Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Who should be baptized?

Over on the HMS blog my wife and Greg Popcak have gotten into a debate over how tough it should be to be allowed to be a member of the Church. It all stems from a thesis that the popularity of a group is enhanced by how hard it is to be a member. Making membership too easy leads to a drop in membership.

Nice theory and it would explain the popularity of some cults, but they come and go. It hardly explains the Christian faith at any era of its existence. One of the faults of thinking about the early church as fitting this model is the thinking that everyone was a martyr. Of course this isn't the case although the lapsi who survived the persecutions built nice churches in their honor.

One of the hot topics is should a child be baptized if the parents do not seem fit Catholics. The problem with this question up front is that it is all about what everyone else should be doing and very little about what I should be doing and reflects very little of a Christian attitude. Are Christians supposed to be watchdogs? Didn't Jesus command us not to judge but to love? Didn't he condemn those who would try to keep the "little ones" from entering the kingdom of God?

Re: Canon Law....

"The law exist to bring people to Christ" as the former president of the Canon Law Society of America has said, and any interpretation that turns people away from Christ is faulty. The poorest translator is the person who can translate it from Latin to English (which unfortunately is the only value some exhibit). It is clear that there are Catholics whose one goal is to turn people away, to make it hard to come to Christ. "Suffer the children to come to me" Jesus scolded his disciples when they tried to keep them from bothering the Lord.

I know people who were baptized as infants never went to church but still identify themselves as Catholic and come back years later because they have been marked with an indelible sign when they weren't even conscious of it (or were they?). It isn't magic--it is real. Like the Lord's healing touch to the woman with the hemorrhage, the sacrament's have an effect.

Grandparents bringing infants to be baptized is not a bad thing, but a good thing. It is largely reported that in Russia during the reign of Communism that it was the grandparents that kept the faith alive. If grandparents are going to take an active role in the faith formation of children why not allow them to? In traditional society grandparents have often played this role and to make light of it is to have a very narrow view of "family."

Ultimately the question isn't who should be baptized but what am I doing with the gift of my baptism? Sitting in judgment of others like the Pharisee who prayed up front "Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men" or the Publican "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." Anyone who thinks they are the first is deluded. We all are sinners.