By Fr Sean McGuire
In recent weeks, there has been a national debate on whether it is correct to ‘impose’ the sacrament of baptism on a two week old baby or should a person have the right to choose their religion when they are mature enough to do so. Pope Francis is very much aware of this problem that some might have. On the 11th of April last, he said that “some people think: ‘why baptise a child who does not understand it? We hope that as he grows, he will understand and that he himself will request Baptism’”.
The pope responds by saying that “when we baptise a child, the Holy Spirit enters that child, and the Holy Spirit cultivates in that child, from childhood, Christian values that will then flourish.” Parents have to make many important decisions on behalf of their children, so surely, it is only right that they can choose to have their children baptised, so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within them to guide them through life and to strengthen them. So the Pope gently reminds us: ”Do not forget to baptise your children!” In this third article on the Sacrament of Baptism, we will continue to explore this wonderful gift we have received from God.
In his Catechesis on the 18th of April, the Pope referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1213): “Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life.” It is where we assumed our Christian identity and our relationship with Christ began. We are intimately united with Jesus in baptism and so the Pope insinuates that baptism is the means through which the world is transformed. Just imagine if every Christian were faithful to their baptism, then we would live in a very different world!
The Pope goes on to highlight how important our name is as it indicates our identity. We are personally called by name in baptism to live the Christian life and our response to this call is also a personal one. As the Pope says: “God continues to pronounce our name throughout the years, making his call to become conformed to his Son Jesus resonate in a thousand ways.”
At the beginning of the baptismal ceremony, the Sign of the Cross is traced on the forehead of the candidate. The cross is the key through which eternity is opened up to us. In the words of Pope Francis, “the cross is the badge that shows us who we are”. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we are reminded that we are immersed in the life and love of the Trinity. The true mark of the Christian is when he or she has fully embraced the cross that God has given them. So the Cross is a very important sign for us Christians. The Pope, therefore, makes two practical suggestions. He encourages us to make the Sign of the Cross when we wake, before we sleep, before meals, or when we face danger or temptation. The other encouragement he has is to keep a holy water font at home so that “each time we come in or go out, by making the Sign of the Cross with that water we remember that we are baptised.”
On the 25th of April, the Holy Father reminded his listeners that one never goes alone to the baptismal font because they are accompanied by the prayer of the Church. This is evident when the Litany of Saints is recited before the baptism, reminding us that the candidates are accompanied by the prayer of the people of God. The prayer of the church continues to sustain us throughout life. We are not alone in facing our daily battles. As the Pope says: “baptism prepares us as it ‘gives us strength for the daily struggle.’”
Until the next time, we might ponder how the Holy Spirit has been cultivating Christian values within us since our childhood, how we are personally called by name, the importance of the cross for the baptised, how baptism transforms us and how the Church accompanies us in its prayer.