What Baptism Really Means
Dear Friends in Christ:
A few weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. At that time we reflected upon our own baptisms as well as the example of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. For any number of reasons baptism and the importance of baptism is not what it once was for many Catholics. This is seen in that so many families delay baptism for their children and even more so in the reasons why baptism is delayed. There is often more excitement about the party following the baptism than in any aspect of the sacrament itself. The social aspects of baptism for many totally overshadow the gift of the new life bestowed. Pastorally, I am torn between making the sacrament readily available, so that many can easily have their babies baptized and receive the gift of new life with original sin washed away, and working to make sure that people approach the sacrament for the proper reasons and with a proper understanding. It is very disheartening to see so many people come to have their children baptized and then disappear, evaporating into thin air only to materialize again, maybe at First Communion time.
A main contributing factor is the lack of understanding of what baptism truly is and the necessity of baptism. Jesus is very clear and does not mince his words, Amen, amen, I say to you no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit (Jn 3.5). He is so insistent on the necessity and importance of baptism that in his last words before he ascended to the Father he commanded his disciples, Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! (Mt 28:19). Seeing how serious Jesus was, I have to wonder how serious we are. I sometimes want to ask those who do not have their children baptized or needlessly delay baptism or worse, have their children baptized and then fail to raise them in the Church, “Don’t you love your kids and want them to go to heaven?” Now, that is not very politically correct but it does get to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, too many of us think that heaven is automatic and it doesn’t matter if we are baptized or not or live a life of following Jesus or not. Instead, many people say that the most important thing is ________ (fill in the blank with their opinion) or, one need only: a), just believe in God; b) simply be a nice person or c), it doesn’t really matter. That however, is not what Jesus said. Another contributing factor to the delay or dismissal of Baptism is that we live in an age of skepticism. This is where we try and say, “Well, those are Jesus’ words in the bible but what Jesus really meant was something different!” Or better yet, “Well, what I think is…”, and then there is the wonderful, “I just feel that…”.
Happily, Jesus did not die for our feelings or opinions. Rather He died for our sins and He offers us the Sacrament of Baptism so that we may have new life in Him by means of having our sins washed away, becoming the children of God, and being incorporated into His Body, the Church. The richness and fullness of this gift are so great, we shouldn’t worry about a party or the gown or anything else. Rather, we should seek this great gift without hesitation or delay. We should spend more time preparing ourselves spiritually for this great moment in our family’s life rather than spending our time preparing our homes and the party menu! Then, following baptism, we should do everything to form that life-long bond of allegiance to Christ; raising children not in fear of God but with so great a love for Him and their Catholic faith that they want nothing more for themselves for their whole life! That we would have faith so strong that nothing could threaten us – not our failures or doubts and not even the failures and sins of others – even those in the Church – is the great and gracious gift God wants us to receive in Baptism; develop and nurture. Imagine a household and a community of households, millions of households, totally on fire in love for God! Think of how different our world would be! How much better our lives would be. All it takes is one baptism to begin.
In pace Christi,