death, by recalling his ministry of Baptism we are given the opportunity to reflect on this important sacrament.
If someone mentions baptism, I’m sure the first image we all conjure is one of a small baby, clothed in a white gown, surrounded by their parents and godparents, getting baptized. Indeed, this is the most common association of the sacrament. I’m sure most of us don’t remember our own baptisms, as our parents and godparents make baptismal promises for us and undertake the responsibility of raising us in our Catholic faith. However, infant baptism, while certainly the most recognizable form of the sacrament, is not the only point at which a person can be baptized. At the Easter Vigil, we often are witness to the baptisms of those who are entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). These new Catholics have been preparing for months to enter the Church and receive the Sacraments of Initiation, and the joy of their baptism is evident on their faces as they are cleansed in the waters.
When we are baptized, we receive symbols of our initiation into the Church community: water which cleanses us from Original Sin; a white garment demonstrating outwardly our new life in Christ; Chrism oil which strengthens us for life ahead; and a candle lit from the Easter candle symbolizing the light of Christ. These symbols of our Catholic identity are symbols that have been a part of baptism for centuries. If you’ve attended a Mass of Christian Burial, you may have noticed a reference to baptism in the funeral rite: the pall. A white cloth covers the casket of the deceased, and at the beginning of the funeral Mass, the priest notes that, “In the waters of baptism the deceased died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he or she now share with him eternal glory” (Rites of Committal for the Order of Christian Funerals #305A). Throughout our lives, we are called to remember our baptisms, and the symbolism of a funeral pall brings us full circle from the new life we celebrate at baptism to the eternal life we attain in death. As we recall the Passion of St. John the Baptist this weekend, I invite you to take a moment to recall the baptismal promises that we make in the Rite of Baptism:
Do you reject Satan?
And all his works?
And all his empty promises?
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To light, to guard, to rule, and guide.
Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. The prayer above was one my mother taught me when I was a child, and even now I can easily recall it. She taught me to say it as I was going to bed, a reminder that my Guardian Angel would be watching me as I slept. Throughout Scripture, we see the importance of angels and their role as intermediaries between us and God. A prime example of this is the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce to her that she would give birth to the son of God. But, beyond the known archangels, we recognize the role of individual Guardian Angels. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that “from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their [angels'] watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God" (CCC, n. 336).
When I saw that today was the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, it got me thinking about this idea of a Guardian Angel, something I hadn’t thought about a lot as an adult. As children, many of us are taught about our Guardian Angel, who is continually watching over us. It’s a comforting thought, to think that there is a specific angel “assigned” to protect and watch over you…and only you! It’s creates a sense of security and safety, especially in the mind of a young child. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus alludes to these angels, remind us to “not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father”. (MT 18:10)
Now that I’m older, I certainly don’t think of a Guardian Angel in the same way. As a child I imagined an invisible person, following me around constantly to make sure nothing bad happened (which is a daunting task for anyone, but I pity the angel assigned to protect me, with my proclivity for clumsiness!). As comforting as the idea of an invisible protector seems to me now, I recognize the idea of a Guardian Angel as something different. Guardian Angels can be seen as a symbol of God’s enduring love for us. In the huge expanse of the human population it is often easy to feel insignificant. But the symbol of a Guardian Angel serves to remind us that God’s love is individual and complete! We were made in the image and likeness of God, and He truly loves each and every one of us on a personal level. So tonight, say a prayer to your Guardian Angel, remembering that God watches over you through these Angels, a sign of his unending Love!
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
This past Sunday, we celebrated Mother’s Day. This is an important day to remember the important role that our mother and mother-figures play in our lives. From aunts to grandmothers to friends, we all have many women in our lives that we can look up to. In my own life, my mother is a constant source of inspiration to me. Giving up a successful career to stay home with my siblings and I was a sacrifice she made joyfully. Raising the four of us could not have been an easy task, and I will always appreciate the happy home she created for all of us to come home to each day. She formed our faith and gave us the tools to go out and live that faith in our own individual ways.
One of the ways in which I enjoy participating in my faith is through serving masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Basilica is dedicated to the Blessed Mother, and throughout the entire building you can wander through chapels dedicated to her many titles. One of the priests of the Basilica always welcomes visiting pilgrimage groups with a short message about how if we let the Blessed Mother into our lives, she will bring us closer to her Son. He reminds each visiting group that by allowing Mary a place in our hearts, she will teach us and help us grow in our faith. On Mother’s Day this is a particularly applicable message as we remember our own mothers as well as the Blessed Mother.
Mary has a unique place in the Catholic faith. She is the Mother of God, born without sin, yet still one of us. Her willingness to say “yes” to God’s calling is one which we try to emulate in our lives every day. Mary demonstrates the important role a mother plays in their child’s life, even if that child is the Son of God. We see her gentle guidance in Jesus’ formative years, and it was through Mary’s prompting that Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Through Mary’s “yes” to God we are also reminded of the importance of answering our own vocations. Although it is often difficult to find our place in this world, the example of the Blessed Mother reminds us that saying “yes” is the greatest choice we can make.
As we have spent this past weekend celebrating the mothers in our lives, let us also remember the special place that the Blessed Mother has in our faith. She can help us find and say yes to God’s calling in our own lives. I will leave you with one of my favorite prayers to Mary:
Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary.
That never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, our sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto you, Oh Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
-Blessed Mother Theresa
Growing up attending Catholic schools my entire life, the life and teachings of Mother Theresa were always something that I was familiar with. There is something about an Albanian woman who gives up her life to serve the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta that makes people stop and evaluate their own lives. It’s incredible to imagine one person completely uprooting their own life and going to try to combat the extremes of poverty in India. Mother Theresa embraced Catholic Social Teaching on the dignity of the human person and went above and beyond in her ministry. In theory, we would all like to have as much of an impact as Mother Theresa. However, the average person today recognizes his or her own inability to make such an extreme lifestyle change. We are comfortable in our lives today and uprooting them like Mother Theresa did is something we are not prepared to do. Making a huge impact, while desirable, is not usually possible for most of us.
Even Mother Theresa recognized that her decisions were extreme, and not something most people are prepared to do. She knew that not everyone could do what she did with her life. Her words remind us that even if we can't make such an extreme life-change, we can still impact the world on a smaller, but still meaningful, scale.
In this last week, these words have taken on a deeper meaning for me. Having just finished over a week of training to be a Resident Assistant at my university. I am exhausted and excited, but mostly, inspired. One of the main points that our supervisors made during our training is that we as RA's have a tremendous impact in the smallest ways possible. Mother Theresa's words are a good reminder to me that being a presence with my residents is the most important thing I can do. Sometimes, all a student needs is someone to listen to them, no matter how insignificant their problems may seem. College students can make poor decisions, and the role of an RA is often to discipline those decisions and enforce rules that many of these students disagree with. We are seen as students with nothing better to do than get our residents in trouble. The reality is, I enforce the rules and document my residents because I care about them. I recognize that very often it will feel like a thankless task, my residents will blame me initially when their decisions result in disciplinary sanctions. But I hope that even when I do have to have these harder conversations and confrontations, they will eventually come to realize that I do my job out of love for them.
In our daily lives, we often forget how even the smallest gestures can make the most meaningful impacts. If we live our lives as Mother Theresa suggests, doing the small things with great love, our lives might have even more of an impact than we realize. In the gospel this past weekend, we heard the “greatest commandments” from Christ himself: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,39). Love can take many forms, and the smallest gestures can be the biggest examples of love.
Rebecca Ruesch is Blog Editor at the Catholic Apostolate Center.