Is it possible within forty-eight hours of being water baptized, to deny one’s faith? The events of my baptism still concern me.
It was 1966; final touches on our new church were underway. After years of construction, laborers installed pews, light fixtures, carpet, and the baptismal tank.
Until then, water baptisms took place down at the bay. Our pastor emphasized the need to declare openly one’s relationship with Christ. I wanted to go public, but as a self-conscious teenager, I refused a dunking in murky waters with boaters and picnicking strangers watching. I held out for our new private indoor heated baptismal tank.
The church’s dedication was to be early autumn with the first water baptism a month later. Eagerly, I signed-up to participate, as did my brother, sister, and most of my cousins. You see, my church family was also my biological family. One of my mother’s cousins was the pastor; another was the organist, and a third the pianist. The deacons and Sunday school teachers were all family members as well.
On October 31, the morning of the baptism, Pastor called the candidates together; the tank’s heater was malfunctioning, the water was frigid. He offered another date if anyone wanted to reschedule. I didn’t want to wait any longer.
The service was long, the prayer time drawn-out, and the water freezing, yet I felt spiritually renewed. Finally, leaving at 11:00PM with my hair still wet, I felt chilled by the brisk autumn night air.
Though it was late, we had food, cake, and guests waiting at home. We celebrated for hours. I’d barely gotten to bed when the morning alarm rang.
“Mom,” I moaned. Simply uttering one word drained me. My throat felt like I’d swallowed glass chips. An attempt to turn over revealed achy arms and legs refusing to cooperate. The throbbing inside my head was overwhelming.
“You look terrible,” mom noted after entering my room. “No school today.”
I wasn’t about to argue. With a quiet sigh, I drifted into a sound sleep.
Tuesday morning, though still sick, I’d improved enough to return to school. It was almost midterms; I couldn’t afford to lose another day of classes.
School policy required absentees to bring a parental excuse note to each teacher before returning to class. Entering first-period math, I took my place at the teacher’s desk with the others awaiting his arrival. One of my cousins, also baptized Sunday night, stood in front of me.
“You were out yesterday too?” I asked.
“Looks like it, doesn’t it?” He turned his back to me to talk to one of his friends. Though surprised by his attitude, I let it slide.
Another student approached the desk. Casually, I commented to her, “I can’t believe how many kids missed school yesterday, especially before midterms.”
“Are you kidding?” she responded sarcastically, “Midterms or not, it was a Catholic holiday.”
“I knew that.”
I really didn’t know, but was too embarrassed to admit it. Immediately I felt guilty for lying only two days after my baptism, fearing I’d already undone my cleansing.
The teacher arrived, settled in, and began signing excuse notes.
“My, my, what a religious bunch we have here,” he snickered.
My cousin was next in line.
“Another dedicated Catholic,” commented the teacher as he signed the note.
“What?” I asked, not believing my ears. Immediately, my cousin gave me an icy glare that could have turned a desert into a glacier.
Reaching for my note, the teacher said, “Give it here, I know, Catholic holiday.”
“No sir, I was out sick,” emphasizing with conviction, “I’m not Catholic.”
The teacher looked me square in the eyes; it felt like he was searching my soul.
“Aren’t you two cousins?”
“Yes we are.”
“And you’re Italian.”
“Yet you’re telling me he’s Catholic and you’re not?”
With a scowl, my cousin quickly interjected, “The whole family’s Catholic except for her parents. They’ve split the whole d--- family over this.”
I was stunned. He who had just been water baptized, openly declaring his faith in Jesus Christ, was now publicly denying it after only two days.
The teacher reread my cousin’s note, looked at me, and scratched his head. Filled with righteous indignation, I glanced at the note, recognizing my cousin’s handwriting.
Before playing hooky on Monday, he played a far more dangerous game on Sunday. One day, he admitted faking Christianity, though ashamed* of our faith. That’s when my cousin stopped being my brother. I’m praying he returns before it’s too late.
*“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." Mark 8:38 (NIV)
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