Baptizing With the Water of Good Works

When I read the readings for today, I encountered memories that remind me of why I continue to call myself Catholic. When my brothers and sister and I were growing up, my mom decorated the house in Advent and Christmas colors—the branches of the tree were beautiful, glowing with purple, pink, gold, and white, and angels adorned the walls of our home. Back then, I was almost embarrassed by it, envious of friends’ houses that celebrated a more mainstream Christmas, with the characteristic reds and greens and Santas and Rudolphs. But as time has gone on, I’ve become more grateful for what my mom taught us, in big ways and small ones, about claiming this faith as our own.

There were the everyday things that she taught us were important. That we should always include everyone on the playground, that it’s not fair to leave classmates out of our games. It was how we learned to live the idea that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon [us],” as we hear in the First Reading. And this extended to the way in which we were to treat strangers, especially the poor. To the point that we eventually started a program feeding the homeless in a park near our parish, sharing lunches prepared in the kitchens of our family and our friends with our neighbors who struggled to make ends meet. It was how we learned to live the idea that we were “sent to bring glad tidings to the poor.”
In my mom’s faith we never saw the kind of polarization that seems to characterize the contemporary Catholic Church in the United States. She “prayed without ceasing,” a daily Mass attendee, and she worked among the “lowly,” treating them with the kind of dignity and respect that should be afforded all people. And through her example, she taught us that these actions, though hardly unique to Catholicism, put us in the lineage of John the Baptist, baptizing with the water of good works, “making straight the way of the Lord” during this Advent season.

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