In a society that is profoundly secularized and where the Catholic Church loses the faithful at the same rhythm as the trickle of water drips into the sink, there are still people who get married and children who are baptized and make communion, but many times these celebrations have lost all of their liturgical meaning. In the worst case scenario, we have allowed the evangelical content of the sacraments to be absorbed and ruined by ultraconservative groups which have little or nothing to do with the message of commitment and justice of Jesus of Nazareth.
My partner and the father of my son is not a believer. He has always respected my Christian beliefs and we have dialogued and debated a lot about religious matters and how they overlap with public space, politics and education, etc. We have had long and comprehensive talks on the subject, but in the strict sense I don’t know if he defines himself as atheist, or, perhaps, as agnostic, a sympathizer of the historic Jesus of Ellacuria and a fan of the encyclicals of Pope Francis. I, on the other hand, confess that as a feminist I don’t expect anything to come out of the papacy or from the clericalism that rules in the Church. I think that the greatest transformations have to come from the base, but that would be something quite different and the subject of another article.
With all of these “buts” on the table, some months ago we decided to baptize our child who at that time was more than a year and a half old. He was no longer a baby as is usually the case. The decision was on “stand by” because it required a long process of discernment which was interrupted – with a wink to Metz – by other events when Jaume Flaquer, a Jesuit, friend and my work companion at Cristianisme i Justicia for nine years, told me that they were transferring him to the Department of Theology in Granada.
After the initial sadness, and the displeasure and the anger which I don’t deny, I went on to acceptance. And when I shared the news with my partner, he said to me, “Didn’t you want to baptize Ézaro? Well then, Jaume has to do it before he leaves.” The reason for this very clear designation has to do with the fact that Jaume was one of the first people, outside of the family, who came to welcome our newborn son into the world one or two days after the birth, on a scooter, at night, outside of the visiting hours and in the midst of the disturbances of October, 2019, in Barcelona. And that is not something you forget. Without a doubt, it had to be him.
I was educated in the Institución Teresiana and for me, faith has always been closely linked to the struggle for justice, principally from the point of view of the feminist movement and that of the culture of peace, which have been the focus of my action/investigation for the last 15 years. “Justice that grows out of faith”, like the title of that marvelous book from 1982 that was written by Victor Codina, J. I. Gonzalez Faus, Josep M. Rambla, Xavier Alegre and other Jesuit theologians and which continues to be incredibly still valid after 40 years. This is my faith. It is what aides in the building of a world that is more just, equitable and habitable, a world where many worlds might fit in, as the followers of Zapata in Chiapas affirmed and continue to affirm. It is the faith, of course, which was transmitted to us by Jesus and which makes me a believer in spite of the institutional Church, because, as St. Teresa of Avila said, “these are not times for everyone to believe, but rather for those you might see who conform to the life of Christ,” be they religious or lay, Christians or atheists.
So, a few days before the celebration, Jaume asked me which readings I wanted for the ceremony. He told me to think about what meaning we wanted to give to the baptism. I remember that we were in the hallway of Cristianisme i Justicia and that I was headed home to rest because the celebration was the next day and a few days before I had been diagnosed with acute bronchitis. I thought, “Oof! Which readings? How complicated! Aren’t they usually chosen by the priest?”
At night, Googling and repeating to myself that question about meaning, I remembered some passages from the Bible that perfectly expressed what I wanted, a fragment of Psalm 72 and a little bit from the Gospel of Matthew that say the following:
“Let the mountains and hills
Bring a message of peace for the people.
Uprightly, he will defend the poorest,
He will save the children of those in need,
And crush their oppressors.
Like sun and moon he will endure,
Age after age,
Welcome as rain that falls on the pasture,
And showers to thirsty soil.
In his days virtue will flourish,
A universal peace till the moon is no more.”
(Fragment of Psalm 72)
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out and be trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.”
Well, now what was missing was the first reading, but now my brain was not going to give up anything else. So, with the psalm, Jaume chose a reading from the prophet Ezekiel, a devastating critic of corrupt and unjust political leaders, who at a given moment says, “Woe to you, shepherds of Israel, who only take care of yourselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds take care of their flock? You drink the milk, you dress yourselves with the wool and you slaughter the fattest lambs, but you do not take care of the flock. You don’t strengthen the weak sheep, you don’t care for the sick nor cure the wounded, you don’t go after the one who loses its way nor look for the one who is lost. On the contrary, you treat the flock with cruelty and violence.”
Peace, goodness, light, denunciation of injustice, hope. This is the goal and the meaning that we wanted to give to the sacrament of baptism for Ézaro. No ritual empty of significance and full of paraphernalia, but rather the firm passing on of a faith of open arms, committed to others in all of their diversity. A faith marked by love and empathy, in dialogue with other ways of contributing to the action of the ruah which come out of other spiritualities, beliefs and convictions, inside and outside of religion, a faith that has its feet on the ground and which finds God in all things.