Father Patrick Griffin continues his series, Considering Consecrated Life, with a reflection on “A Consecrated Life.”
For most of my ministry, I have been an educator or an administrator, and usually some mix of the two. I have never been a full-time parish priest, though for periods of time I have helped out. Consequently, my opportunities to celebrate some of the sacraments have been limited. A priest in a busy parish might baptize and marry and bury more people in one month than I have done in a lifetime. (One of our missionaries, Fr. Pedro Opeka, baptized 200 people last Sunday!) Thus, when the privilege to lead a Christian community in one of these sacraments arises, I jump at the chance.
Two weeks ago, I baptized a child in the St. Thomas More Church on the campus of St. John’s University. The infant girl was the child of two former students who wanted to return to alma mater for this blessing. I prepared myself for the event and was ready on the big day.
As all of you, I know that the heart of this sacrament rests in the pouring of the water and the saying of the words. I recognize all the wondrous symbols which surround this action and prayer—the light, the garment, the touching—but one element stands forth for me: the anointing with the chrism. I like to pour a small quantity of this holy oil onto my palm and at the appointed time, apply it to the child’s head. It only takes that small amount to make the head glisten and its scent begins to be discernible.
I think that it is the scent which offers the great attraction for me. It smells special, not simply like a perfume or flower. For the rest of that day, I can catch that essence on my hands, and I remember the baptism. At the celebration of the sacrament itself, I invite the parents to rub the chrism into the child’s skin, and I remind them, and all present, to smell the child during the day and let it remind them of the holiness of this daughter of God.
The sacrament of baptism receives its completion in confirmation which accentuates our personal willingness to accept and live our faith. Again the chrism appears. For a few, the chrism comes forth once more in ordination. In each of these sacraments, the holiness of the recipient receives emphasis as well as the holiness of the mission to which each is consecrated. One does not simply see and feel this summons, but can even inhale it!
Our sisters, the Daughters of Charity describe their ministry and vocation as a fulfillment of their baptism.
The Daughters of Charity, in fidelity to their Baptism and in response to a divine call, give themselves entirely and in community to the service of Christ in their brothers and sisters who are poor, in an evangelical spirit of humility, simplicity and charity. (C. 7a)
In the yearly profession of vows, they also renew the baptismal promises by which they first were recognized as “children of God and heirs of heaven.”
Each member of the Vincentian Family—as all Christians–bears a consecration to God, and (often) from the earliest period of his/her life. Our baptism marks us as holy and belonging to God. The baptism of a child reminds us of our covenanted relationship and the responsibilities which accompany that gift. We remember the invitation to live out our commitment in regular worship and service. We witness once again that we are members of a community and that we have an obligation to support and care for our marginalized brothers and sisters. We can still feel the oil upon our foreheads and even discern its fragrance as we recall our first and most important consecration.
The title “Christ” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both mean “the Anointed One.” Jesus is the preeminent “consecrated one.” As his followers, through our baptism, we take up his mission and his ministry. We are consecrated to this purpose.