I recently celebrated a birthday. There were plenty of years I did not celebrate it – not because of any reason other than I was not with a group of people for whom it was a memorable date. As best I can remember all the birthdays between high school graduation and leaving the service of the US Navy passed by without notice from those with whom I lived. A lot of the time I was at sea and spent my birthday on watch. I know the date was in my personnel file. But I only remember celebrating the Commanding Officer’s birthday and that was because his wife had bribed the Supply Officer to make it happen. Upon returning to dry land, there was always a stack of birthday cards and well wishes waiting for me. From family and close friends, people for whom my birthday was important. Every year they remember.
I am pretty sure you remember your birthday – as well, lots of friends and family members.
Ok – so what is the date of your baptism? And do you celebrate it? We friars celebrate birthdays, the date of solemn profession, and the date of our ordination. And those are all good things to celebrate, great things – but more important than our date of baptism? “…with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized….For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:39, 45).
I have to admit I did not think about it a lot – that is until I routinely baptized lots of folks – newborns and grey-haired seniors. I am always struck by the word of reception, “I claim thee for Christ.” Nikudai kwa Kristu in Kiswahili. The verb kudai is a powerful word spoken by chiefs and magistrates. Not said lightly because it is binding. It is the start of the words that forever bind you to Christ.
Philip Neri, whose feast we celebrate today, understood that. Despite his privilege and possibilities he was drawn to serve the poor of Rome and patients discharged from hospitals but who were still too weak for labor. He moved from Florence to Monte Cassino and lastly to Rome to serve, living out the baptism with which he was baptized.
Even if we can’t recall the date of our baptism, may we live out our baptismal vows as did St. Philip Neri.