“Isn't there something we can do? Couldn’t you baptize her anyway?” I asked Father Mike when we met to make funeral arrangements for my infant granddaughter.
“No, Bunny, we don’t do that,” he said, not unkindly. “We don’t baptize someone after they are dead. We believe in baptism of intention," he explained. "If a baby dies before she is christened, if her family intended for her to be baptized, we consider her to be baptized. And,” he added, "She is, of course, in heaven.”
I wasn’t disturbed by Father Mike's response. I knew what I requested isn’t done, and I wasn’t concerned about where sweet baby Alden would spend eternity. It seems to me Jesus settled that question when he said, “Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” But, not everyone thinks that way.
My concern was for another whose tradition teaches no baptism, no heaven, no chance for a heavenly reunion. I observed firsthand the inconsolable grief that occurs when all hope for eternity dies. I considered mentioning I secretly baptized Alden when she was in the intensive care unit at the hospital(*), but I knew my confession would bring little, if any, comfort to a person who didn't acknowledge a lay person, and especially a woman, as a sanctioned baptizer.
So, on a brisk December morning, on the day that was to have been Alden’s christening, the family gathered instead at the cemetery for a simple graveside ceremony, our misery too personal, too fragile to endure a church service as we had for her mother only three months earlier. A small contingent of intimate friends averted their eyes when we took our places in chairs near the small white coffin. My grandson Spencer laid flowers on his mother’s grave only a few feet away from the seat he took behind me. I wondered how such a young life and tender soul could endure having lost so much--his mother, his home, and now his baby sister.
The sun glinted from the gold processional cross held high behind Father Mike who stood before us. A breeze swept across the gentle swell where we sat near a winter-bare tree. It tickled the fringe on Father Mike’s stole and played with the hem of his robe. When he began to speak, all who had respectfully kept their distance moved closer, as if to surround us with arms of unspoken sympathy.
I don’t remember the words Father Mike spoke that morning, but never shall I forget what he did. Father Mike pushed his robe aside and dropped to one knee beside little Alden. From a small crystal cruet, he poured water slowly over the tiny white coffin. Unable to cradle her in his arms he leaned close and embraced her with his voice. “Alden,” he spoke gently, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Like Jesus, who dared to heal on the Sabbath, Father Mike broke the rules. He did what he could to heal shattered hope, and, most of all, he taught us a lesson in grace—always, always, err on the side of mercy. Father Mike did more than conduct a funeral for a baby that sad December morning. Father Mike showed us Jesus.
The quality of mercy is not straineth, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the gentle place beneath. It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” ~William Shakespeare
“You can judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”~James D. Miles
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”~Hosea 6:6
--Is there someone in my life who has shown me mercy? What happened? What affect did it have?
--Is there some way I can show mercy to someone today?
(*) “The Sacred Secret,” November 3