I’ve had a friend visiting from Italy, he’s a native of Milan and last year two of us enjoyed his hospitality. Milan is a beautiful and historic city and in the afterglow of a brilliant visit, I naturally reassured our friend he could visit Derry any time.
This Christmas he decided to take me up on the offer and so I had a guest for a week who is probably still recovering from celebrating the New Year in Derry. The first few days of his trip I was pre-occupied with weddings, so we didn’t get to venture to far until the Monday after New Year’s Day.
On a cold winter’s morning, well, afternoon, we set out for Grainan Fort. Although it had been snowing earlier in the morning as the snow had thawed I thought it would have been a sensible enough trip.
As we left Derry for Donegal the fields lulled me into a false sense of security, I was too busy driving to notice the snow capped hill of Grainan. It wasn’t until I had to negotiate the road past St Aengus Church, did I realise we would have problems.
Nothing dramatic occurred until we turned the corner but then I finally understood I must be mad because the road up to the fort was covered in three inches of snow. One car had crawled to a stop at the foot of the road and was attempting what looked like a sixteen point turn.
As I over took and sped up the hill I noticed the anguished look on my Italian friend’s face as he clung with one hand to the door handle.
Driving uphill presented no real problems apart from the odd spilling wheel as I diverged from the track made by previous cars.
What I forgot, despite the mind blowing scenery, was the small factor of the biting cold wind which the man from the Mediterranean just loved, even though all we could see were his eyes buried beneath a hat, scarf and coat.
I was too busy doing my bit for the Irish Tourist Board to notice that my own hands were turning blue as I braved the walls of the fort to take photographs.
And while the heat was soon turned on full blast when we got back to the car, my hands stayed numb as I drove downhill in the snow, struggling to see over the steering wheel. Let’s just say it was an unforgettable experience for our visitor.
Unfortunately I hadn’t looked at the weather forecast and I thought the worst was behind us. I didn’t know a storm with high winds and heavy rain was coming in, otherwise I would never have suggested taking our guest to see the seasonal delights of Malin Head.
As the saying goes, the conditions were Baltic, the waves crashing unto the coast were roughly thirty feet high. At one point we stopped the car and the Italian stood on the beach with his camera and took a video capturing the raw force of nature. My brother and I stood some way back on the road trying to stand in the wind.
Of course the winds were even stronger when we reached the headland itself; let’s just say it was a very short visit.
The sea was amazing to look at, although with a gale blowing in your ears it was very difficult to hear anything and that was why I was left on my own for a few minutes in the arctic conditions as my brother and our friend laughed at me from instead the warmth and comfort of the car.
Our trip had to be cut short because I needed to be back in Derry for 4pm for a christening. As you probably guessed I was late, fortunately I have very understanding friends even though they had travelled from Maghera.
In many respects the celebration of the baptism put our trip into perspective. When we set out in life we know little of what is ahead of us on our journey.
Yet on the day we enter God’s family our heavenly Father promises to remain with us to guide and protect us as his children. Despite all the storms and struggles we encounter, God is ever present.
On the day of our baptism we become temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Christ’s Body, the Church.
From that moment onwards we always belong, we always have a place in God’s family. Unfortunately we can become distracted and wander far from the path which God has highlighted.
Yet our great hope is the simple truth, God does not abandon us. He searches us out but we have to be sensitive enough to recognise his approach.
On the occasion when we celebrate the baptism of the Lord we focus on the scene from John’s Gospel.
As the Holy Spirit descends, Jesus is reassured with these words, ‘You are my Son, the beloved, my favour rests on you’. As God’s adopted children these words are true for all of us as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We have to recognise this gift not only in our lives but in the lives of others. To live out our baptismal calling is to recognise and make real God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of others.