T H E C H R I S T E N I N G
The small wooden church is storybook in appearance. It has ornate wooden carvings, with colorful, stained-glass windows that reflected the dappled sunlight. It has an aura of quiet contemplation. Somehow, the image of finely carved “coo koo clocks,” from the Black Forest, comes to mind. It seems incongruous in a church, but the setting is so consciously German, that theatrical images abound.
We arrived early, at this miniature Bavarian Village, set in the forest of sun-drenched Huntington Beach, California. A few strollers browsed the windows of the nearby shops, looking at crystal, china and other gifts. Others sipped coffee, seated at outside tables, near a cafe' and pastry shop. The weather cooperates, as it always does in California, the land of the Lotus Eaters. It is sunny, 67 degrees and very comfortable for March 20th.
Bill and Kathleen Martin, the proud parents, fuss over young Joey. Eileen Martin, the Paternal Grandmother, sits with Uncle Joey (The presumptive Godfather), and Nancy, a friend of Kathleen's. A German Language Mass is in progress and we wait patiently for our 1:00 appointment. We are here to witness the Christening of Joseph X. Martin, born 2/3/94 to William Anthony and Kathleen Gold Martin, in Huntington Beach, California.
The child is quiet and rests comfortably in his new age portable car seat. He is unaware of the esoteric and age-old ritual that is about to be performed. His initiation into the Catholic Church, via Baptism. It is a rite claimed for all children born of Catholic Parents.
After the Mass ends, we gather in the small church Apse and admire the colorful surroundings once again. It was only 15 months ago that our whole clan had gathered here to witness Bill and Kathleen's wedding. It was a very nice ceremony. No fist fights broke out.
The priest has a quaint German accent and later conversation reveals him to be a Muenchener, like two of our own great grand parents. He is blond and bespectacled of demeanor. He reminds me of a youngish Hardy Kreuger, from films.
The ceremony begins with its colorful rituals. There is a soothing calmness in the sameness of the incantations, which we have witnessed many times before. A sense of identity surfaces. We are members of a large and ancient fraternity. Bill speaks on behalf of his family and identifies myself ( Joseph Xavier Martin) and wife Mary Ellen, as sponsors for the child. If something should happen to the parents, we will be responsible for raising the child in the Catholic Faith. We have accepted the responsibility and are honored by the invitation.
The sun shines through colored windows. Young Joey squirms noiselessly, as if sensing the expectation of the adults around him. The Priest begins by making the sign of the cross. "Ego Te Absolve", "In Nomine Patris , Filie , Spiritus Sancti , Amen." The words are simple and yet powerful in what they convey. As the anointing oil is placed upon the child's forehead, in the form of the sign of the cross, the building begins to shake. Collectively we look up. After milliseconds of assessment, we collectively pronounce "Earthquake." (a 5.3 aftershock, centered in LA..) It lasts but a few seconds, but the effect is eerie. We laugh and chide the priest for his special effects. He too laughs and says, without missing a beat, "I didn't know that I could do that." We laugh nervously and the ceremony concludes. Still, in the back of all of our minds is the fearful primitive, who is unsure of what he had just witnessed. Hundreds of generations of our ancestors believed in auguries and omens. Had we just experienced something?
The intellect scoffs, but the subconscious ponders to reflect., perhaps in later years, we will watch young Joey and wonder if he is destined for something. Mayhaps, a Cardinal of the Church was heralded this day. Superstitious? Probably, but then one never knows.
We gather up young Lochinvar and repair to a nearby restaurant, where we have a nice lunch and talk idly of the child and events of the day. One more addition to the clan had been duely inducted. Sure, the late Francis Harold Martin, the child's Paternal Grandfather, would have been proud.
Joseph Xavier Martin