(Published in NZ Catholic)
Dear parents who haven’t baptized their children,
I’ve been speaking to your parent/grandparent/relative/friend over the past few weeks in the lead up to and at my son’s baptism. They made a comment in conversation that they wished you would baptize your child and that they were worried about it. Now I’m sure you get comments from them all the time and that every man and his dog wants to have a say in your parenting, but as a young parent I want you to know a bit more about baptism.
People these days seem to be putting off baptizing their children for some time. Sometimes it’s only done just before they need to get into that Catholic high school they want to send them to. Maybe this is because there is a lower infant mortality rate, because people are practicing their faith less fervently, because many Protestants baptize later, or because people seem to trust today that an infant wouldn’t be excluded from heaven.
Baptism isn’t just another ceremony, a big fuss of taking your child to church and then having to organise something to have afterwards. The Catechism calls baptism “the priceless grace of becoming a child of God”. Baptism is receiving the grace for salvation. This gift speaks of the love that God has for every individual he has created and of his desire to have everyone in a relationship with Him. A relationship that will grow from infancy with the beautiful faith of a child.
Baptism allows the child to become a member of the church – the largest institution in the world, found internationally and with a rich tradition that allows unlimited opportunity and experiences (after all this is God’s church). Opportunities and community that don’t come through being “nothing”.
People often say that they won’t baptize their child but will support them in their decision later on if they choose to go down that route. As a child I received the sacraments later in my teen years, rather than in infancy. I found that way much harder than say if I had grown up in the faith. There was a frustrating few years of waiting, wanting to receive the sacraments that would allow me to greater live the faith I had chosen and conform to the faith of my wider family. It was a struggle to find someone to
work with to organise receiving catechesis and then the actual sacraments.
And while baptism is a great gift, baptism alone surely isn’t enough. Faith, by nature, grows by hearing and seeing. As part of the ceremony of baptism the parents are individually blessed to receive graces to aid in the nurturing of the child. In my opinion, with parenting being one of the biggest challenges that I will undertake in my life, every grace is needed to help with all that we face in trying to grow the best child we can.
So you may presume your child will reach heaven without baptism. But through baptism you can have confidence in knowing that your child will be re-claimed for Christ and welcomed into Christ’s kingdom. To quote Catholic writer Holly Rutchik, as a parent, even when my child’s not with me, I need to know where she is.
There is some urgency about baptism. So much that Canon law says that parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks and if in danger of death, it is to be baptized without any delay. Though it says something that as a passionate Catholic I only learnt of this urgency a few weeks ago, even after my son had been in Neonatal Intensive Care.
You’ll have to excuse that this is written by a mother and not a theologian. This is merely why I think baptism is something important and person changing for my children.
A young mother.