Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 16:13-20
August 27, 2017

A few months ago, I helped a close friend, one of the senior priests of the Diocese, (even more senior than myself) “car shop.” It’s not that I have any particular skill in the “art of the deal,” but I am blessed to have yet another close friend who owns a car dealership. I explained to my “priest friend” that he could rely on my “car friend” not to steer him in the wrong direction. Eventually, a selection was made and off he drove. But it didn’t go as smoothly as you might think. Because of advanced age, limited finances, and the trauma any major change brings with it, my “priest friend” was a reluctant buyer. Even that intoxicating new car smell didn’t seem to calm his nerves about this major transaction.

Several weeks later, he happened to drop by my house while I was in the midst of a fevered hunt for my own car keys, which somehow go missing at least once a week. My frustration was obvious to him. Even after we sat down for a little visit, he could tell I was distracted. My eyes kept wandering around the room in hopes of finding those darn keys! Finally, he rolled his eyes, and in a tone of obvious delight, he said: “Well, if you would come out of the dark ages and get yourself a new car like mine, you wouldn’t even need keys. Car keys are a thing of the past!”

After he left, I finally tracked down my keys, and as I looked at them with obvious relief, I also felt a bit of nostalgia. I remembered the feelings of maturity, pride, and even freedom I felt the first time my dad handed me the keys to his car so that I could go somewhere on my own. I thought about the deep gratitude that welled up in me on the day I graduated from college and my parents handed me the keys to a brand new, shiny, red VW Beetle. Over the years, I’ve been handed the keys to a number of new cars, new homes, and even new parishes. And each time keys pass from someone else’s hand to mine, they bring with them a mixture of complicated emotions, foremost being a sense of responsibility.

Call me old fashioned, but I think we might be losing something important by replacing keys with things like codes, face and voice recognition, and microchips. I can foresee the day when a child touring the Vatican will ask: “What is St. Peter holding in his hands, Mommy?” And when she replies, “That’s a key, honey,” the child will ask another question: “What’s a key?”

If all of this seems a bit silly, then consider for a moment how so many younger people these days seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place, the significance of Baptism. For some reason, many younger folks tend to regard this first of the three Sacraments of Initiation as “old fashioned.” Others seem to be like the proverbial reluctant buyer. Age often explains spiritual reluctance: “I’m not there yet in my life. When I get older and have more time…then maybe.”

All too frequently, new parents are saying: “We’re not going to make the decision for the baby. When he gets old enough, he can choose for himself.”

There are also financial reasons why younger folks hesitate to take the plunge into the Living Waters. They might not be aware of the benefits of Baptism, but somehow, they understand the cost. And they feel it’s a little too steep for them to sign on the dotted line.

It’s not a matter of dollars and cents. The cost of discipleship involves the commitment of time and energy. Many suffer from sticker shock when they learn that being part of the Body of Christ involves more than participating in the Sacramental life of the Church. Christianity carries with it the responsibility for others as well. Following Christ means continuing His mission and ministry. The Baptized are called to heal, to feed the hungry, to forgive sinners, to speak out against injustice, to protect the vulnerable (including the environment), to bring comfort and peace to the suffering, and to share the Good News!

Finally, by its very nature, discipleship is a group activity. It’s more than friends helping friends. It is the way of Christians to embrace all people as sisters and brothers. This involves a dramatic change from the way of the world which places the needs and wants of the individual above all else. That kind of change can be traumatic, especially for the self-centered.

It all boils down to this:

It wasn’t just St. Peter who was handed “the keys.” In a way, each person who is called to new life in the Spirit through Baptism is given “the keys” to the Kingdom. And every time we pass the font, we should remember what that means. Every time we dip our hands in the Living Water and bless ourselves, we should be overwhelmed with a wide range of complicated emotions…a sense of spiritual maturity…a sense of liberation, having been freed from sin and death…a sense of pride that we have been chosen to walk with Christ…and a sense of profound gratitude for this priceless gift, the gift of keys which will gain us entry into eternal life. The intoxicating smell of Chrism should never fade but continue to remind us of who we are and what is expected of us.

Baptism is the key that enables us to come out of the dark ages so that we might live in the Light of Christ. Christ is The Key!