As Catholics, we stress the importance of infant baptism. In accord with the Catholic tradition, parents are urged to arrange for the Baptism of their child as soon as the health of the mother and the new-born child allow for this. So important is Baptism that in an emergency situation, anyone who has the intention of performing Baptism can do this. In this extreme situation, the one who would baptize is to pour water on the head of the person receiving the Sacrament and say as she/he does this: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If the person who is in danger of death recovers, the family is to contact the parish to arrange for a liturgical rite in which the ceremonies surrounding a baptism are supplied.
Given the importance of Baptism, can we therefore conclude that babies who die before Baptism are deprived from entering into heaven? This is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Nor does the Church teach that unbaptized babies are forever consigned to a state of existence called limbo. By stressing the importance of infant baptism, in no way does the Church want to restrict the saving action of God. The Holy Innocents who were put to death by King Herod died before baptism and yet, these persons are rejoicing forever in the bliss of heaven.
Like each of the other seven Sacraments, the Sacrament of Baptism was instituted for our well-being. The Sacraments were made for man and not man for the Sacraments.
To appreciate the importance of infant baptism, it is good to review what the Church teaches about the meaning of Baptism. When one is baptized, that person becomes an adopted child of God and a member of the Church, the Body of Christ. Based upon the fact that infant baptism was practiced from earliest times in the life of the developing Church, why put off what God wants to give and do for us until an older age?
Infant baptism highlights the truth that becoming a Christian is totally a gift from the Lord. It is not a prize that we earn as a result of religious formation or springing from a religious conversion experience as authentic as this may be. Who of us as an infant can possibly comprehend what God does for us and gives to us when we are baptized? Even as we did not deserve to be born, neither do we deserve the unmerited gift of being made a Christian.
This understanding of the rationale for infant baptism hopefully profoundly affects the way that we strive to live. We are called to live upright lives not in order that God will love us, but as an on-going response to the truth that He does love us and has made us His own apart from anything that we might do to earn His favor.
The setting in which we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation underscores this truth. This Sacrament is to be received by persons only after their baptism. Hopefully, this practice will influence why a person would receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We don’t celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order that God will love us, but hopefully as a response to the unconditional love that He extends to us each day. Whenever we do that which hurts our relationships within ourselves, with others, with the environment and with the Lord, we weaken our ability to receive the love that the Lord offers to us each day. We also weaken our ability to do all that the Lord would want to accomplish in and through us to extend His redeeming work in the world. In short, by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular frequent basis, we are opening ourselves to receive all that the Lord would want to continue to give to us and do in and through us.
Infant baptism highlights a truth that is applicable to all of us at all stages of our spiritual development, namely that the on-going life of each of us is meant to be one of loving response to all that the Lord freely continues to offer us and to all that He wants to accomplish in and through us in an on-going way. God is not through with any of us. Each of us is a work in progress.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Nelson Beaver – Pastor