The other Sunday I had the pleasure of witnessing a Baptism at Mass. It’s one of my favorite sacraments, because it joyfully welcomes a new member into our Christian community. This Baptism, however, did not seem like the most sacred moment. The baby, about a year and a half old, was crying and squirming. She wouldn’t let her parents and godparents make the Sign of the Cross on her forehead. She barely let the priest put the oil on her. The priest nearly had to shout the prayers. As pious and faithful as I like to think I am, I thought about the child’s resistance as the evil spirit trying to resist the grace of Baptism that was about to come. A scene out of The Exorcist? Perhaps, but thankfully not as violent. “Maybe once the blessed water touches the baby the demon will be driven out!” I thought. After all, Baptisms do have a Rite of Exorcism.
After the Mass the friend I was with said, “Wow! God’s even in the messiness!” Despite my concern about the child’s tantrum making the sacrament feel less sacred, there was indeed sacredness! Sometimes we have to trust the invisible grace. Sacraments are not magic. Neither is prayer or faith. The promise of God exists whether something “feels” holy or not.
Saint Ignatius had a hard time finding the grace in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Scruples drove him back to confession moments after he received absolution. Something, perhaps of the evil spirit, was weighing on him, telling him that he wasn’t good enough to receive God’s forgiving grace. The truth is, God’s grace exists in times that seem perfect and put together, but it is just as present in the messiness of life, in our doubts and uncertainties, in our anxiety and sorrows.
When we proclaim in the Nicene Creed that we believe God is the creator “of all things visible and invisible,” can we acknowledge the invisible grace in the messiness of our lives? The presence of God is not always in the quiet whisper. Sometimes it’s amidst the tear-soaked cries of a cranky child.