In order to become an official member of the Society of Saints, which comprises all of those who have been made children of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the sacrament of Baptism is necessary. However there seems to be a growing number of parents who are not seeking membership of the People of God for their children. Why is this?
One of the main arguments appears to be that the parents don’t want to be hypocrites and to begin the initiation of their children into something they themselves either no longer believe in or don’t see as relevant would be hypocritical in their eyes. In addition to this they often say that matters of faith are something their children can decide for themselves when they are old enough. Naturally those with faith who are older and wiser can see some truth in the arguments of these young parents, but also know that there is also a lot wrong with these arguments although they may not be able to explain why.
As to the grain of truth, the Code of Canon Law 868 agrees with them. Baptism can only be administered to infants lawfully if at least one of the parent’s consents and there is some hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic religion, or without consent if the child is in danger of death.
The big questions then become : Do the parents know enough about Baptism to know what it is they are rejecting for their child? If the parents were married in a Catholic Church, do they realise how serious a thing it is for them to go back on their vow to God and public promise to bring any children up in the Catholic faith? How seriously are the parents going to give their child sufficient information from both sides of the argument for the child to come to an informed decision as to whether to seek Baptism or not? How seriously have these parents come to the decision not to baptize – have they been unconsciously drifting away from anything to do with God? have they done their own homework or are they following their peers because it seems the cool thing to do?
It is very reasonable for faith-filled relatives to worry when someone announces that they will not be seeking Baptism for their child. In the very act of not seeking Baptism they are rejecting God, His ways, and any faith they grew up with. For many it is a proclamation that their lives are too busy with work, sport, and socialising to make a commitment to worship God on a weekly basis with the Christian community. For a minority it might be a protest about living within the behavioural boundaries of the 10 commandments (thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt worship God alone, honour your parents etc).
Perhaps as a Christian community we have not been very vocal in promoting the benefits of Baptism. They do exist. However we are more likely to talk to someone about how great it is to have a relationship with God than we are to speak about how wonderful it is to be Baptised. Only with the recent reflections on Vatican II and the universal call to holiness through Baptism – which came with the start of the Year of Faith – and the ‘Of Grace and Faith’ study group going through the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Baptism (see www.ofgraceandfaith.blogspot.com )have I done any thinking about the benefits of Baptism in a long, long time.
What are the consequences of not being baptised?
Without Baptism you cannot receive any of the other sacraments. This means that you cannot receive the sacrament of marriage and cannot thus feel God’s blessing and power of love flowing through your marriage. This means that you cannot receive the profound gift of sacramental absolution of sins through the sacrament of Penance (Confession). Without Baptism you are unable to truly recite the Our Father as a child of that heavenly Father, only as a creature of the Creator.
Without Baptism you cannot receive the spiritual gifts which come with Baptism. To please God more than human virtue is needed, and the sacrament infuses the supernatural gifts of faith, hope and charity. Speak to anyone who wants to have faith that God exists and you soon come to realise just how big the gift of faith is. As a child of God through Baptism you share in the power of forgiveness won by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Every parent knows that sooner or later their child will be hurt or betrayed badly by others. Lack of forgiveness cripples a person on the inside, and can also cripple them psychosomatically as well. For big hurts a person needs more than the power of human forgiveness, they need a share in the divine power of Jesus in order to be set free. Every parent has also lived long enough to realise that evil and malice exist, and one of the first steps in overcoming an addiction through the 12 step programme is to believe in a higher power. Through the exorcisms in the baptismal rite and through the divine protections given to all children of God the baptised are shielded from many attacks of the evil one and are in a stronger position to reject temptations when they come.
Can someone get to heaven without Baptism? Yes, but it is a far more difficult road. You have to consistently seek truth, goodness and beauty and to act according to the lights that conscience gives. It is similar to the difference between someone with a push-bike (non-baptised) and someone with a motorised pushbike, with helmet, knee and elbow guards, GPS, first-aid kit (baptised) travelling with others on similarly kitted out motorised pushbikes. The destination is heaven, and the baptised have a much greater chance of getting there. A non baptised person participates in ordinary human virtue. By virtue of Baptism into Christ Jesus, every good action of a baptised person in a state of grace acquired immortal value, because due to Baptism consciously or unconsciously those good actions are done in union with Christ and His Church.
The older and wiser members of the faithful sense that letting a child decide matters of faith for themselves is unlikely to produce a happy outcome. Who would let a child determine the right way to cross a busy road as a pedestrian by themselves? Who would let a child determine the safety of a naked flame by themselves? Who would let a child decide for themselves whether studying mathematics was a worthwhile subject or not? Yet we have parents giving children in State Schools permission to not attend Scripture classes from the early years of primary school. How are they going to be able to decide the pivotal question in the meaning of life - the existence of God – if they never get to learn about what the Christian community believes about Him? If God exists then heaven, hell and judgment are real, with eternal consequences. Any wise person knows that ignoring this question is foolhardy.
What is the likely outcome for a child of parents who think they are doing the sophisticated and enlightened thing by letting the child decide for themselves when he or she is old enough? Generally the child will look to the parent’s actions and non actions. If the parents have no room for God in their lives, the chances of a child working out how to include God in his or her life are slim indeed. If the parents could not be bothered to determine for the sake of the child whether God is real or not, why should the child bother? If parents took the time to read the accounts of those who came from atheism to belief in Jesus and compared them to the accounts of those who grew up in Christian homes, drifted a bit and then came to an adult faith, the choice to baptise or not baptise would become much clearer. ‘Atheist to Catholic : 11 Stories of Conversion ‘ compiled by Rebecca V. Cherico, any of the books in the ‘Surprised by Truth’ series compiled by Patrick Madrid, or viewing several episodes of EWTN’s ‘Journey Home’ programme with Marcus Grodi are good places to start such investigations.
On this day, 21 Oct 2012, when seven holy members of the Church are canonized, let us ask them to pray for all the yet-to-be baptised that they may be granted this stupendous gift of God.