I Saw Love Reveal Itself in Vocations and Baptisms

I expected a look of shock, and maybe some tears. At the very least I thought he’d wince. My hand was shaking a little. What would he think? There’s no way he’d remember this, right? I knew I would though.

***

I met my friends when we were freshmen in college. By the grace of God (acting through some random Residence Life staffer) we were all assigned to the same floor in our freshman dorm. They started dating about the same time I started seriously discerning joining the Jesuits. She was accepted to law school about the same time I was accepted to the novitiate. They moved to Ann Arbor. I moved to Syracuse.

By the time they got engaged, they had moved to Boston. I had moved to New York City. They decided that they wanted to be each other’s adventure companion for life. My daily adventure was teaching high school boys about morality and the Bible. All three of us knew we’d found something worth hanging on to.

I did one of the readings at their wedding and cried a little. We danced a lot and celebrated well into the wee hours of the morning. He started grad school. I moved to Boston and did the same.

I knew she was pregnant before they told me. Your best friend can’t just refuse a cold beer on a hot August day and not expect you to get suspicious. I knew they’d been talking about starting a family. The beer really gave it away though.

The next eight months weren’t all smooth. There were doctor visits, tests, and a global pandemic. But they got through it together, and I was grateful to be along for the ride.

I stood at the bottom of their steps on May 1st holding a couple bags of groceries. They stood just inside the door. She was holding their three-day-old son. My nephew. It was love at first sight.

***

Seven of my Jesuit brothers and I were ordained as deacons on September 20th. I’m helping out at a great parish in South Boston and have been incredibly grateful to dive head first into ordained ministry. I love preaching, assisting at Mass, and chatting with parishioners. But the baptisms have been the highlight.

Kids are involved, so something is almost guaranteed to go off-script, and it’s entirely guaranteed to be joyful, memorable, and holy.

There was the little girl who, seeing me hand her sister’s godparents a baptismal candle, interrupted, “I want a candle too!” Another day the family decided to improvise their answers to the renunciation of sin and the profession of faith. 

ME: Do you reject Satan? 

THE PARENTS: Absolutely!

ME: And all his works?

THE PARENTS: Mmhmm!

ME: And all his empty show? 

THE PARENTS: Sure do!

And then there was the baby boy who, seeing my hand outstretched to anoint him, lunged his head forward and rinsed the oil off my thumb in a flood of drool. The parents and I laughed. I resolved to tell the story to my housemates later. The children became members of the Body of Christ. And we’re all holier for it.

***

I’m utterly convinced God calls each and every one of us to the exact same vocation: to love. The way in which God calls us to love is a much trickier question to figure out and a more winding road to walk. My friends’ path to marriage and parenthood started about the same time as my journey to ordination. We’ve been walking together (both literally and figuratively) for the entirety of our adult lives. 

At 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, September 21st, our shared journey found us, along with a few friends and family members, at the parish where I’d just finished giving my first homily. I hadn’t been ordained for a full 24 hours yet. We gathered around the font.

I glanced up at my friends. What would our 18-year-old selves say if they knew that this moment was where this path of life and love would lead us? It’s tough to say which of the three of us would have been the most surprised by this scene. I prayed that their son, my nephew, would give and receive that much love – no, more, even more – as he began his life as a Christian. I plunged my hand into the water and started pouring.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I still struggle to find words to explain what it meant, baptizing my best friends’ son as one of the first things I did after ordination.

There was no look of shock, no surprise, no tears, not even a whimper. Just love.

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