The cold air that hit my face as I exited the bus was a mercy of sorts as I filled my lungs with it and felt the car sickness that had plagued me for the two hour drive subside. (Note to future self: eating only chocolate cake and thick, European hot chocolate for breakfast, while delicious, is a terrible, terrible idea).
This quiet, little wintry town was our last stop on our Poland pilgrimage before returning to the old Carthusian monastery that we called home. Almost as soon as everyone was off the bus, the entire group–close to 200 students, several nuns, a few professors, and two RDs erupted into a snowball fight which spanned several blocks of the small village as we walked to its center. We passed colorful homes blanketed in snow that were knit close together like a beautiful patchwork quilt. I knew that the saint who had called this town home was laughing as he watched this joyful scene unfold.
Spheres of the soft powder flew left and right, over the heads of talking groups of girls and into the heads of the men who had momentarily be transported into a battle of epic proportions. A feisty nun had wrangled a wooden sword, a souvenir from another day’s adventure from its owner, only to chase him to the front of the pack. No one knew why, but we were all too full of giggles to be concerned. Our jubilation was palatable as we passed a small outdoor ice skating rink, or perhaps it was just the scent of the famous treats sold by the small bakery up the road.
Even in the dead of winter, the world came alive once more, as the loud, laughing hoard moved through the town like a single body, a microcosm of the Church we loved. Each steps chanted: We are the youth of the Pope. The town beaming with pride for their pope, their saint–John Paul II, welcomed us with open arms.
I headed straight toward the church. I was on a mission.
Mass was in session as I entered, so I walked quietly and reverently around to the small side altars and prayed by a few holy images. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Church stood the reason I had come–the baptismal font, no longer used by the parish, but a place of pilgrimage; for it was here, that then Karol Wojtyla entered the Catholic Church, an event that changed history.
I knelt down and prayed in thanksgiving for this man’s baptism; an event that shaped the Church, an event that touched even my life, decades later. Then I did something I had never done before, I prayed in thanksgiving for my own baptism.
For those of us who received the sacrament as an infant, we don’t often think about the significance or the magnanimity of this gift. It’s “the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through [it] we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission” (CCC 1213). Yet, if you are like me, you probably don’t give your baptism much thought until the one time a year you consciously renew your baptismal vows at Easter Vigil.
Those vows that our parents and godparents made on our behalf, that we declare every time we recite the Creed, were meant to permeate our whole being, having been claimed as a daughter or son of God. Do we live constantly in this spirit of adoption? I don’t.
This cleansing, which we should be reminded of every time we bless ourselves with Holy Water, that made us a new creature, an adopted son of God, who has become a partaker of the divine nature, member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit, often goes unnoticed.
We forget that we are chosen and called and that we were meant to choose and follow in return. If the baptism of a singular Polish child in the 1920s changed the course of history, imagine what we might be able to do if we lived in the spirit of our own Baptism.
Ben recently suggested that we renew our baptismal promises each morning before we leave the house for the day, and I can honestly, few things have so radically affected my spiritual life the way this small action has. I recommend it for you, dear reader. It reminds me that I am a daughter of God, and that I need to actively and intentionally respond to the call of my Father. It reminds us that Heaven is ours for the taking.