For Father John Gwozdz
We’d been Catholic for about six months when the parochial vicar preached a homily that stuck with me. He commented about the importance of birthday celebrations in our lives. But, he continued, more important still is a celebration of our baptism day – the day we were freed from original sin and became part of the Body of Christ.
I went home from Mass and looked up the baptism dates for each member of the family.
The kids were underwhelmed when I told them about it. It would take some fancy footwork to impress on them the importance of their baptism.
Two months later, the baptism date rolled around for 11-year-old Meredith. We sat down to dinner that evening and, lo, a small, old-fashioned glass bottle of root beer rested at Meredith’s place at the table. You need to understand that we never, ever, ever had soda in the house, so the presence of root beer – her favorite – got her attention. It got everyone’s attention. Celebrating her baptism was that important.
A few weeks later we marked 6-year-old Torrie’s baptism date and, again, a glass bottle of root beer magically appeared at her place at the dinner table. She got the message.
The years passed and we continued to celebrate baptism dates with a glass bottle of root beer at dinner. And yes, it had to be glass. Once the tradition got underway, change was unthinkable.
Eventually, our oldest child headed off to college. His baptism date was shortly after the university’s parents’ weekend, so I enlisted the aid of his roommate to deliver the bottle of soda on the appropriate day. Thus began a new phase of life, smuggling root beer to roommates and housemates in advance of the baptism date.
Two years later, however, we encountered a serious obstacle. That fall, two of our children spent the semester abroad. Their university, Franciscan University of Steubenville, has a campus in Gaming, Austria, in a renovated 14th-century monastery in the foothills of the Alps. The dates of both kids’ baptisms occurred while they were across the Atlantic.
My first thought, of course, was that it would be ludicrous to ship root beer to Europe – and, it turns out, possibly illegal.
Then I thought about my friend Carla. She and her husband had very little money in their early years together. They didn’t take vacations or own a home or go out to dinner, but they never hesitated to pay for excellent Christian kids’ music, children’s Bibles and Christian summer camp for their son. Why? We pay for what we believe in, and to Carla and her husband, nurturing their son’s faith was of top importance.
And thus, on a warm September day, I made my way to the small post office near our home. I had packaged a glass bottle of root beer with enough bubble wrap to cover the state of Rhode Island. I spoke with the postmaster, who was fascinated that I was mailing a package whose postage cost 10 times the value of the contents.
It was crazy, I admitted, but I knew my kids would understand the message: Baptism frees us from original sin and brings us into the Body of Christ. What could be more important than joining the Body of Christ?
Six weeks later, I visited the post office with another well-wrapped bottle of root beer. The postmaster remembered my previous visit; in fact, it had made such an impression that she had tracked down her own baptism date.
And so it was that two Connecticut kids in Austria celebrated their entry into the Body of Christ with bottles of American root beer.
We pay for that which is of most importance to us.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.