Adults and children 7 years and older prepare for baptism through the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” (RCIA).
Christians are born through the Sacrament of Baptism, that is, through baptism we are born as "other Christs." Christ has no body now but the baptized. The baptized are the body of Christ, the people of God, the Church.
Sunday homily for January 13, 2008 (A)
By Fr. Joseph Pelligrino
Sunday Readings: The Baptism of Jesus
When I was growing up, my parish, St. James of the Marches in Totowa Borough, N.J., had a large marble baptismal font in a room off one of the side entrances to the Church. St. James was no different than any other Church at that time. The baptismal fonts were off, out of the way, very often behind an iron grill off to the side of the entrance to the Church.
When a baby was born, the godparents would bring the baby to the Church on a Sunday afternoon with no one outside of the family present except the priest. The baby's mother would be home resting, she wished. The father would be helping her prepare the party, she also wished.
Back in those days baptism was almost totally identified with taking away original sin. While that was and is true, it is only one part of the sacrament and often a misunderstood part. The concept of original sin refers not to an action but to a relationship. Because mankind, Adam, rejected living the life of God, all people are born without this life. This deprivation is the result of the first sin, that's why it is called original sin. The emphasis on original sin originated with St. Augustine during the fifth century.
But what did baptism mean before that? What did the Jesus mean when he told his disciples to go out and baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Since Jesus did not need to be freed from original sin, what did his baptism by John mean?
The Church asked itself these questions during the Second Vatican Council of the 1960's. It studied and recovered that which was always there but had been either forgotten or simply pushed aside. The Council emphasized these three truths about baptism: 1) Baptism is an initiation into the people of God; 2) Baptism is a call to discipleship; and 3) Baptism is a commissioning.
Initiation, call and commissioning. Let's focus on these three elements.
Initiation rites are most often public ceremonies. During the rite a significant number of the group meets to witness and welcome the renewal of the group through the initiation of new members. It would be odd for someone to be initiated into a group with few members of the group present. Perhaps you have gone to or seen pictures of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, or the great Cathedrals of Florence, Siena or Pisa. Next to these basilicas you find a very large circular building. Those were the baptistries, large enough for the entire congregation to gather around a center baptism font. This is how the early Church envisioned baptism. And this is what happened for centuries.
But as time went on baptism was relegated to a semi-private ceremony. The Council knew that did not make sense. Therefore the baptismal fonts were moved from side rooms to the front of the Church or to the main entrances of the Church. Many parishes celebrate baptisms during a Sunday Mass. A small parish like St. Matthew where I was sixteen years ago could do this. It is much more difficult to do it in a large parish with many infants being born like St. Ignatius. But it would be ideal. Perhaps one action we should incorporate when we have baptisms of babies is calling the oldest person present, perhaps the baby's great grandparents, to come forward and lay their hands on the baby as a sign that the heritage of the faith is being transmitted to the child. Regardless of how a parish organizes its celebration of baptism, it is clear that there is no such creature as a private baptism.
The second point is that baptism is a call to discipleship. In the early days of the Church this call was so serious that people who were not born into Christian families spent years preparing to enter the Church. The catechuminate, the period of preparation, usually lasted three years. In some places it lasted seven years. All during this time the candidates for baptism had to prove their sincerity to live as Jesus lived by prayer and good works. They even had to produce witnesses who would publically testify to this. Back in those days to be baptized was to be counter cultural. To accept the Lord's call to discipleship meant to live different from the rest of the world. It meant a commitment to holiness.
Somehow or other, much of this was lost as the centuries progressed. As the centuries rolled on the notion that the baptized were called to a radical life was submerged. The sacrament was reduced to a fixation on original sin. Baptism became more of a spiritual inoculation to get rid of something rather than a call to be something. Today, members of our parish hold baptismal classes for new parents to alert them that their child's baptism is not just an erasing of original sin but a call to discipleship. The life of the disciple must be lived by the child's parents. By having their children baptized, parents are taught that they are taking upon themselves the responsibility to raise disciples for Christ. That is the reason why the greatest action any person can do with his or her life is to raise a Christian, or two, or three or four....
Finally, baptism is not just a christening, a signing with Jesus Christ. Baptism is a commissioning. The baptized are called to ministry, to do the work of God. All of us, not just priests, all of us are commissioned through our baptism to be representatives of Jesus. All of us were chosen by God for his mission. Remember, Jesus told us, "It is not you who chose me, it is I who chose you."
Baptism means for us exactly what it meant for Jesus that day he stepped into the River Jordan and was washed by John. He was beginning his public life, his mission. His baptism was his initiation, his entrance into that mission. He emerged from the water commissioned by the Father to do his work. In the waters of baptism we have been initiated, called and commissioned. We have been initiated into a worldwide people, called to discipleship and commissioned to ministry.
"This is my Beloved Son, listen to him." The importance of this epiphany lies in the words of the Father. Jesus and Jesus alone is our teacher. In a world full of gurus, dynamic preachers, and people of every opinion imaginable each with thousands and thousands of followers, we need to look to only one place, to only one person for guidance. We only need to look to Jesus Christ. Our way to God the Father is through the person of Jesus Christ. We take these steps by responding to his call for us to take up our crosses and follow him. Any theory or practice that diminishes the need for Jesus in our lives or relegates his presence to a secondary role can not be our way to the Father. We are not told to listen to this guru, or that dynamic preacher, or to read this or that famous writer, we are told to listen only to the Beloved Son.
The writer Annie Dillard had a mystical experience that led her to the convent. She was walking through the woods when she saw a valley below her and two men in the water. She realized it was John the Baptist and Jesus. She saw Jesus come out of the water. Suddenly, she was right next to the Lord. She saw the beads of water on his shoulders. She looked closer and in each bead of water she saw a nation, a city, a home, a person's face. It was then that it occurred to her that Jesus knew everyone one of his people and was baptized to care for and to serve each one of us.
When you leave Church today and dip your hands into those miniature baptismal fonts we call holy water fonts, think of your dignity, your call and God's statement of your commission: "You are my Beloved in whom I am well pleased. Go and be my disciples."
His love is beyond our understanding. His voice is the one we need to hear.
By Paul Dion, STL
The question of whether or not to baptize infants is one that polarizes the Christian community like perhaps no other. It is a discussion that pits one person's exegesis against another's. It is a discussion that cannot be resolved by "sola scriptura" apologetics because it requires the kind of compromise that neither side likes to make. Interestingly, as we pointed out in the introduction to the question, the positions taken in this question by the people in the pews are not purely based on religious conviction along Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant lines. Based on the above, ParishWorld.net is stepping off the ledge into the deep water with the following.
Those baptized in the Gospel, including Jesus
John was carrying the word that the time of the arrival of the Messiah was close at hand. He took his message to the Judean Wilderness on the shores of the Jordan River. There he repeated the call of the prophets who came before him, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew, chapter 3, verse 2)
It is said that many came to him and many were baptized. What is not clear is how many of them were Jewish and of the "Chosen People" who had already been circumcized and how many of them were from the "other nations" to the east of the Jordan. It is also not said whether or not they submitted to circumcision after their baptism. One thing is for sure, Jesus, who was one of those baptized certainly had no need to repent and certainly had no need of circumcision. Finally, it is not mentioned in the Scripture that infants were or were not among those being baptized by John.
Those baptized in the stories of Acts
The act of baptism is mentioned about a dozen times in Acts. In each case the event is one of conversion. In Acts it is narrated that some of the conversions are from Judaism and some are from members of the Nations. (Non-Jews) We are all familiar with the discussion about whether or not the non-Jews are to be or not to be circumcized. Nowhere in Acts nor anywhere else in Sacred Scripture is it mentioned specifically that infants were being baptized. This argument will continue until the end of time because there is no literal canonical Scriptural proof to be found that they were or were not.
Furthermore, Acts does not communicate a single baptismal event in which a newborn infant from a converted household was taken to the Christian community for baptism followed by a no-holds-barred, post baptismal party for half the town.
The baptism of infants is a religious development that includes events from apostolic times, no record of which has found a place in the canonical scriptures. Even my apologete friend, Mr. Gonzaga could not find a literal scriptural proof that a first century household included infants. He could not find any literal proof that an infant was every presented to the community after eight days to get baptized in a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant, substituted by post resurrection baptism.
This does not mean that our declaration of Faith that Baptism is essential for salvation is incorrect. It also does not mean that our insistence on the necessity of infant baptism is unfounded and therefore not an article of faith. What it does mean is that the practice of infant baptism has been revealed to us as being an integral part of our faith by the continuous practice of baptizing infants for centuries, dating back to the age of the apostles. This practice is so pervasive in Christian communities that even many of our non-Catholic, Christian brethren cling to it just as we Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans.
There is no doubt that the early Church practiced infant baptism; and no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation. The doctrine of infant baptism cannot be discussed in a "sola scriptura" apologetics environment, because there is no cold, hard "fundamentalist" evidence to sustain it literally in canonical scripture. That does not perturb us Catholics and Orthodox because we believe in the revelatory power of Tradition as our Jewish forebears.
We cannot do better in this matter than to direct our readers to the
INSTRUCTION ON INFANT BAPTISM issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith andapproved by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, October 20, 1980. We strongly urge you to read this document. It was produced while Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was in charge of this Congregation.
Among many points that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes are the following:
"It is beyond doubt that the preaching of the Apostles was normally directed to adults, and the first to be baptized were people converted to the Christian Faith. As these facts are related in the books of the New Testament, they could give rise to the opinion that it is only the faith of adults that is considered in these texts. However, as was mentioned above, the practice of baptizing children rests on an immemorial tradition originating from the Apostles, the importance of which cannot be ignored; besides, Baptism is never administered without faith: in the case of infants, it is the faith of the Church."
"Furthermore, in accordance with the teaching of the Council of Trent on the sacraments, Baptism is not just a sign of faith but also a cause of faith. It produces in the baptized "interior enlightenment," and so the Byzantine liturgy is right to call it the sacrament of enlightenment, or simply enlightenment, meaning that the faith received pervades the soul and causes the veil of blindness to fall before the brightness of Christ."
Further down in the document, the author gets practical and presents the following directives.
"The Pastoral Practice of baptizing infants is based on the following:
1) In the first place, it is important to recall that the Baptism of infants must be considered a serious duty. The questions which it poses to pastors can be settled only by faithful attention to the teaching and constant practice of the Church. Concretely, pastoral practice regarding infant Baptism must be governed by two great principles, the second of which is subordinate to the first.1) Baptism, which is necessary for salvation, is the sign and the means of God's prevenient love, which frees us from original sin and communicates to us a share in divine life. Considered in itself, the gift of these blessings to infants must not be delayed.
2) Assurances must be given that the gift thus granted can grow by an authentic education in the faith and Christian life, in order to fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament. As a rule, these assurances are to be given by the parents or close relatives, although various substitutions are possible within the Christian community. But if these assurances are not really serious there can be grounds for delaying the sacrament; and if they are certainly non-existent the sacrament should even be refused."
"Why do you believe Catholic parents are obligated to baptize their children as babies?"
By Paul Dion, STL
You have all heard the expression, "cradle Catholic." You have heard it from all levels of Catholics, from the daily Mass-goer to the Christmas and Easter Mass-goer. You have heard it on television and in the movies, "I was baptized Catholic a few days after I was born..."
You have also been in conversations where there was a lively give and take between those who were opposed to infant baptism and those who were all in favor of it. It was even possible that those involved in the discussion were all Catholic!
It could also be that you were surprised to see that your Lutheran friend was for infant baptism and your Catholic relative was against it. You listened and shook your head in disbelief at this turn of events.
It is true, there are Catholics who wait until there children are old enough to make up their own mind about whether or not to be baptized. There are plenty of non-Catholics who would be surprised at this opinion. Yes, there are Protestant communities who seriously believe in infant baptism. Martin Luther himself never abandoned the practice of infant baptism in his break from the Catholic Church.
ParishWorld.net is asking you where you stand in this matter, and why...
So here is the Burning Question of the week: "Why do you believe that it is an obligation of parents to present their new born children to the sacrament of baptism as soon as possible after birth?"
ROME, JAN. 6, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the commentary that Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Pontifical Household, prepared on the Gospel of this Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus. The solemnity of Epiphany was celebrated today in Italy.
The Baptism of Jesus (Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)
Rediscovering Our Baptism
"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as he came out of the water he saw that the heavens opened and that the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended on him. And a voice was heard that came from the heavens: 'You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"
Was it that Jesus also needed to be baptized, as we do? Of course not. With that gesture, he wanted to show that he had become one of us. Above all, he wanted to put an end to the baptism of "water" and inaugurate that "of the Spirit." It was not the water in the Jordan that sanctified Jesus, but Jesus who sanctified the water. Not only the water of the Jordan, but that of all fonts of the world.
The feast of the Baptism of Jesus is the annual occasion to reflect on our own baptism. A question people often ask themselves about baptism is: Why baptize small children? Why not wait until they are older and can decide freely for themselves? It is a serious question, but it can conceal a deceit. In procreating a child and giving him life, do parents first ask for his permission? Convinced that life is an immense gift, they rightly assume that one day the child will be grateful for it. A person is not asked for permission to be given a gift, and baptism is essentially this: the gift of life given to man by the merits of Christ.
Of course, all this assumes that the parents themselves are believers and have the intention to help the child develop the gift of faith. The Church acknowledges their decisive competency in this area and does not want a child to be baptized against their will.
Moreover, no one today says that, by the simple fact that a person is not baptized, he will be condemned and go to hell. Children who die without baptism, as well as people who have lived, through no fault of their own, outside the Church, can be saved (the latter, it is understood, if they live according to the dictates of their conscience).
Let us forget the idea of limbo as the place without joy or sadness in which children who are not baptized will end up. The fate of children who are not baptized is no different from that of the Holy Innocents, which we celebrated just after Christmas. The reason is that God is love and "wants all to be saved," and Christ also died for them!
Quite different, however, is the case of the one who neglects receiving baptism out of laziness or indifference, though aware, perhaps, in the depth of his conscience, of its importance and necessity. In this case, Jesus' word retains all its severity: only "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" (cf. Mark 16:16). There are increasingly more people in our society who for different reasons have not been baptized in childhood. There is the risk that they will grow up and make no decision, one way or another. Parents are no longer concerned about it because they now think that it is not their duty; the children because they have other things to think about; and also because it has not yet entered the common mentality that the person himself must take the initiative to be baptized.
In order to address this situation, the Church gives much importance at present to the so-called Christian initiation of adults. The latter offers the young person or adult who is not baptized the occasion to be formed, to prepare and to decided with full liberty. It is necessary to surmount the idea that baptism is only something for children.
Baptism expresses its full meaning precisely when it is desired and decided upon personally, as a free and conscious adherence to Christ and his Church, although the validity and gift of being baptized as children must not be disregarded for the reasons above explained. Personally, I am grateful to my parents for having had me baptized in the first days of my life. It is not the same to live one's childhood and youth with or without sanctifying grace!
[Translation by ZENIT]
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, January 11, 2009
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS (BaptismB)
Today with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord we come to the end of the Christmas season. We end Christmas as we began Advent with the figure of John the Baptist.
At the beginning of Advent he was presented as the figure foretold in Isaiah come to “prepare the way for the Lord.” Today we see the fulfillment of his mission in the Baptism of Jesus and the inauguration of Christ’s public ministry.
The sacred liturgy cannot follow the various events in the life of Christ in chronological order since we celebrate them all within the space of a single year. What the Church does is place these events in relationship with each other so that the various mysteries that we celebrate compliment each other.
That’s why we have the accounts of the ministry of John the Baptist in Advent, then we celebrate Christmas, Epiphany and now the Baptism of Jesus. They are not in chronological order but in a sequence which illustrates their meaning and significance. What we are doing is not considering them chronologically but theologically.
Christ’s Birth was celebrated two weeks ago and in between we have had two feasts which were directly complimentary to it: the Feast of Mary the Mother of God in which we clarified our understanding that this child was our Saviour, Son of God and Son of Mary; then in the Feast of the Epiphany we saw how he was not destined merely for the people of Israel but for the people of the entire world.
In today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord we see our Saviour begin his ministry with the blessing and affirmation of God himself: “You are my beloved Son, my favour rests on you.”
And at this apposite moment we are introduced to the Sacrament of Baptism, the door to the Church and the gateway to salvation.
Christ doesn’t need to be Baptised, but by undergoing Baptism at the hands of John he transforms it into the great sacrament of salvation. Just like everything else he touches it is transformed. He makes it not just a Baptism of repentance for sins but a Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the entrance to the Life of the Spirit.
Jesus receives Baptism from John as a sign that he is sorry for the sins of all mankind and an expression of his decision that he would save us through his death on the Cross. This is a bold statement made right at the very beginning of his ministry and it indicates clearly the direction in which he is going.
Of course, this was not evident to any one present except John the Baptist; it is something that only becomes clear in retrospect. But it is clear that John the Baptist gets the message because as is recorded in the Gospel of John the following day he points out Jesus to his disciples and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
He knows who Jesus is and he knows what Jesus is to achieve; he might not be fully aware of the details or how it is going to be worked out, but he knows God has a plan for the salvation of the world and Jesus is going to be the one who is to fulfil the promises God has made down through the ages.
We have, each of us, been Baptised; our task now is to live out the implications of our Baptism. Being Baptised means being a Child of God, being Baptised means living a new kind of life, being Baptised means that we are now Witnesses to Christ.
Because most of us were Baptised as children we have completely forgotten the experience of Baptism. However, we might have been present recently at the Baptism of a child and we were reminded us how the priest poured water on our heads in the name of the Trinity and how we were anointed with holy oil and consecrated to Christ’s service.
We know that Baptism is the sacrament of our initiation into the Church and that through it we became members of Christ’s body. It is a simple ritual but it has extraordinary implications.
I mentioned that this feast falls at the very end of the Christmas season. But it is also regarded as the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. It acts like a sort of bridge between Christmas and Ordinary Time.
As we have noted, and it is especially evident in the Gospel of Mark, the Baptism of Christ marks the beginning of what we call his public ministry. In Ordinary Time we go systematically through the Gospel and consider the important events of this ministry. We look at the various miracles in turn and we examine Christ’s teaching, especially as found in the Sermon on the Mount.
We should take all this seriously; if we are to be his witnesses to the world of today then we need to know all about Christ—what he did and what he taught. That means we need to study his life and there is no better way of doing this than by following the Gospel readings as presented to us by the Church through the Liturgical Year.
As we celebrate this feast today we are invited to remember and take ownership of our own Baptism. We will renew our faith using the question and answer format as was done at the time of our Baptism and I will sprinkle you with Holy Water in blessing as a further reminder of Baptism.
As we do these things let us give thanks to God for the gift of faith and for all that we have received as members of his Church. Let us ask him to come into our lives afresh and fill us with his Holy Spirit. And let us resolve to live our lives in this New Year as his faithful disciples.
by William F. Wegher
Have you ever wondered why some people have very involved godparents and sponsors, while others don't even know theirs? Perhaps part of the problem is that many godparents and sponsors were chosen for the wrong reasons, or because those same people don't really know what they're supposed to do! Do you? This Update will help us to better understand these roles.
Most of us at some point have to choose either a godparent for our children or a sponsor for ourselves, but how do we choose these people? Or you yourself may someday be asked to be a godparent or sponsor. What is expected of a sponsor or godparent today?
Take for example Julie and John, a happy, "thirtysomething" couple who have just had their first child. They're really into their Catholic faith, so they're excited to have their baby baptized. A big family celebration is planned, but John and Julie are wondering about godparents. What about John's sister and her husband who helped Julie out so much during her pregnancy? It would be a great way to thank them—but they don't practice their faith. Or how about Julie's best friend, Mary, who is actively involved in a young Catholic adult program, even though Mary's husband is a devout practicing Protestant? Will this be all right with the Church?
Or take Kevin, an eighth-grader who will be confirmed at the end of the school year. He has asked his cool older brother, Mark, who goes to college 300 miles away, to be his Confirmation sponsor. Mark, who looks like he just stepped out of the latest teen TV show, knows how much Kevin idolizes him, but he feels a bit uneasy about being a sponsor. Mark respects Kevin's faith and his decision to be confirmed, but he really hasn't gone to church or practiced his faith these last few years. Should Mark be honest with Kevin, and "just say no"? Should he not say anything and just accept? Or should Mark accept, but take a new, more serious look at his own faith?
Adults going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) may have the same questions. In reality, a lot of Catholics are confused over the difference between a godparent and a sponsor. Let's look at the role of godparents first, then examine the purpose of a sponsor, and finally we'll look at what all of this means for your family, parish or RCIA.
Godparents for Infant Baptism
How to choose godparents
This is a big day for your family, and you want to do the right thing. Choosing godparents is a decision not to be taken lightly. Too often parents want to honor a special friend, repay a favor, or encourage a nonrelative to have a closer relationship with their child. While all of these motives are well intentioned, they are not ideal. If you want to be happy about your decision, consider the following.
Above all, a godparent serves a special role for one to be baptized, whether it be a child or an adult. Godparents are to represent the Christian Catholic community, the Church. They are to assist in the preparation of adult candidates for Baptism and to be supportive of them afterwards. When it comes to infant Baptism, godparents are to assist the child's parents in raising their child in our Catholic faith, so that the child may profess and live it as an adult.
Thus if we remember a few basic things about Baptism—it gives a person both a new and special status as a child of God and it makes a person a member of the Body of Christ, the Church—then what you are looking for are godparents who can truly represent that Christian community. Basically this means you want at least one active and committed Catholic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states "...the godfather and godmother... must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized—child or adult—on the road of Christian life" (#1255). This is the Church's way of saying that being a godparent is truly a ministry in the Church, and not simply an honor.
In fact the whole Church community or parish bears some responsibility for the development and nurturing of the grace given your child at Baptism. Much of this will come later in parish religious education and even classes for you on Christian parenting.
What does this mean for our friends John and Julie that we mentioned above? As much as Julie and John appreciate all the help that John's sister and brother-in-law have given them, this is not a good motive for having them be godparents. Rather, John and Julie should choose a firm believer, someone who is truly committed to the Catholic faith in which their new baby will be baptized. Thus, Julie's best friend, Mary, so active in her faith, is a perfect choice. But what about Mary's husband who is not Catholic, since John and Julie want a married couple to be godparents? The Church has a solution for this too!
Since Mary is a practicing Catholic, and a perfect choice as a godmother, she will be the officially designated godparent, while her husband—a great Christian and committed to his own faith—can serve as an official witness. This is fully in line with canon law (see #874). Only one godparent is necessary, although both a godfather and a godmother are preferred. So while Mary's husband—a witness—will set an example, it will be Mary's duty as godmother to share specifics of the Catholic faith.
To ensure that a godparent is capable of this, Church law also insists that this person be at least 16 years old (for maturity's sake), fully initiated (having received Confirmation and Eucharist), be someone other than the legal parents and one who leads a life in harmony with the Church.
All this may seem like quite a bit, but the purpose is to ensure that the rich and beautiful faith of the Church is passed on to your child in the most loving and authentic way possible. Hopefully you know by now that the task of choosing godparents is one which should be performed with much prayer, careful thought and with greatest concern for the precious spiritual life of your child.
Be at your best
If you think that the role of parents in choosing godparents is a serious one, so is the role of being a godparent. Being chosen is an honor, and says a lot about the parents' perception of you.
I remember how excited and humbled I was when my brother and sister-in-law asked me to be the godfather for their first baby. Even though I'm a priest, I had to consider the investment of time and energy it would require of me. So remember not to rush into anything too quickly here! Make sure that you have the time, the willingness and the faith to live out this sacred vocation.
A vocation is a calling, an appeal to live something out in your life. These parents are calling you to be something special for their child: to set an example, help teach their child about the Catholic faith, have a lifelong relationship of prayer, faith sharing and love. Before accepting this invitation, take some time to pray and reflect on your ability to do this.
You should ask, "Can I share my faith unashamedly? Do I live close enough to really get to know my godchild? Am I an active member of my local Catholic parish?" If you are from another parish, you'll probably be asked for a letter from your home parish attesting to your active faith in the Church. If you're an active Catholic, getting such a letter from your pastor will be easy. If you're not, maybe you need to question your fitness to serve as a godparent at this time. But if you are able to say yes to these questions and if your faith makes you ready to accept this honorable vocation, here are a few helpful hints to assist you in being the best godparent that you can be:
• Prepare with the parents. In most parishes, the parents will be required to attend a Baptism preparation class to reflect on many of the things mentioned in this article. If you're able, you should be there too! Your willingness to be with the parents now says a lot about your willingness to be present to your godchild in the future.
• Be there on the "big day:" Be available for the Baptism ceremony. This may even mean missing less important events. Besides saying, "We are," when the priest asks if you are ready to assist the parents in raising the child in the practice of the faith, you will have the opportunity to clothe the child in the white baptismal garment, and to light the baptismal candle. Take seriously the profound yet beautiful words: "Parents and godparents, this light has been entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly." You may also be asked to write a touching intercession for the Prayers of the Faithful on behalf of your godchild. Later at a family party, you could make a toast or say a meaningful prayer for your godchild and your role in his or her life.
• Don't forget the "big day"! Hopefully you will always remember your godchild's biological birthday, but don't forget this "birthday" into the Body of Christ. Make a phone call or send a card. Better yet, suggest having a get-together to honor this day each year. Bring out and light the baptismal candle, recalling the Light of Christ burning in the heart and soul of your godchild. Or, create a photo album to be shared with your godchild when he or she gets older.
• Pray for your godchild. Keep your godchild in your daily prayers. The constant prayer of godparents never hurt anyone! On occasion, take time to celebrate Eucharist together, for it is, after all, the source and summit of our faith lives.
• Share the faith that's been shared with you. When your godchild is young, introduce him or her to a children's edition of the Bible. Teach about his or her patron or name saint. Attend and offer encouragement at the child's first Communion or share your own faith story as our godchild approaches Confirmation. Continue your lifelong relationship by participating in your godchild's wedding. Remember, being a godparent is about more than an infant Baptism ceremony!
Too frequently we may have limited our attention to the negative aspect of the sacrament of Baptism, that is, its power to remit sin and to cleanse away all guilt. There is much, much more to it.
Christians are born through baptism, that is, through baptism we are born as "other Christs." Christ has no body now but the baptised. The baptised are the body of Christ, the people of God, the Church.
Through many centuries Christians loved to view the baptismal font as the womb of Mother Church; for at the font her children come forth alive with a new and higher life that of God Himself.
This second birth into God's own family at the baptismal font is the source of new and wonderful privileges. The first of the baptismal graces which needs emphasis in twentieth first-century United States is that of our incorporation into Christ, the fact of the Mystical Body. Baptism makes us members of Christ: "We were all baptized into one Body . . . you are the Body of Christ and severally His members" (I Cor. 12:13, 27).
Our head is Christ, and consequently the thoughts which fill our minds must be His thoughts: "We have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16). As in a body many cells share the same dignity, so the many individuals who form Christ's Body all share the same godlike dignity; there is then no place for mutual indignities or antagonisms; fraternal charity must reign supreme. Because Baptism has made us all one in Christ, the efforts of each are to the advantage of all, the suffering of one brings tears to many, a single song of praise gladdens countless hearts.
Baptism, secondly, makes us the dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity, makes each of us a holy temple, for "holy is the temple of God, and this temple you are" (I Cor. 3:17). God's active, energizing presence in the baptized soul transforms it into a creature most pleasing to Himself. Yes, all too frequently we may have limited our attention to the negative aspect of Baptism, that is, its power to remit sin and to cleanse away all guilt. More marvellous is its fulfillment of Jesus' last prayer:
"If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make our abode with him" (St. John 14:23). And where Father and Son are, their Spirit must of necessity be: "Do you not know that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I Cor. 3:16). As we become conscious of this unspeakable gift our hearts spontaneously welcome the command: "Glorify and bear God in your body" (I Cor. 6: 10). Though Baptism confers such great gifts, it is not a final stage in God's generosity toward us -it is only a beginning. Baptism plants the seed, the remaining sacraments bring it to harvest.
All the sacraments are directed toward the Sacrament ot the Eucharist, particularly Baptism. Baptism gives me the right to receive the Eucharist while the Eucharist preserves and makes fruitful my baptismal privileges. Baptism, by making me share in the priesthood of Christ through the "character" it imprints, enables me to share in the offering of the one only Sacrifice; by offering this Sacrifice with Christ I again renew my baptismal descent with Christ into death in order to rise again with Him in newness of life.
Baptism makes me a cell in Christ's Body, the Eucharist nourishes that cell, makes it healthy, makes it function in a loving, sacrificial spirit of unity with countless other cells, makes it ever a more fitting dwelling for the triune God.
Baptism is our birth as Christians. A little reflection, and this age-old truth becomes fresh and dynamic. Its power produced the "Age of Martyrs" and the glories of patristic Christianity. If we but give Baptism the thought and attention it deserves, its power will vitalize and transform our weak devotions into a spirituality strong with the strength of Christ as our Head and holy with the holiness of the indwelling Trinity. Its power will make us pleasing and acceptable to God the Father, for through it we have been enabled to offer the perfect Sacrifice in and through His Son Christ Jesus.
Truly, holy Baptism is a great sacrament, making us Christians, making us "a kingdom of priests, a holy people" (I Pet. 2:9).