Faith by proxy

Cartoon courtesy of Susie Lloyd & Ethan O'Connor

by Susie Lloyd

When I was 8 days old, my parents carried me to the baptismal font and gave me the gift of faith by proxy. Nobody asked me first.

My godparents were my oldest brother Jon and my grandmother. It was their job to recite my lines:

Priest: Do you renounce Satan?

Them/Me: I do.

Priest making sure: And all his works and all his empty promises?

Them/Me: Absolutely!

Then Grandma took off my tiny white bonnet and Msgr. Hayes pronounced the words of salvation as he poured water over my wrinkled brow: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Except that, in 1966, it went like this: “Ego te baptizo in nomine + Patris, et Filii, +, et Spiritus + Sancti.”If you don’t understand it, I didn’t either. But it worked.

It was the single biggest decision of my life, and I did not even get to make it. I am not complaining. You see, Baptism was not in myplans — not that I had any just then — but if I had, it wouldn’t have been. I am not the type to desire faith, go out and seek it, and then sell all that I have to possess it. Better people than I am do that.

God knew he’d have to give faith to people like me because I’d never get it any other way. The undeserving get it handed to us as an inheritance, like when Grandma gives you a silver platter with the family name engraved on it and says, “This has been in the family for generations. It is priceless. Treasure it, and don’t hock it at the nearest junk dealer, kid.”

On that bright August day, I had no clue of the value of what I’d been given, but my soul was changed forever. The people who gave faith to me surrounded me, smiling, quite pleased with themselves, and with me. Who were they? My family. Mom, Pop, Grandma, my five brothers, my two sisters. They were the ones chosen to teach me who God is and who I am.

I was the latest in a long unbroken line of conversions by proxy

At that moment I was the latest in a long unbroken line of conversions by proxy. My parents received the faith from their parents. Their parents received it from theirs. And so on. I would grow up Catholic and, for many years, take this faith for granted.

But if you imagine back far enough in your family history to a time before your ancestors had faith or were in danger of losing it by force or of giving it up for reasons of convenience, you begin to appreciate it. It could have gone so very differently and almost did. But someone gave them faith.

They found out that God loved them and would forgive them, that life did not end here in this valley of tears. God was bigger than the scope of human experience. God was love. God was truth. God was beauty. And he wanted to make us like himself. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Yes, we could be transformed into divine creatures fit to one day live with the source of goodness himself. Jesus called this the Good News, proving once again that he is the master of everything, including the understatement. Our Christian ancestors desired this treasure, sought it, and when they found it, sold all they had to possess it. They kept it, protected it, and passed it down.

It is this same treasure that I received on my baptismal day. I still have my baptismal garments, no longer pure white but a hopeful ivory, and a few 3-inch-square photos, icons that capture the moment I came into my inheritance.

There is Mom in her floral hat, Pop in his brown suit, Grandma next to him, and my siblings crowding around me in front of the glass church doors. My godfather, Jon, grins proudly as he holds me in his arms. Ben, Greg, Dan, and Andy have short, clipped hair and patched knees. Jane and Mary Ellen wear kerchiefs, as was the custom. Jane hovers close to me, like a guardian angel, and gazes at me tenderly.

Already you can see the relationships that have begun. I alone am unaware of the course they have set for my life. Faith is now mine to keep, to treasure, to protect. Someday my husband and I will pass on faith to our children in exactly the same way. Meanwhile, my face points upward and I sleep under the warm sun.

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