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An element of priesthood we don’t always see — calling upon faith with distraught parents at the bed of dying infant: Father Richard Jasper

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A father plays with his young daughter along a riverbank in Sydney, Australia. (CNS photo/Megan Lewis, Reuters)

By Father Richard Jasper

The call came late Sunday evening. The children’s hospital needed a priest to baptize a dying child. There were only mere hours left.

Changing back into my clerics and fumbling in the dark to find my keys, my wallet and a holy water bottle, I prayed the entire way to Nemours, over and over: “Dear God, give me your words. Give me grace.”

As seminarians, we often get so much practical hospital experience and frank discussions in our classes about what we’ll face in our ministry as priests, but nothing — nothing — prepares you to enter the ICU room of a 7-month-old boy clutching a Paw Patrol stuffed animal as his parents stand by his bedside and sob.

It is Calvary all over again, this time in a hospital overlooking downtown Wilmington.

Father Richard Jasper
Father Richard Jasper

As I begin to pray the ritual in that hushed room, I ask this little one’s Mom what she named her first born, and she whispers his name as she runs her fingers through his blond curls. As I pour the water ever so gently, her hand instinctively started to move away, but I asked her to keep it there. It just seemed right somehow, like Our Lady reaching out to touch her Son in his agony.

I believe in my heart that the sacrament conferred that night did everything baptism is supposed to do for the soul of this innocent little one, but I found myself hoping even more intently this thought as I eventually made my way back to the hospital parking garage:

I pray this sacrament gives his parents some comfort. I pray that it helped them say goodbye. And I pray that in their anger and grief and unspeakable anguish that they won’t abandon God or faith along the journey that awaits them. If anything, I hope they’ll remember that the Church showed up when they needed her to be there.

Twenty-four hours later, I now sit along the banks of the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, beginning some time of retreat and rest. I marvel at the power of the water as it runs powerfully by the capital city of Pennsylvania.

No wonder the waters of baptism are so powerfully and beautifully symbolic. Like this mighty river, they too cleanse … they heal … they bring new life.

And the only thing that comes equally as close are the tears of two young parents at the foot of the cross on a hill overlooking downtown Wilmington.

Father Richard Jasper is associate pastor at St. Ann’s, Wilmington.