Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Gatekeeping Baptism

Duly vested, Don Camillo approached the font.'What do you wish to name this child?' he asked Peppone's wife.

'Lenin Libero Antonio,' she replied.

'Then go and get him baptized in Russia,' said Camillo calmly, replacing the cover on the font.

The priest's hands were as large as shovels and the three left the church without protest. But as Don Camillo was attempting to slip into the sacristy he was arrested by the voice of the Lord.

'Don Camillo, you have done a very wicked thing. Go at once and bring those people back and baptize their child.'

'But Lord,' protested Don Camillo, 'You really must bear in mind that baptism is not a jest. Baptism is a sacred matter. Baptism is...'

'Don Camillo, the Lord interrupted him, 'Are attempting to teach me the nature of baptism? Did I not invent it? I tell you that you have been guilty of gross presumption, because, suppose that child were to die at this moment, it would be your fault if it failed to attain Paradise !'

'Lord, do not let us be melodramatic,' retorted Don Camillo. 'Why in the name of Heaven should it die? It's as pink and white as a rose !'

'Which means exactly nothing!' the Lord admonished him. 'What if a tile should fall on its head or it should suddenly have convulsions? It was your duty to baptize it.'

Don Camillo raised protesting arms: 'But Lord, just think it over. If it were certain that the child would go to Hell, we might stretch a point; but seeing that despite being the son of that nasty piece of work he might very easily manage to slip into Paradise, how can You ask me to risk anyone going there with such a name as Lenin? I'm thinking of the reputation of Paradise.'

'The reputation of Paradise is my business,' the Lord shouted angrily. 'What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button. At the very most, you should have pointed out to those people that saddling children with fantastic names may involve them in annoyances when they grow up.'

'Very well,' replied Don Camillo. 'I am always in the wrong. I must see what I can do about it.'
from "The Baptism", The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

I was a bit surprised to read Dr. Ed Peters' posts on the set of baptisms at which Pope Francis recently officiated, in which one of the babies baptized was the child of two parents who are not married in the Church. Peters is cautious about the precedent being set. In his first post on the topic he wrote:
First, unlike the foot-washing episode last Holy Week (here and here), the pope’s actions today occasion no reason to think that canon or liturgical law has been—what’s the right word?—disregarded, for no canon or liturgical law forbids baptizing the babies of unmarried couples, etc. Indeed, Church law generally favors the administration of sacraments and, in the case of baptism, it requires only that there be “a founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic (1983 CIC 868 § 1, 2ยบ). A minister could certainly discern ‘founded hope’ for a Catholic upbringing under these circumstances and outsiders should not second-guess his decision.

But here’s the rub: a minister could also arrive at precisely the opposite conclusion on these facts and, equally in accord with the very same Church law, he could delay the baptism. I know of many pastors who have reached this conclusion and who used the occasion of a request for a baby’s baptism to assist the parents toward undertaking their duties in a more responsible manner, including helping them to regularize their marriage status in the Church, resume attendance at Sunday Mass, participate fully in the sacraments, and so on.

Now, if the pope’s action today was as reported (again, we don’t know that yet), pastors who delay a baby’s baptism in order to help reactivate the Faith in the baby’s parents are going to have a harder time doing that as word gets out about the pope’s (apparently) different approach to the rite. Whether that was the message Francis intended to send is irrelevant to whether that is the message that he seems to have sent.
In his second post he elaborates on why he is more concerned about the situation of parents married outside the Church than about single mothers -- Pope Francis being famous for having emphasized back in Argentina that priests should not refuse to baptize the children of single mothers:
Quite simply, being an unwed mother is not sinful. Besides the fact that the acts by which a single woman became pregnant (assuming they were objectively sinful in the first place) could have been repented of long before the baby comes for baptism, a variety of circumstances could result in there being no sin associated with the pregnancy whatsoever, let alone with motherhood! I don’t know what priests might be like in Argentina, but I am very sure I have never heard of an American priest withholding baptism from a baby based solely on the fact that the mother of said baby was not married. A pastor could well arrive at a founded hope that the child of such a mother could be raised Catholic and proceed with the baptism in accord with Canon 868.

But the situation of Catholics actually married outside the Church is quite different. Setting aside my concerns that canonical form itself has become a pastoral stumbling block, I know how the law on canonical form currently reads and that, in the great majority of cases in which canonical form is violated, the Catholics involved are in objective grave sin and give scandal by their state. From that fact, it seems quite plausible to me that a pastor might delay the baptism of the child of such parents until, also in accord with Canon 868, a founded hope that the child could be raised Catholic is attained.
Certainly, I recognize that baptism of an infant should represent (on the part of the parents) a serious intention to raise their child as an active and believing Catholic. But it seems to me important to be clear on why that is. By being baptize, an infant is made a member of the Church, of Christ's body on earth. To attain the purpose for which we are all created (to know, love and serve God, and to be happy with Him one day in heaven) the child must be shown how to live the faith and instructed in the faith's beliefs. Parents who do not make an effort to bring up their children in the faith they were baptized into do those children a great wrong. And so, it makes sense to use what leverage the Church has to try to make sure that the parents understand those responsibilities before baptizing their child, and that the parents commit to making that effort.

However, baptism is not a reward for being committed to raising your child in the faith. And at the end of the day, while it's important that the Church strive to draw from the parents a commitment to raise their child in the faith, it seems to me that the Church also has a solemn duty to baptize those who come (or are brought) to it seeking baptism. This is where I found myself kind of perplexed by Dr. Peters' take:
Final point: Lost in this whole discussion has been, I fear, any recognition of the fact that, while baptism is of great value, it is also to take on very serious, life-long duties. Imposing via baptism those burdens on a child who is at heightened risk of not receiving adequate assistance in the Faith, and on some parents who in public respects seem ill-equipped to live the very Faith they want passed on to their children, is itself pastorally problematic, no?
Now, maybe I'm an odd mix of old fashioned and new, but it seems to me that the value of baptism should much outweigh its obligations when thinking this through. While the Church emphasizes God's mercy and thus trusts that God must deal mercifully with those who, though unbaptized, have to the best of their ability lived a good life: we also say that the only way that we know people receive the graces necessary for salvation is through baptism.

This is one of the reasons that we've always made sure that our children are baptized as soon as possible after birth. (William at just five days.) No, I don't believe that if our child somehow died without baptism, that God would consign him to limbo or to hell. I believe that God's love and mercy finds ways to work in such situations. But I would much, much rather that they be baptized. If we are right in believing that baptism washes away original sin and infuses the soul with God's grace, then it makes a difference.

As such, it seems to me presumptuous and risky to take the approach that since we can count on God's mercy and love towards those who aren't baptized, we should hold off baptizing a child we're not sure will be properly raised in the faith so as not to impose the obligations of being a Catholic on that child. It seems to me that in doing so, we put that child's soul at risk. We deny the child the graces of the sacrament, we leave him with the stain of original sin. Even if his upbringing is not as well formed in the faith as we could hope, it seems to me that we must believe that the graces of baptism will make a different in that child's life, and a difference that we should not deny.

So while it seems entirely appropriate to take action to try to impress on parents who bring their child to be baptized that they must raise their child in the faith, I am very skeptical of the idea of telling parents (whatever the state of their marriage or lack thereof) who bring their child to be baptized that we refuse.


Lois in Indy said...

It would appear Pope Francis agrees with you. Lois

Barb said...

I was surprised when I read about people making a fuss on the Pope baptizing that infant because I myself (and my four siblings) were all baptized despite the fact that my parents were married only civilly. My father is not Catholic and was divorced. My mother talked to her priest at the time (1952) who did not even suggest an annulment. My mother continued to go to Sunday Mass but did not receive the sacraments. When my older sister was born a year later, my mother called her parish priest and asked about having her baptized. His reply was that even though the parents were going to hell, the children should not be made to also go to hell. So all five of us were baptized and raised in the faith. My mother continued to take us faithfully to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, never receiving the sacraments which made us all sad when we were old enough to understand.
When we were young adults, we would often ask our mother to go talk to the priest about an annulment but she remembered earlier experiences and was afraid to. In November 2009, my father's ex-wife died. In the months that followed, I talked to my mother about talking to the priest but I could tell she was still afraid. I talked to my father who was very open to getting married in the Church for my mother's sake and I talked to our parish priest. On May 8, 2010, my parents at the age of 89 and 85 were married in the Church after my mother went to confession for the first time in 58 years. We all cried tears of joy watching our mother receive the Eucharist for the first time in our lives. That was one of the happiest days of my life. I can only imagine what would have happened to all of us if that priest had refused to baptize my sister. Sad thought indeed.

mandamum said...

One thing I found helpful in my thinking on Baptism is a comment I heard once about being careful not to impute so much power to the sacrament itself (as cut off from a life lived in fulfillment of it) that it becomes more of a superstition. It is absolutely a sign and instrument of grace, but to baptize a child who is currently in circumstances that would seem to guarantee he would be raised outside the Church, and to do this on the theory that the grace of Baptism will be enough to change the tide somehow... at some point you can cross the line from faith to magic.

I hear you being reluctant to just refuse baptism to parents who are asking; if parents came and were willing to say, "I have no intention of raising him in this blankety-blank faith, and I think he'd fare far better as a secular humanist, but my rich Grandma likes to see things done up in white lace, so we're doing it to please her," would the priest have reason to refuse? If the parents are the ones giving consent on the baby's behalf, and they aren't intending to do what the Church does in baptism, would that be an impediment? And if so, where along the line of "I'm not raising him Catholic" to "I'm not currently living anything approaching a Catholic life, so it's questionable how much effort I'll put toward seeing he does" does the impediment cease to impede?

Calah's story is a great one for demonstrating the role mercy needs to play in welcoming people, as we are all broken in some way....

Brandon said...

I very much agree with your argument here.

I think the problems here end up being very similar to the problems that arise in having children when you aren't sure you can support them -- it's one thing to avoid pushing the matter when you are seriously worried about your ability, since that can simply be just reasonable caution. But it's still necessary to have a certain openness to it happening even if you really aren't sure how it's going to work. And I don't think it's any different with the Church and her spiritual children. (Indeed, I would argue, although it gets more complex, that this precisely one of the things the sacrament of marriage directly teaches us: the procreative aspect of marriage is the direct sign of the salvific aspect of the Church.)

Baron Korf said...

Would it not be profaning the Sacrament of Baptism to simply have the child baptized for social or cultural reasons?

Brandon said...

Would it not be profaning the Sacrament of Baptism to simply have the child baptized for social or cultural reasons?

If 'profaning the sacrament' is taken in the strict sense, I don't see how; if it just means 'involves the parents not respecting the sacrament adequately', it no doubt does, but one has only to look at any Catholic culture to see that the Catholic Church baptizes children whose parents baptize them only for social or cultural reasons all the time.

MrsDarwin said...

I wonder if some of the arguments against baptizing children whose parents are not married or seem otherwise unwilling to raise the child in the faith are arguments that more properly belong to a discussion of marriage, in which the couple being married are both the ministers and recipients of the sacrament. There it does seem very fitting to look at the disposition of the people requesting the sacrament, since that affects whether or not a marriage actually takes place.

With baptism, the request of the parents says more about the spiritual state of the parents than the child, but it doesn't affect the validity or the efficaciousness of baptism (much as the disposition of the priest doesn't affect the validity of the consecration, although it may have spiritual repercussions for him). Also, it seems strange to argue that the child should be denied baptism if it seems he might not be raised in the faith, since even the most conscientious of Catholic parents cannot guarantee that their child will choose to stay Catholic, and even the least conscientious parents may produce children who choose to live out their faith later in life.

mandamum said...

There's a difference, though, in never being raised in the faith and in ceasing to live it later.

Banshee said...

If parents value Baptism enough to ask for it, and they're not asking for it in an outright sacrilegious way ("Dude, I want my kid to be baptized so that he'll make a better Satanic sacrifice when we kill and eat him!"), I'm pretty sure you should baptize the kid.

(And actually, if the parents were planning to Satanically sacrifice the kid, you'd want the kid baptized and the parents arrested.)

People are not always clear on their own motives, and today, that's true more than ever. Often, people's moral instincts are good but they don't know the reason, so they make up something stupid to say about what they know they should do.

So you get people saying stupid stuff about Baptism, when deep down they know it's about what is holy and about becoming God's children. But they have never been given those words, so they talk about the party or about Grandma's wishes instead.

People have died martyrs who didn't have a clear idea about the ideas of Christianity. There was a Korean woman, in the 2nd generation of Korean martyrs, who had flunked catechism class, couldn't remember her prayers, but managed die heroically for Christ just the same. She wasn't refused Baptism, much less the Baptism of blood.

bearing said...

What makes a person competent to ask for baptism on behalf of another who is not competent to ask for himself?

Jenny said...

I am not a fan of gatekeeping Baptism.

I'll tell you a bit about my heathen self. When my oldest was born, I was away from the Church. We had casually been attending a local Methodist church, but never joined and quit when I got pregnant because sick. Several months after she was born I felt a strong calling to go back to church and not the Methodist one. I found a Catholic church that wasn't like the horror of my childhood memories and we started attending. I wanted to get her baptized but couldn't because we were not registered. We didn't register because we were planning on moving soon. After a few months, we decided to attend the Baptism class. And right after that, I got a job 200 miles away and we moved.

We moved in with my parents while we searched for a permanent house and started attending their parish. Wanted to get her baptized, but couldn't because we weren't registered. Didn't want to register because we were planning on moving. After a few months, we decided to go ahead and register. Called the church office to schedule the baptism. "We don't do baptisms during Lent. Call back after Easter." Before Easter we found a house, moved, found out I was pregnant, and I was sick again. The new town we moved to had no Catholic church so we basically quit going. After pregnancy and recovery and getting back around to it, I called my parents' parish to schedule two! baptisms. The Baptism class from the other parish didn't count because it was in a different diocese. The parish we were registered in was now about and hour and a half away and we would have to take a class before they would schedule. That took some time to get worked in and then, at the ages of 3 years and 9 months, my two oldest were finally baptized. Yay! It still took us six more months before we started regularly attending Mass again. It helped that a new parish opened in town.

I do not completely blame the parishes because I have more than a small share of the blame for the situation, but I do think that my daughter was punished because I couldn't get my act together. I might feel a little differently if registering in the parish or the class was worth much, but it was just bureaucracy.

Until they were baptized, I literally kept a bottle of water in the car in case we were in an accident so I could do an emergency baptism with it. I am not kidding. Three years I did it. But why that sense of urgency didn't translate to actually getting on with the sacrament, I cannot tell you.

Jenny said...

I guess that's a long way to say that the child shouldn't be punished because the parents aren't doing what they ought. You never know what that measure of grace might bring.

Baron Korf said...

I'm all for erring on the side of grace. However, if a couple cannot be bothered to have their marriage at least con-validated before baptizing the child, I really have to wonder how much good will is in the parents. Conversely, I wonder about the priest who does not push for such a measure for the good of the couple under his care.

If the baptism is just to get grandma/grandpa off their backs or an excuse to show off their beautiful baby in a lovely christening gown with reception to follow, then I think some work needs doing to straighten out their priorities.

bearing said...

Not everyone in an irregular union who brings a child to be baptized is eligible to have their marriage convalidated or to be married. Or the process could take longer than it is prudent to wait before baptism.