I had a big surprise this year: I found out that there was uncertainty surrounding my baptism’s validity. At first, this was shocking. I thought, “What, I’m not baptized?” I clearly remembered getting ‘dunked’ by the minister of my childhood. I was twelve, and being plunged into the icy waters of the baptismal pool, three consecutive times, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and a third time in the name of The Holy Spirit, left a deep impression on me. And not just because of the temperature of the water–it was because I had to give my testimony before the entire congregation and pledge fidelity to Christ, even to the point of becoming a martyr. I hadn’t been baptized earlier as many of my peers and siblings, because I took exceptionally seriously the oath I was making before God.
What called into question this rite?
The revelation came when I learned for a baptism to be valid it must have both the correct form and substance. I had received the proper substance, water, but the wording had not been said according to the prescribed form. The valid form that the Church has used from the beginning is, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, And of The Son, And of The Holy Spirit, (emphasis added). There is deep theological significance in words. For example, if the one ministering baptism says “we” instead of “I” this invalidates a baptism because it is not a community of persons who baptizes but a single individual. In my case, the words I remembered the minister using were altered. By saying, “In the name of,” before each person of the Trinity, theologically speaking, the One Unified, Trinitarian God, was divided into three separate Gods. Therefore, the priests who discerned the validity of my initial baptismal attempt concluded a conditional baptism, and administration of my sacraments was in order.
I had mixed emotions regarding this. My initial thought was something along the lines of: “So just a few little words can jeopardize a person’s salvation?” I was a bit horrified. But I was quickly reminded that God’s grace, which is indeed present in the sacraments, is not limited by the sacraments. God had been faithful to me my whole life, making himself real to me even before I became Catholic. He had poured out so many blessings and graces upon me that this discovery of needing my sacraments re-administered did not imply a lack of grace but rather an opportunity for new graces.
I now had the opportunity to go through all the Church teachings from the Catechism of the Council of Trent. I could now prepare more thoroughly and open myself more fully to the sacraments than ever before. In the mid-’90s, when I first came into The Church, I encountered an RCIA program that was warm fuzzies and provided little formation in the truths and doctrines of the Church. Now many years and many undeserved graces later, I could enter in with full assent, completely embracing all the teachings of The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith that has been passed down from the Apostles through the Chair of Peter for thousands of years. I now had available to me the fullness of the Latin Right with all its exorcisms to strengthen and confirm me in my faith. I had an obligation to make a lifelong confession, but this too was a grace. I was able to have my slate wiped completely clean from all sin, including those that I had forgotten to confess previously or those I had never considered as sin at the time.
I also had the opportunity to choose a godmother and more deeply discern a Confirmation Saint. At the time I first entered the Church, I chose the name Elizabeth. The name Elizabeth had become very important to me because a friend of mine had spoken a prophetic word over me during a period in which I was going through an enormous struggle; I felt like I had lost God’s favor. She told me that God desired to give me a new name and that this name meant that God was my witness. God knew my heart and saw the truth of who I was as a Judge discerns the innocence of one who stands before him falsely accused. God’s eyes were to become the only ones that mattered; His opinion, His will, His good pleasure the only things relevant. I desired to live as that new name, so I chose St. Elizabeth of Hungary since I had just read a brief excerpt about her life.
I must confess; I never really got to know St. Elizabeth of Hungary well. I admired her generosity towards the poor and her deep love of God, but I never really connected with her. I found that as I grew in my faith, I was drawn deeply to the Carmelite Saints. St. Therese of Lisieux was the first to enter into my life powerfully, and then, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila. Only recently did I stumble into St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. I found her by subscribing to Authentic Contemplative Prayer, a Facebook group that often features Divine Intimacy Radio. The Authentic Contemplative Prayer group offers reflections on prayer using predominantly the writings of the Carmelite saints. Through that connection, I found SpiritualDirection.com, Even the Sparrow, Claire’s Dwyer’s blog, and Apostoli Viae. Each of these has a been tremendous resource, helping me grow in my faith formation.
Claire Dwyer’s blog posts on St. Elizabeth of the Trinity–now compiled into a book, This Present Paradise–deeply struck my heart. I found in St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, another kindred soul and knew I had much to learn from her; therefore, I chose her as my confirmation saint. So, in the extraordinarily bewildering year of 2020, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I received a conditional baptism and all my sacraments in The Latin Rite, taking St. Elizabeth of the Trinity as my confirmation name. Now there is no doubt that I received baptism and the sacraments in the fullness of their manifold graces.
I look forward to the adventure of getting to know yet another Carmelite saint, share her name, and learn new insights on the road to Divine Intimacy. I have already added St. Elizabeth’s Prayer to The Trinity to my daily devotions. I have confidence that God, in His magnanimous goodness, has only more graces in store.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.