When I was contacted by Sr. Madeleine Cleverly at Paraclete Press asking me to read and review Everything is Sacred: An Introduction to the Sacrament of Baptism by Thomas J. Scirghi, SJ, I eagerly agreed, thinking it would be an easy read that I could breeze right through. After all, I have been baptized, my children are baptized, what could I possibly not already know about baptism? It turns out that what I didn't know was quite a lot. The word "introduction" in the title threw me off because this book really was so much more than an introduction to the sacrament. Rather, it was an in-depth explanation about what it means to be baptized, about the importance of Christianity, and about how we are to live our Christian faith in order to draw more people to the sacramental life of the Church. In a day and age when church attendance of every Christian denomination is waning, this book is a very important read for all those who care about keeping the Christian faith alive.
The author offers an explanation of what it means to be baptized, of how this sacrament brings sanctity to all of our days, with these words: “The baptismal seal serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it indicates ownership or perhaps it would be better to say membership, as the newly baptized are made members of the Christian community…we know who they are and whose they are. This is not a magic spell promising that no harm will come to us. We are simply assured that God’s grace will overpower the evil we will encounter.”
His explanation of why Jesus, who was sinless, had to be baptized was enlightening: “…while Jesus committed no sin, he did carry with him the sins of humanity bearing upon himself the sins of the world. This is no empty gesture on Jesus’ part….Jesus' baptism foreshadows his crucifixion….to be baptized means to share in the passion of Jesus Christ.” He reminds us that “Christians pray through the cross, not around it or despite it.”
Everything is Sacred covers the basics of what a baptismal service looks like and then follows that with how important it is for all Catholics to support the newly baptized in their faith.The author offers suggestions on how to accomplish this, especially for those baptized through the RCIA process, such as to immediately involve the newly initiated into parish life in liturgical roles, spiritual retreats and social gatherings. He goes on to say that “The Christian vocation entails the responsibility of witness and support: witnessing to the presence of Jesus Christ, who is realized through prayer and work, and supporting one another when challenged by temptation and despair. Celebrating, challenging, consoling-all play a part in this activity of accompanying, which is the mission of us all.”
Scirghi fearlessly raises questions that some may have regarding baptism and answers them soundly. He addresses the cry of the politically correct in their desire to change God’s name from Father to something genderless and rationalizes the need to continue to pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as it enriches the relational quality of our faith. He answers questions about limbo and shares a beautiful prayer from the "Blessing of Parents after Miscarriage." He discusses whether or not it is better to baptize babies or adults, as well as clarifying who it is that may minister the Sacrament.
The book reaches the end with something that I had never heard of before and which I found to be nearly unbelievable and incredibly sad. Scirghi shares information about a recent trend among some to try to “undo” their baptism through ceremonies with hair dryers that symbolize the drying of the baptismal waters. It was absolutely heartbreaking to learn that someone would want to completely break with Christianity in such a way as to publicly display their hatred for the faith in a mock ceremony. Scirghi beautifully addresses the futility of these actions with these words:
"The seal of baptism cannot be undone because within the ritual of the sacrament the church acts in the name of God. The church acts for God. The church acts as God does in relation to human beings. The indelible bond of baptism cannot be undone; this undoing would contradict a fundamental belief of Christianity, namely, that God cannot and will not turn away from any person. The bond cannot be broken by God."
For those who think that they understand what it means to be baptized a Catholic Christian, I invite you to open the pages of Everything is Sacred and be challenged to discover anew the importance of this sacrament of initiation and how you can more fully live your personal vocation as a child of God.