My Son’s Baptism

March 1, 2009

My son was baptized today, the first Sunday of Lent. This was a different experience for me than my daughter’s baptism two years ago. At her baptism, which was during the Easter Vigil, I can remember thinking, “I know this is special. I know this is supposed to mean something.” I tried to cherish the moment, but in all honesty it was lost on me.

Although like at any other organized group event I was flustered and my head was spinning, I approached Chris Jr.’s baptism with a more secure knowledge in what was actually going on. I knew what we were asking for when we asked the priest to baptize him, and I wanted it this time. All this mad research I’ve been doing since beginning blogging has been invaluable to get me to this point.

Take, for example, my post on grace and free will. In summation, the Catholic stance on these matters is that we can do nothing without God’s help. We cannot even turn to God without His grace, yet we can at any time reject His grace in our lives by our own will. So if you apply the concept of our utter dependence on God’s grace to a baby, you see that it doesn’t matter that they can’t make the decision for themselves, because they can’t turn to God of their own power anyway. Also, the Catholic affirmation of free will, that we can turn from God and indeed lose our salvation and fall from His grace, silences the protest that a baby’s fate has been decided for him.

The Catechism has rather powerful language to describe the event. Baptism is a sacrament in which the grace of justification is conferred. The gift of faith is given gratuitously by God through no proceeding merit on our part. Through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit on the water, the baptized are “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). We die to this sin and are given new life in Christ (Rom 6:3-6). Sins are washed clean through faith in Christ and by His merit. All sin is forgiven (Acts 2:38), including personal sin and original sin, that sinful nature into which we are born. We are made to belong to the body of Christ. For babies, baptism means original sin is washed clean and they are imprinted with God’s gift of faith, with the mark of those who belong to Christ.

I don’t pretend that I can fully wrap my brain around such things. The nature of a sacrament is something completely foreign to me. But it is wonderful to be able to appreciate my son’s baptism and the real grace of God in his life.

We can ask for God’s grace of faith for our child, wash clean the stain of original sin, promise to bring him up in the Faith, and graft him into the body of Christ, with this simple sacrament. Why would anyone not want to give these things to their child? So without reservation, I made the sign of the cross on my son’s forehead. I affirmed the Faith, and promised to bring him up in it. I asked the priest to baptize him. And I watched, as he was washed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, made into a new creature and a little man of God.

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The Beginning of My Mental Conversion

December 5, 2008
Although it can be hard to trace in hindsight, I think the biggest help in changing my mind about Catholicism was seeing first hand that it wasn’t what I thought it was. My eyes were opened about different issues separately and through different events, but I can begin with the major issues Chris and I faced when we were considering marriage (because they dealt with how you live your life together): contraception and infant baptism.

On contraception:

I kicked and screamed on this one. I thought natural family planning would be difficult and unreliable. I thought Chris was hell-bent on keeping me subdued and pregnant till I was driven to an early death (a mindset that I now realize comes from eugenic propaganda, go figure). I’ve always been against abortion of any kind, so the pill which can be abortifacient was not an option I wanted to take, but I was not against barrier or sterilization methods of birth control.

So Chris more begged me to accept his view on this rather than stonewalled me like he has done on other issues. He showed me the catechism and explained the Catholic teaching that sex must always be both unitive and procreative, and the two purposes cannot be separated. In the end, since my view was more permissive I grumpily consented to his so as to not force him to sin against his conscience. “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Cor. 8:9

We signed up for the Natural Family Planning class put on by the CCL. There were four monthly classes, a massive book, and a bunch of pamphlets and materials they put out. Through the first two classes I whined perpetually about the method, how it was so subjective, that I didn’t think we’d be able to do it, it wouldn’t work, and on and on. By the third class, we had it down. We skipped the fourth class because it was pointless to keep going. Now the method seems really clear and simple to me. I love the health benefits of not drugging myself and screwing with my hormones. We have both successfully avoided and achieved pregnancy. I now recommend the method to others, especially since I know a lot of women who can’t use the pill for health reasons, are allergic to certain birth controls, or have trouble getting pregnant.

I still have trouble with the idea that sex must always be unitive and procreative, not just one or the other. I even see periodic abstinence as making sex only unitive, since you’re infertile at that time. I guess they say that since you’re not working against baby-making during the act, you’re “open to life”. The idea grows on me even now, because I see how degenerative the loving act of sex has become in our society. Forget unitive and procreative, sex has become purely recreational. The masses are desperate to free themselves from any and all consequences of sex. This is the mindset that has dehumanized individuals, leading to sexual assault and abortion. In practice, the Catholic teaching seems to be the way to go. It protects the family and guards against perversion, not to mention protects the woman from medicinal harm. This may be the first of many issues in which I’ve judged a tree by its fruit (Matt 7:15-20), and found the Catholic way is best.

On infant baptism:

I was baptized in an outdoor pool by my uncle, who is an ordained minister, in the middle of winter. I was eleven years old at the time. My parents waited until I could make the decision for myself, and “confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” Rom 10:9. They believed it was merely a symbolic outward confession of your internal conversion, and not a necessary one at that.

Chris came along and wanted to baptize our babies as Catholics. He lost two points with me off the bat. I hadn’t yet agreed that our children would be raised Catholic, and baptizing babies was foreign. Neither he nor I can remember exactly how I accepted the first point. I think it was a gradual thing. As I came to accept the Church and see her for what she is, the more I wanted to raise our kids Catholic.

As for the second point, baptizing babies, I grudgingly consented to baptize our children with the condition that if they wanted “re-baptized” as adults, Chris would support them. He said that was nonsense, I insisted, he said he wouldn’t be able to stop them now, would he? So I went with my crazy Catholic husband to the baptism class at our local parish ran by our priest, Father Chuck. He is a rather open minded (but not heretical) priest. He’s good at explaining issues to us Protestants, including us in things, explaining traditions, and most importantly, he looks like Santa Claus and is just as congenial. Going to mass was a frighteningly foreign thing for me to begin with, and a friendly face was a huge help.

In this baptism class, Father Chuck went around the room getting people’s religious backgrounds and baptism stories. He explained the important and universal aspects of baptism like being baptized with water and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He discussed the differences between immersion and sprinkling. He explained the baptismal fount at the entrances, and that when people cross themselves with the water, they’re remembering their baptism. He suggested ways of helping our children remember their baptism, keeping their baptism candles on a shelf with a picture of the event, along with the little sashes they provide “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Gal 3:27

After initializing all of us with these pleasantries, Father Chuck moved on to finer points of theology. There were two major issues: the meaning of baptism, and baptizing infants versus adults. My initial standpoint that baptism is merely a symbol wasn’t much of a barrier to accepting the reality of baptism as a grace given to sinners, washing away their sins and admitting them into the membership of the body of Christ. He also explained that the Catholic Church doesn’t re-baptize people who’ve already been baptized with water in the name of the trinity, because they’ve already received that grace. It would be nonsense to try to re-grace them.

During this class, I found my perspective shift rather suddenly on the issue of baptizing infants. Catholics saw this as a way to initiate members into the body of Christ, a path that parents can readily claim for their children since they are the ones responsible for raising them. This especially makes sense viewed with the belief that salvation is an ongoing process. It’s not as if they’re saying they’ve saved their children “once and for all”, in a common Protestant sense of salvation. They’re claiming their children for Christ and setting them on the right road. There’s also the idea that whole households got baptized together in the early church (1 Cor 1:16, Acts 16:15, Acts 18:8). In the end, I was looking forward to claiming my little girl for Christ.

As far as the actuality of the grace of forgiveness in baptism, I wasn’t as convinced at the end of the class. There’s plenty to support it biblically (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38 Acts 22:16, etc.). However, I think this is closely tied in with the issue of sola fida, justified by faith alone, and the understanding of how God’s grace is conferred. I have just recently been looking into these issues, but there’s far too much to get into it in this already lengthy post.

And that’s how it started. Things began to make sense because they worked. I could accept them as at least logical and self-consistent. Then, slowly, I began to see truth in it by judging the tree again. I’m trying to get to the point where I can embrace these things as my own. Intellectually, I think I’m mostly there, unless some craziness is unearthed in my research in which the Catholic Church rejects Christ as Lord. Until then, I have some more reading to do.