Why we baptise our children
As my husband, Mick and I, watch our eldest son find his way around the sanctuary at Mass on Sundays as an altar server, it’s hard to remember a time when our family weren’t regular 9am Mass goers.
While only one of five Sunday Masses in our parish, it’s this 9am community that have come to know and love our boys and our family over the years. Following our eldest son’s birth, it took us quite a few weeks to get back to Mass regularly. But when we did, we were warmly welcomed back by many parishioners and our priests and were amazed by how many people wanted to meet him, hold him (remember those pre-covid baby-holding offers?) and ask how are mum and bub were doing.
Our 9am parish community has been the closest thing we had (other than extended family) to a “village”.
We first started getting nudges and questions from family and parishioners about when our eldest’s baptism would be at around the four-month mark, while still up to our eyeballs in nappies, feeding and establishing routines. There was never a question that he would be baptised. On the contrary, we were looking forward to it but the urgency of the occasion was overtaken by the challenge of having a newborn and heading into winter.
We lived to tell the tale though and by mid-June at 5 1/2 months old he was welcomed into our church and parish community at his baptism, amid the joy of family, friends and parishioners.
I think our experience of this nurturing faith community is what the church is referring to and hoping for when she teaches, ‘Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop.’ (CCC1253)
I am more than aware though, that this somewhat idealistic beginning for our children’s faith is, unfortunately, not everyone’s experience.
There are many children presented for baptism today whose parents – for one reason or another – are not committed to faith, do not see its importance or relevance for themselves let alone their child, and therefore will not take them to church or encourage their faith. Despite the church’s requirement that children are only baptised when “there is a well-founded hope that the child will be brought up as Catholic” (Canon Law 868), there are a myriad of reasons that people have for baptism, other than for bringing them up Catholic.
Whether it’s a situation where the parents have fond memories of going to a Catholic school themselves and want that for their child, or perhaps they aren’t even interested in a Catholic school education. Where the parents have a vague memory of grandma praying when they were little and want something of this in their little one’s life, or where new parents are faced with family pressure to have their child baptised because that is “what is done” in the family regardless of actual belief or faith commitment, similar for some to the habit or ritual of holding a first birthday party. The reasons for seeking baptism without a genuine desire for faith and practice are endless.
When faced with this situation, it’s tempting to throw our hands up and bemoan the future of the church and the faith of the next generation of children, to huddle together and be comforted in our own practice.
And yet increasingly I am witnessing a real hope that our church can turn this around, that we have the opportunity to do something about it. I have seen what is possible when a parish is intentional about reaching out to those for whom faith is not a priority. I’ve seen people from different cultures, genders, stages of life, religions and even people without any religious belief come alive to faith when given the opportunity to have a personal encounter with Jesus. I’ve looked on as their life and the life of their family changed in response to this encounter.
Brenda is one such person. As a mother of two children (aged 2 and 4) and a third on the way, Brenda grew up without any particular faith but married into a practicing Catholic family. It was the experience of having her first child baptised in 2019 that started Brenda on a personal journey of faith that changed her life.
When her first child was born Brenda had a sense that there must be something greater than all of us and became incredibly thankful for the miracle of life. “This was the beginning for me in discovering there must be a God above,” she said.
Brenda believed that to be a good and responsible parent she needed to look into the question of faith and be able to explain their choices to their daughters – to baptise or not to baptise? To have faith or no faith? And why the Catholic faith?
On her journey to faith Brenda connected with a Catholic church that was welcoming, open, and interesting, and that allowed her to ask questions without making her feel like an outsider. People took the time to talk to her, got to know her story and invited her to other parish events. It was here that Brenda was invited to do Alpha for the first time. Alpha was life-changing for Brenda and ultimately led to her joining the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, which culminated in her baptism at Easter this year.
Brenda believes that her baptism was the real beginning of everything good that is now part of her life. Between regular Mass attendance with her children and volunteering in ministry Brenda believes that God wants her to stay connected and involved with ministry to others.
“It is very important for me to continue growing in my faith, by practicing it every day, living it out and by being a good role model for my children,” says Brenda. “I take the time to pray with my children each night and to give thanks and glory to God. I also bring them to Mass and make sure they know the reason we go. I know my children will not stay in the faith if they see that we ask them to undergo these sacraments without practicing it ourselves, or without truly explaining the significance to them.”
Through seeing people like Brenda come alive in our parish and through having my own personal encounter with the love of God, I have come to understand that God is God, and once invited in through baptism, God can and will work powerfully in our lives and hearts. This is one of the blessings of baptism – that it is just the start of our journey to God, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
We may not fully understand the implications of our baptism, but as the church teaches (CCC 1254), “For all the baptised, children or adults, faith must grow after baptism,” once we invite God in, we have a lifetime to discover the One who calls us ‘My beloved son’, ‘My beloved daughter’.
Parish life has a real opportunity to make a difference in the life of people yet to know God’s love. Yes, it takes commitment, being intentional with our time and resources, and having a desire to help those beyond our communities but witnessing the love of God come to life in people and seeing the flow on effect in families and children, makes it well worth what it costs us.
And the implications are eternal.
Footnote: John the Baptist’s feast day is held on January 7.
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