Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The treasured memory of baptism

By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published April 4, 2019  | En Español

Last Thursday, March 28, I observed the 60th anniversary of my own baptism. I quietly mentioned that fact to Father Dan Ketter, who concelebrated the noon Mass with me at the Chancery. It was a blessed memory that I carried with me throughout the entire day.

March 28 was Holy Saturday in 1959, and I became Catholic at the Easter Vigil. Most Catholics may not remember their own baptisms because they were babies. I was 11 years old and I can still remember tilting my head over the baptismal basin and feeling the water pour over my forehead. Later at that same Mass, I received the Eucharist for the first time. Six weeks later, on Ascension Thursday, I was confirmed by Bishop Raymond P. Hillinger. The celebration of all of the sacraments of initiation together at the vigil, like we do today, was not the custom in 1959.

A few weeks after being ordained a bishop, I received the bugia (the handled candlestick that bishops once used in ceremonies) that had been used by Bishop Hillinger at my own confirmation.

In 1959, I was a new student in a Catholic school where most of my classmates were Catholics. I wanted to belong. I was so excited to become a Catholic—with the frenzied enthusiasm of a youngster of that age. I have never lost that desire. Over time I have come to understand the personal impact of that event on my life with a much more profound appreciation.

In 1959, Karol Wojtyla was the brand new auxiliary bishop of Krakow, Poland. Joseph Ratzinger was a recently appointed professor at the University of Bonn, Germany, and Jorge Bergoglio was in his novitiate year in the Society of Jesus in Argentina. These men, all who would eventually have such profound impacts on my life, were then young men in different parts of the Catholic world at that moment in history. I recognize today, like never before, the universal nature of our church and how lives in one part of the world can influence others.

Through baptism, I became a member of the same worldwide church. No matter where the sacrament is celebrated, baptism places each person within our universal family of faith. In a few weeks, thousands of people will join the same family of faith through their own baptisms. Many others at the vigil will be sealed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation and fed with the eucharistic Lord in holy Communion for the first time. Christ’s family will grow through these sacramental events.

I treasure the precious memory of my baptism and I hope that you also cherish your own baptism, even if you have no personal memories of the occasion. It represents that moment when you became a member of our faith family just like the moment when you were physically born into the human family. So much has happened in my life during the intervening years since 1959—moments of great joy as well as moments of deep sorrow.  Nevertheless, I have never regretted becoming a member of this faith family—although some days have been happier than others just like life in ordinary families.

In a few weeks, when our new Catholics will be recognized at your parish on Easter, please make sure you reach out to them and tell them, “Welcome to the family!”