January 11, 2015
Baptism of the Lord
What does it mean to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit”? Well, that’s what it means to be a Christian − to have one’s entire life imbued with the Holy Spirit.
It was New Year’s Eve 1999 and I was alone in the rectory at the parish in Mississauga, Ontario. I was just settling down to watch Trading Places on television, when the doorbell rang. It was a man who wanted to see a priest and, No, it couldn’t wait . . . it had to be right now.
So I listened to him. And this is what he told me . . .
My sister is in the hospital. We think she is dying. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with her but they think that it’s cancer. To be honest, Father, she’s not a Catholic and she isn’t normally very religious. In fact, none of my family is. She was baptized as a child and she’s always been a good woman, but she’s never really been involved in any church. But she never forgot that she was baptized and that she is a Christian. And, now, she thinks she’s dying, so she asked me to find a priest or a minister or anyone to come and pray with her. Father, I’ve been to over a dozen churches, but they’re all closed and this is the first place I got an answer at the door.
Suddenly, my hope for a quiet New Year’s Eve seemed less important. So, I went to the hospital and found her to be very sick, and just about able to respond. I anointed her with the Sacrament of the Sick (one does not have to be a Catholic to be anointed) and prayed with her and her family. And after that, she fell asleep and passed away about twenty minutes later.
It seemed to me that this was someone in whom the Grace of baptism had clearly been at work in her throughout her life. Even in a very hidden and unrecognized way, the Holy Spirit had been at work in her throughout her life. And at the end of her life, when she most needed it, she was blessed with the Holy Spirit and had found peace with God, with the Church, and with her family.
I came away from her bedside with a promise to myself: I would never underestimate the power of the Grace of baptism.