Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - 1529
Artist: Romanino Girolamo (ca 1484-ca 1559)
Just a few weeks ago I traveled to Brookline, Massachusetts to perform the Sacrament of Baptism for baby Leo. In the church of St. Mary of the Assumption there was genuine excitement of an adult level. In so many other instances where my priesthood has brought me to similar moments, an genuine emotion of joy pervaded the church or chapel, like incense.
Looking at Girolamo's rendition of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, I feel again some of the joy that we experienced at St. Mary's not just for baby Leo but for Justin and Beth who had brought their firstborn to be baptized. Of course both sets of grandparents could not have been happier seeing their first grandchild celebrated with the Sacrament of Baptism. So, what is there that brings about this particular experience of joy?
In the readings today we do encounter the reality of God's purifying people which we have read or heard read in some events of the Bible. And what is the purification going on in the artist's representation of Jesus' being presented? Perhaps we might consider in these baptismal moments that we adults encounter simplicity. It is the presentation of a child who is not weighed down with all the trappings that we adults have put upon our lives. In this moment do we not encounter the simplicity and power of God's love for each of us beginning with the one who really has not idea about what is about to happen when the words "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" are mixed with the simplest of possessions but the strongest of nature's reality, the waters of baptism?
Is the adult happiness not aroused in the hearts of those present because we encounter what we might find so difficult in our adult lives ... being free of any encumbrances? Is it not that we are seeing what it means to be free from the shackles we place upon ourselves ... simple words, simple water is all that is needed for us to open up the treasury of God's gifts to us?
The next time you are present for the baptism of a newly born child why not call to mind the Presentation of Jesus and the invitation it offers to you and me to give of ourselves to God in our simplicity and freedom from whatever holds us back from the love and mercy he offers to us?