Entrusted to You
Alleluia! Alleluia! My daughter was baptized! On Sunday, in the midst of our parish community, she was submerged in the waters, she received the white garments, she was anointed with the chrism oil, and she received the light of Christ. Surrounded by her family and friends and community, she was baptized.
At least the baptism was started. I had a professor who would ask how long it takes to baptize a baby. In one sense it takes about five minutes to complete the ritual. But in another sense, this professor suggested, it takes about twelve years to baptize a baby. During those years the baby is raised in the faith, learning about God and growing in virtue. About twelve years later, we'll gather to see if the baptism took and then the young person will received the sacrament of confirmation.
It's an interesting way to think about the sacrament of baptism. With this perspective in mind, I was struck by the baptismal promises we made during mass. While my baby daughter was obviously not able to make any promises, the parents and godparents together with the parish community made the promises on her behalf. We were not only proclaiming our belief in the faith of the Church, but we were promising that my daughter would be taught these beliefs. Once I started to reflect on baptism from this perspective, I realized the entire ritual is oriented towards preparing the parents for this lifelong mission.
My daughter experienced the ritual of baptism on Sunday. While the ritual has been completed, I have been given a profound responsibility. The introduction to the Rite of Baptism for Children states "after baptism it is the responsibility of the parents, in their gratitude to God and in fidelity to the duty they have undertaken, to assist the child to know God, whose adopted child it has become, to prepare the child to receive confirmation and participate in the holy eucharist" (5). What an awesome responsibility!
Make no mistake, the sacrament is efficacious even if the parents do not live up to this responsibility. Every person who is baptized, whether infant or adult, receives a call to holiness and receives grace to respond to that call. After the ritual ends, the person must cooperate with grace to live life responding to that call. The responsibility of parents is to raise their child so the child understands this call and is prepared to live life responding to this call.
This calling was made evident right from the start of the baptismal ritual. After asked for baptism of God's Church, the priest explained "you are accepting the responsibility of training her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring her up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor." Then the priest asked, "do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?" While I can sometimes fall into the trap of going through the motions during the liturgy, this was a serious question that deserved careful consideration before responding. This responsibility my wife and I are undertaking will last for the rest of our lives. None of us are ever done growing in holiness, so this commitment is a lifelong commitment. Shortly after, the priest traced the sign of the cross on our baby's forehead and invited us to do the same. This simple gesture further demonstrated that is not only the priest who will help this child to be Christlike but the parents and godparents as well.
The specific moment that grabbed my attention during the mass on Sunday was when we began to profess our faith. The priest said "mindful of God's great love for us, as we recommit ourselves to the journey of faith, we respond to the promises that were made for us at the moment of our baptism." When thinking of the "promises that were made for us" at our own baptisms, I realized that it would have been meaningless for my parents to make a promise on my behalf as an infant but then never teach me to travel on this journey of faith and live out those promises. When we as parents made these promises for our baby and professed the faith of the Church, we were not only speaking on her behalf since she is unable to speak. We were also speaking on our own behalf and committing ourselves to following through on teaching her the faith of the Church.
After being baptized and anointed, my daughter received her baptismal garments and the priest said, "see in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven." While my wife and I are the first educators of my daughter, all of her family and friends, the whole parish community, is called to help by word and example. The priest did not only ask us parents and godparents to profess the faith. He asked the entire parish community to respond to these promises. I hope the community recognized that they are accepting this responsibility as well. The community is responsible for sharing faith with one another. The community accepts responsibility for working with the parents in the faith formation of the child. Whether they realized it or not, each member of my family and my parish who was gathered together on Sunday accepted responsibility to witness to my daughter by living out their own baptismal promises. We are blessed in my parish to have several faith formation opportunities where the entire parish, people of all ages, are invited to come together. These experiences not only allow for the ongoing faith formation of adult members of the community, but they give the members of the community the opportunity to help others grow in their faith as well.
One of my favorite moments in the baptism ritual is when the candle is given to the parents and the priest says, "parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly." Those words, "entrusted to you", have always struck me. This responsibility being given to parents it's not meant to be an oppressive rule they have to follow. Parents are being entrusted with a precious child of God. No one is going to follow up on them and punish them if they shirk this responsibility. We are trusting them to finish what was started here. What an awesome responsibility it is with which my wife and I have been entrusted. It is a responsibility that we are prepared to take because our parents took seriously their responsibility when they were entrusted to keep our lights burning brightly at our baptisms.
The introduction to the Rite of Baptism for Children explains "to fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament, children must later be formed in the faith in which they have been baptized. The foundation of this formation will be the sacrament itself that they have already received. Christian formation, which is their due, seeks to lead them gradually to learn God's plan in Christ, so that they may ultimately accept for themselves the faith in which they have been baptized" (3). My daughter has been baptized! It was a beautiful day with a wonderful opportunity for my family to celebrate the gift that has been given to us by God in my daughter. But her baptismal life is just beginning. My wife and I have been entrusted with an awesome responsibility. I have committed myself to living up to this responsibility to the best of my ability. I trust each of our family and friends will help by their word and example. I pray that my daughter will walk as a child of the light, open to the Holy Spirit so that one day she will bring her Christian dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven