(From Rogier van der Weyden’s Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, 1445-1450.)
My dearest Eleanor Julie,
You were absolutely lovely at your baptism on Sunday. You gave yourself over to the priest with aplomb, as if simply accepting an award from the Rotary Club. You smiled devilishly at the sanctified water. I felt the Spirit brooding over you. You smiled at Her, too.
Moved by your baptism, I told your Godmother that she and me should enter into an ultra-catholic marriage of convenience to produce dozens of children for wet hair at the font. Sounds funny, doesn’t it, my dear? The older I get, though, the more I think bliss is to be shared—at least, I think that’s what I meant when I suggested it to Godmother Jo. She laughed, of course. By the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll know your Godfather is a silly, silly man. I hope you smile at that, too.
Anyway, there’s a part of the Rite that always makes me giggle. Right after you were wetted and oiled, the congregation welcomes you into the Church to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” Whether you like it or not, my little red-headed bliss-giver, you are a toddler-priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. No takesies-backsies. But, I always wonder at how a baby is supposed to confess and proclaim.
Yet, there is enough praise in your ligaments to silence the cry of any rock; in even your foulest wailing, I hear shades of ecstatic praise; and your baby tomfoolery is the profoundest liturgy. You preach the Gospel simply by being who you are. Consider the trees: they neither study Aquinas, nor were committee-selected, nor sing Gregorian Chant, yet is their praise not perfect? Like them, you preach by being you. Your sermons surpass all.
Much of this will change as you get older, of course. You’ll be pressured to adjust this perfect praise. You’ll be expected to act in certain ways and speak at certain volumes. You’ll have to sit upright, digest facts and learn your multiplication tables (yuck!). On the playground of life, you’ll have your heart broken and you’ll break hearts. The miraculous misery of life will happen to you and you’ll want lose this toddler-priest perfection—I’ll write to you about all this when you’re a little older.
As you probably will in a few years, St. Paul derided childhood. He said he put childish things away when he became a man. My dear, when you grow up, you’ll be able to realize when St. Paul is being an open-soul Christian full of wonder and contradictions, and when he’s being a closed-minded jerk. Jesus—who is always right—said I should become like you because the kingdom of God is yours. St. Paul was wrong.
For now, remain as you are. There is nothing else you can or should be. Hebrews had a puff of cloud by day and shining night fire, but if I had you for my guide, I cannot miss the way. Teach me how to be. A little child shall lead me.