One of the most beautiful aspects of the Easter season is the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. It is a highlight of the Easter Vigil welcoming new believers at the font for Baptism or completing the sacraments of initiation through Confirmation and Holy Communion. These sacred mysteries are what the Risen Christ has given to the Church so that his saving work may continue in the world. For my brother priests and I celebrating the sacrament of Baptism in the Easter season and throughout the year is a beautiful gift as we rejoice with our people as they bring their children to the saving waters of this great blessing of new life that the Lord shares with and offers to us.
A couple of years ago I was reminded in a personal way about how Baptism opens the door for the reception of all the other sacraments and sets us forth in our journey of faith. Every winter when I visit my parents in Florida, we spend a few days in Ocala where my Uncle Sal and Aunt Eileen live. Uncle Sal is not only my dad’s oldest brother but he is also my godfather. It was my uncle who decades ago stood at the font of Baptism at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Brooklyn and made promises for me that I was not yet able to make for myself. Since he and my aunt lived for many years in Long Island I would be able to see them often and it was a great blessing to have my godfather living so close. I am grateful to my parents that they chose a man of faith who lived what he believed and was an example to me.
Over the last several years visiting my uncle and aunt in Florida, it became apparent that with age and some other medical issues my uncle’s health was declining. Every year there would be a little less he could do but it was good just to be with him and my family. Since my ordination, I would celebrate Mass in their home since they had become unable to get to church themselves. I would then anoint my parents and my uncle and aunt. What an enormous blessing to offer the sacraments to my family. Two years ago, while visiting them in March, it was clear that Uncle Sal’s health had taken a significant downturn and so when I celebrated Mass and anointed him I discreetly made sure to give him Last Rites, not just anointing. As I left the house, I hugged him and thought that this might be the last time that I would see him. I was right. On June 30 of that year he died. My parents and I flew down to Florida and I celebrated the Funeral Mass at their church. To offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for Uncle Sal was the greatest act of love that I could do.
During the Mass and in the days that followed, I was thinking about just how extraordinary this all was. It was because of what Uncle Sal did for me all those years ago at the font of Baptism which set me on the path to Holy Orders so that one day I would be able to offer him the sacraments that would prepare him for his journey to the Lord. Uncle Sal was there for me at the beginning of my life of faith so that I could be there for him at the culmination of his. There have been few events in my short time as a priest that have meant more to than what I was able to do for my uncle. I am grateful to my parents for choosing Uncle Sal as my godfather, I am grateful to Uncle Sal for what he did for me, and I am grateful to the Lord for allowing me to share in the gift of His Priesthood.