Monday, March 21, 2016

If our greatest aspiration in life is not to be a saint, we would have 'lost the plot' of our baptism.

Every parent, without exception, wants the best for their children.  To this end, many parents will go to great lengths to ensure that their children be provided with as much as they can provide materially for their precious charges.  Many, if not all parents, have this belief that their children deserve the very best, or at least the very best that the parents can give.  It is not uncommon these days to hear of parents who are buying insurance plans and registering for places in elite schools for their children who are still ensconced safely in the womb of their mothers.  So much planning and care is done to ensure that their children get what their parents think to be the most important things in life.  Looking at this kind of meticulous remote preparation from the viewpoint of someone who is not married and doesn’t have children, it is easy to have some admiration for the dedication that these parents have for their children.  At least from the outset, these parents do appear to be doing a good thing for their children. 

The Catholic Church has always taught that it is both necessary and good for parents to have their children baptized as infants, and for very good reason.  In days of yore when medical standards were far from that of current times, and when mortality rates were much higher, getting a newborn baptized soon after birth was an act that had an unspoken rationale – that even if the child’s physical life is in danger in the post-natal period, its spiritual life would have been safely taken care of, assuring the parents of the child’s salvation in Christ.

I’m not sure if the great leaps of advancement having been made in the medical world and low mortality rates have caused some Catholic parents to be somewhat lukewarm in their approach toward the baptism of their children when they are infants.  As a priest, I have been asked by Catholic parents themselves whether there is a pressing need for them to have their babies baptized as infants.  I often ask them in return what is holding them back, and invariably, the answer would be a variations of “I don’t want to force anything on my baby, and would want to give him or her the freedom to choose their faith”. 

I can appreciate this struggle in marriages where one parent is a baptized Catholic and the other is not.  But in marriages where both parents are baptized Catholics, this reason tells much more than meets the eye.

First of all, it shows clearly that the Catholic parents have a disordered sense of priorities for their children.  They make all sorts of decisions for their children before they can even think or speak for themselves, and this includes and certainly is not limited to things like vaccinations and medical care when they are ill, warmth and clothing when they are cold, food and drink for their sustenance and growth, and the best education that they can afford.  Yet, all these are not eternal goods.  They are earthly goods and are finite. 

The spiritual life has values that endure in this life and beyond.  While the material and empirical world is finite, the soul perdures in eternity.  While a price tag can be placed on the things that one can provide for the life of the flesh, there is no price that can ever be placed on the life of the spirit.  This is therefore a very good and sound reason for any parent to place as his or her primary care and concern for their children, a priority to bring this child into the life of Christ through baptism from an early age.

Secondly, what pains me as a priest of God when I hear this as a response by Catholic parents is the revelation and admission (always passively revealed, by the way) of their own lack of priorities and shallow or non-existent faith in God.  Somewhere along the line between their catechesis leading up to their Confirmation and the time when they got married and became parents, God as a top priority and reason for their very being had taken a back seat, or relegated to the trunk.  Faith, for whatever reason, had become an option, and God began to be given a secondary or tertiary position of relevance and importance in life.  They had ‘lost the plot’ of life along the way, and it had not bothered them to recover it.  God was moved to the periphery of life, and given a nominal role.  Many of us may have not realised that all that we have been endowed with in life is a gift from God to be used for his ultimate glory, and this includes our gifts, our talents, our resources and our time.  But it does seem that God hardly gets much of these in return from us, and if he does, he only gets what's left.  If an analogy were to be made, where a piece of fabric was one’s day to make a shirt out of, most of the time, the main portion of the fabric would be for one’s own needs and purposes, and if there was any remnants left, then God would get them.  If at all.


A gentle prodding and probing of these parents of why it is that they do not find infant baptism meaningful and beneficial for their children sometimes reveals something else – that it is because the faith meant nothing for them growing up, and that they wouldn’t want their children to suffer in the same way as they did.

My response to these parents is this – while it is most unfortunate that you may have not had a childhood that included the tender and constant care of the community and prayerful environment personified by a loving and nurturing presence of a God-parent, it does not necessarily mean that this will be the same experience for your own child.  Many people do not have good memories or experiences of school.  Many have experiences of being bullied, abused, prejudiced against, failure and defeat, and being passed over in school by their teachers or peers.  Yet, this has hardly been reason for parents to not want to have their children educated.  Indeed, this reason exposes it for being a mere excuse, and a rather shallow one at that.

Perhaps what is most distressing about this is that though the Church has always taught that the child’s first catechists of the faith are his or her parents, it is the parents themselves who are either unable or unwilling to take up this seemingly onerous task.  Many may feel inadequate to either pray with their children, bless their children, or have any conversation with them that has a remote connection with faith, and it results in their children having a dualistic mind when it comes to the realities before them.

While the empirical and material world is one reality that dad and mum are very interested and involved in, and can speak passionately about and have strong opinions of, the spiritual world is something that they are sadly clueless about, revealed often by their inability to have a meaningful conversation with their children about anything remotely connected with God.

I know that I am not pointing out a problem that is new.  In many developed countries, this is a reality that has plagued the Church, and its trickle-down effect is staggering.  Hearing the young and not-so-young people toss about phrases like “I am spiritual but I am not religious” tells me that there is a generation that thinks that religion is to be disdained because it seems to be a roadblock or barrier against being spiritual, and that religion is not something that a truly mature person takes seriously.  This is, in a word, insidious.

We will be bluffing ourselves if we think we do not have a problem on our hands.  It takes a concerted effort of both the common and ministerial priesthood to work together to broach this thorny issue, and we need to do this with a great sense of urgency and sensitivity.  The plot, if it is in the process of being lost, needs to be rediscovered and reappreciated.



2 comments:

  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    The best thing my parents ever did for me, bar none, was to get me baptised into the Catholic church - and then; to bring me up in the faith. In doing this they were fulfilling (one of) their marriage vows and being faithful Catholic parents.

    I do agree that, nowadays, there is a tendency to “let the children decide for themselves,” but I also believe that (besides the reasons you give), this is also borne out of fear. Fear of ‘imposing’ our religion on our charges and also that, eventually our children will resent the fact that we did this.(The influence of worldly thinking has something to do with this, I suspect).

    But why fear? Instead, do what the Catholic church teaches and leave the rest to God.

    We have an obligation to lead our children to Christ. Whether our children eventually embrace Christ and His church and become faithful Catholics themselves is something a little beyond our control – for they have their own wills. But at least we (parents) can do everything in our power to ‘bring them to Christ,’ especially by living authentic Catholic lives ourselves.

    God bless.

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  2. Hi Fr Luke ..tks another great insight into spiritual disorderliness plaguing our catholics.

    I'm sure by now many would have read abt our youths having nor religious experience or affliations and classifying themselves as atheists or agnostics could be traced to this root cause of not properly forming them eg baptism or catechising them when young. So much so that the youths of today have no or none of the religious DNA in them. seems lost. One even say "reason" is enough to "√ľnderstand" life.. I can understand where he comes from.. But faith goes beyond reason..

    For non catholics.. we can understand that faith in whatever believe in may not be necessary be incalcated into the infants.. Catholics however .. i think should have their child baptise asap once born.. The gift of baptism is one of the best gift ever given to us by God. And remember this .. God gives you this gift because He loves us.. and we truly need Him.

    As for the parents who thaink letting their children decide his faith by not baptizing them during infant.. probably because they themselves has not or did not have a personal experience or encounter with the Lord. If not.. they would have rush the baby to the baptism font the moment the baby is born.. to get it baptized.

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