Clear water, white garments, joyful parents, and, of course, adorable babies! Baptism is a cause for celebration. It not only signifies the widening of the Church community through the initiation of new members but also symbolizes a jubilant rebirth from the devastating effects of original sin. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we reflected upon the baptism of our Lord.
While Jesus possessed no original sin, he still underwent the sacrament of baptism to set an example for us. He could have simply explained the importance of baptism with words, but Jesus chose to do so through His actions. Jesus was out there on the frontlines so that he could experience humanity with us. Through his baptism, Jesus calls us to embrace the Jesuit mission of taking our faith out into the world so that we can truly be with others, thus fostering a deeper understanding of the injustices that plague society.
The Labre ministry, which I was introduced to during high school and have continued while at John Carroll University, has provided me with the opportunity to serve on the frontlines, as Jesus reflected through his baptism. Every week for more than a decade, students and faculty of the Labre ministry have provided food, clothing, and companionship to the homeless population of northeast Ohio.
Labre is unlike any other service opportunity I have experienced. When I first heard about Labre as a sophomore at Walsh Jesuit High School, I thought it consisted of doling out soup at a homeless shelter, but this was not the case. Rather than forcing those who are experiencing homelessness to come to “us,” we went to “them.” Students and faculty literally stand in solidarity with the homeless whether that is in a tent in the woods, a camp by the railroad tracks, or a traditional homeless shelter.
Through the immersive nature of this program, the barriers of “us” and “them” disappeared. By entering into these people’s lives and engaging in conversation with them, I was able to see their humanity. People who, before Labre, I rarely thought about or, in some cases, even feared and ignored became friends with whom I shared laughs, exchanged stories, and prayed.
Only after connecting with those experiencing homelessness on a personal level and thus recognizing their inherent humanity could I begin to grasp the injustice of their situations. These people are stripped of the necessities of life—food, water, and shelter in addition to respect, community, and love. The homeless are not only deprived of these basic rights of humanity, but they are also stripped of any opportunities to better themselves by the vicious cycle of poverty, which knocks people down time and time again despite their most valiant efforts.
Through Labre, I experienced my own baptism. I was cleansed of my judgments and misconceptions of the homeless and reborn with a new understanding of their inherent human dignity and the gross injustices of their reality. Moreover, through His baptism, Jesus encourages all of us to seek our own renewal by serving on the frontlines and standing in solidarity with the marginalized. His baptism emphasizes the significance of the recent addition of the word “with” to the Jesuit mission of being “Men and women for and with others,” which we must work to live out every day.
Josie Schuman is a former ISN intern and graduate of John Carroll University. She is currently a member of the Urban Catholic Teacher Corp at Boston College, pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction while teaching 5th grade English. Josie is passionate about faith-based antiracist education and hopes to inspire students of color to use reading and writing as tool for social change.