Claire Stewart is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Brazil.
Pope Francis has preached frequently about baptism and its transformative power during his papacy. From the readings today, we are reminded that, as Christians, we are called to witness and effect that transformation. In Isaiah 42:1, we see that as baptized persons, we are called to action: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”
Pope Francis emphasized how we should respond to this call in his address to the General Audience on April 11, 2018: “Baptism allows Christ to live in us and allows us to live united with him, to cooperate in the Church, each according to his or her condition, for the transformation of the world. Received only once, the baptismal bath illuminates our whole life, guiding our steps all the way to the Heavenly Jerusalem.”
By choosing to baptize or be baptized, we are entering into a transformative faith journey that does not end when we leave those spiritual waters, but rather begins. Each of us must discern how we can best mirror the image of Jesus within our life, as we are each made in God’s image, yet with unique capacities and circumstances. In Matthew 3:16-17, the Spirit of God opens the skies and comes like a dove to say, “this is my beloved Son.” In many ways, the transformative experience of baptism is like this for each of us. In my understanding, God says when we emerge from the waters of baptism, “Here is my child, made in my image, made to transform the world through witness to my teaching, just as Jesus did.”
I joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2015 because I realized the best way for me to invoke mission through baptism was to go into international mission. What I found is that through my mission experience, I have, in many ways, re-experienced the transformative promise of baptism in being a witness of the unjust, broken social structures in Brazil. Moreover, I have been transformed and inspired by the persistence and resilience of those who live their baptismal mission to the furthest of their capabilities in order to “open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7). My former prison Pastoral Coordinator in Brazil is the embodiment of what it means to be a true witness of Christ. She is a committed, compassionate, resilient, humble, and motivational servant of the Lord. Amid the oppressive political climate within Brazil, she continues to use the best of her capabilities to fight against unjust and undignified prison conditions while attending to the families of prisoners.
“There is a before and an after to Baptism. The Sacrament presumes a journey of faith.”
-Pope Francis, General Audience, April 11, 2018
“I, the LORD, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” - Isaiah 42: 6-7.
Photo (bottom): Claire Stewart, second on the left. Catherine Heinhold, returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner, on the right. The woman is dressed up as Nossa Senhora do Brazil (Our Lady of Brazil) at an awards ceremony.
Photo (top): Taken by Catherine Heinhold, previous Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Brazil, with the previous prison coordinator.