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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Questions & Answers About the Baptism of Children

Why do we baptize children?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Neither gender nor age is specified in this passage. Such a fact is important because the suggestion that this passage is a repudiation of infant baptism would be far from the mark. Indeed, given the necessity of baptism, it would point to the latter.

Nevertheless, accepting that the passage is addressed to those who have reached the age of reason, we can explore what it means, “to be born again.” Just as we receive biological life in the womb, so too can we receive supernatural life from the womb of Mother Church— focusing in a practical way upon the water of the baptismal font and the action of the Holy Spirit. We do not deny that adults need to be taught and to accept the faith prior to baptism. Jesus says as much in his commission to spread the Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). However, in reference to children, the faith of parents and the believing community suffices. St. Paul was converted by God’s grace at a time when he did not believe in Christ and persecuted the Church. St. John the Baptizer was sanctified prior to his martyrdom, even though he knew little about the faith of Christ. Precedent for such an early initiation into the People of God can be found in the practice of the Jews, the first people called forth. Almighty God can wash children clean of original sin and give them a share in divine life, just as he presumed faith in the Jewish children circumcised on the eighth day as a step toward justification. Jesus would have none hinder the baptism of children. He said: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). While something of God’s mercy toward children who die while still in their innocence might be implied here, the main point is the inclusivity of God’s kingdom and Church. The gravity of baptism should not be dismissed. Jesus tells us that unless one is born again of water and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Do we actually believe that a little baby is infected by the sin of Adam and Eve and has consequently forfeited supernatural life?

Well, the Scriptures speak for themselves. St. Paul tells us: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). He also states: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (1 Corinthians 6:14-15). As a testimony from the Old Testament, we read in Psalm 50, verse 5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Returning to Paul, he tells the Ephesians: “We were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Original sin afflicts us, even upon the very day of our conception. Baptism restores supernatural life through Jesus Christ. As for what happens to a child who dies prior to baptism, we can take consolation in the fact that God’s justice to every soul is perfect and accompanied by a boundless mercy.

Does the Bible actually teach that all sins are forgiven by baptism and that a new life is given us?

St. Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39). This is prefigured in Ezekiel 36:25 when God states: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols. I will cleanse you.” As for regeneration, we read in Galatians 3, verse 25-27: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” There can be no doubt about it in Titus 3:4-7: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

Is there any evidence of the Apostles baptizing children?

Yes, they baptized whole households. We read in Acts 10:48 that they baptized the household of Cornelius and in Acts 16:15 that of Lydia. Also, do not forget Paul’s reception by Stephana, keeper of the prison. It is most probable that there were children in his home, too.

Were children baptized in the early post-Apostolic period?

Early authorities like Origen, Cyprian, and St. Augustine make clear that the baptism of children as soon as possible constituted a tradition handed down by the apostles themselves. The reasoning was that divine grace should not be withheld from anyone.

Is it wrong to presume faith in a small child or infant?

No, just as children can be made an heir of earthly property, long before they have the faculty of consenting to receive it, so too in baptism, infants can be made heirs of heaven.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.