Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Don't Delay Baptism

Dr. Taylor Marshall had a post up earlier this month about Pope Francis's view that infant baptism should not be held hostage:

This is similar to a post he put up a couple years ago about Pope John Paul II's stance against delaying infant baptism:

I encourage you to check out those posts as they shed some good light.  I am a big proponent of baptizing babies ASAP after birth.  There is no reason to delay.  I have heard of churches only performing baptisms one Sunday per month, or that there is a "wait list" for getting your babies baptized.  Oftentimes, you might hear a church say that they only baptize a specified number of babies on a particular Sunday, and therefore you will need to wait until the next Sunday (or even the next month)!  This kind of thing is absurd and can probably be attributed to the fact that people no longer put a proper emphasis on the importance of sacraments.

After all, if your baby will still go to heaven without being baptized if something tragic happened (heaven forbid), why rush to the church the next day to get them baptized?  Wouldn't it be better to wait until next month when all the aunts, uncles and cousins have a free Sunday so that everyone can attend?  Plus, I need time to figure out which cute little invitation I am going to send out!

Is this the correct way to be thinking about baptism?  The Catechism gives us some pretty stern warnings concerning infant baptism.

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.60 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.61 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.62 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

This is quoting from John 3:5
5 Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The catechism continues:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

This is a pretty stark warning against delaying baptism.  Although it is possible that a child could receive the same beatific vision as someone who dies in the state of grace with the sacraments (since God is not technically bound by his own sacraments as noted in CCC 1257 above), it is important to remember that a sacrament is a covenantal oath that God has made with us, and is the only absolute way that we can be assured of sanctifying grace (which is the very life of God himself indwelling in our souls). 

One topic that I am not going to dive in too deeply is the idea of Limbo, which is really the crux of the issue.  If Limbo doesn't exist and all babies that die go straight to heaven, then why worry about baptizing so soon?  Check out this article from Catholic Culture which sums up the church's current stance on Limbo.  Basically, the church's stance hasn't really changed at all:

What does the Code of Canon Law have to say?  

Can.  867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks.  As soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it. 
§2. An infant in danger of death is to be baptized without delay.

I have a couple thoughts about this.  Canon law is telling us that we should have our children baptized within the first few weeks after birth.  The way it is phrased, I would suggest that it is not implying that we intentionally delay baptism for a few weeks without good cause.  In other words, the law isn't telling us to absolutely wait a few weeks, but rather to make sure it gets done in those first few weeks.  Secondly, I underlined the statement that even before birth, we can make arrangements for baptism with the pastor.  This is something that always flummoxed me.  If you have two Catholic parents that are attending church every Sunday and have hopefully had some sort of religious formation, why in the world are they waiting until after the baby is born to attend some class at the parish that tells them obvious things that they should know already (i.e., baptism is the new birth from above, make sure you select godparents, etc. etc.).  The parents can easily take this class before the baby is born, so that they are prepared to baptize their baby right after birth.  Instead, many people wait until after the birth to sign up for a class that is offered once a month, then they spend another week getting invitations, then they sign up for the next available slot which could be weeks away.  After its all said and done, it could be well over a month or two before the baby is baptized.  

The sacrament of baptism takes all of 10 seconds to perform, yet we wait months to do it.  I think we need to re-prioritize and realize that baptism is important and should not be delayed.  If you want to perform it during Sunday Mass, arrange with the priest (and your family) so that it happens the very next Sunday after birth.  If you want it sooner, the baptismal rite can be performed in a quick private ceremony on any day of the week.  If your parish tries to "wait list" you and says that they have a quota on the number of baptisms that they perform each month, then I say good riddance to that parish and find yourself a new one.  This issue is too important to mess around with.

I also think that this is a good opportunity during the new evangelization to show others how important baptism is.  For instance, you could send out an invitation like this:

Baptism Announcment

Gertrude is due to give birth to baby Ethel on Wednesday, March 5th.  The tentative date for the baptism is set for the following Sunday, March 9th at St. Cletus Parish.  Due to the possibility of the baby's due date being changed, the date of the baptism may be changed.  We understand that you may not be able to make it to the baptism if the date has to be changed, so in that case we would appreciate you being there "in spirit" during that time.  

Then when you get asked by your family why you went against the norm for baptizing your baby, you can spring into action and explain the reason for why baptism is so important and why you don't want to deprive your baby of this grace any longer!  Breaking the norm is a good way to evangelize sometimes, especially when the norm is nonsense.  

Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts on this subject.  You can leave a comment below, or send me a direct email (check out my sidebar for the email link).