I don’t remember my baptism. Back in 1953, the Catholic Church taught that infants who died unbaptized didn’t go to heaven, but instead went to someplace it called Limbo. As nice as heaven but without the joy of seeing God, the nuns told us. And they could play this game where you tried to go backwards under a bamboo stick while steel drums and guitars were playing reggae music.
Oh, I’m just kidding about the last part. Newborns can’t even walk, much less dance.
Anyhoo, because of this belief, which (thankfully) is no longer part of Catholic dogma, babies were baptized as soon as possible – hopefully within days – maybe even hours — of being born. So undoubtedly most cradle Catholic baby boomers don’t remember their baptisms.
Bill was brought up Baptist, and so he was 12 or 13 when he was baptized. He explained to me that the Baptist church teaches that a person should be old enough to make the decision to be baptized, and so it is generally when they are a pre-teenager. He was fully submerged rather than having holy water trickled on his head. Wow. When my son Court was baptized at age 1 month, he was inconsolable over that trickle of water. Of course, he was inconsolable for about the first four months of his life.
But I digress….
In Sunday’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is baptized. I’ve always wondered why Jesus was baptized seeings as he had no sins, original or otherwise. I don’t have the answer, of course, but have believed that it was sort of God’s introduction of his Son – our Savior – to the world. After all, after St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son.” So perhaps this was a sign that Jesus was human, but that he was going to fill us with the word of God because Baptism makes us one with God.
Not all of my grandchildren are baptized. This fact ranks among the top things in my life that hurt my heart. After the birth of one of my grandchildren, I met with our pastor.
“My heart is broken,” I told him, “and I don’t know what to do.”
His advice was stellar and I took it to heart, and continue to do so. “Do nothing but love your grandchildren and model your love for God to them,” he said. “They will one day make their own decision, and it will be the right one.” And he assured me that the Catholic Church no longer taught or believed in the notion of Limbo.
While the Catholic Church teaches that the sacrament of Baptism does, indeed, free us from sin, that’s not why I wish all of my grandkids were baptized. Kids don’t sin. They just are kids. However, I just think that Baptism brings us into relationship with God in a formal way, with friends and family in witness. It provides the opportunity for God to say, “This is my beloved (son or daughter). In you I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ baptism brought him into the community of the world. Baptism brings us into the community of the church. That fact seems important to me.