Carry the Child to the Font
My niece was baptized this week! As the ceremony began, her friends and family gathered around her at the baptismal font. While the children gathered close to the font, my daughters were a little further back. My daughter looked up at me and said "Daddy, I can't see." I lifted her up and held her throughout the ritual so she could see what was happening.
As I stood holding my daughter in my arms and watching my brother-in-law holding his daughter in his arms, I recalled holding my daughter at her baptism. I held her out and lowered her into the baptismal water and held her there as our priest poured the water over her head while singing "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!" The community rejoiced singing "Alleluia!" because just as a family rejoices when a child is born into the family, the Church rejoices when a child is baptized into the Church.
The introduction to the Rite of Baptism for Children says, "In the celebration of baptism, the father and mother have special parts to play" (Rite of Baptism for Children 3). In addition to the more obvious parts they play like asking that their child be baptized and making a profession of faith for the child, the rite insists the parents play a special part when they "carry the child to the font". As I stood at my niece's baptism holding my daughter, I began to pay attention to who was holding my niece. It struck me that the baby's mother held her and later carried her to her father who then carried her to the font. Both mother and father participated in carrying the child to the waters of baptism. Furthermore, as I carried my daughter to the font so she could see her cousin be baptized, I realized even after we carry our children to the font, we continue to carry our children to the sacramental life of the Church so they can continue to grow in the faith. Carrying my daughters to Christ is a lifelong vocation.
Parents carrying their children to the font is a beautiful illustration of the deep relationship between domestic churches and the larger Church. Children are first introduced to the faith in their homes. It is in the domestic church that children first experience love, and as they experience their family's love they are prepared to understand God's love. Parents pray with their children, read Scripture with their children, and grow in faith with their children. However, no domestic church is complete by itself. The domestic church must be united with the universal church, primarily through participating in the life of a parish church. It is in the parish that children are invited to receive the Sacraments, participate in the Mass, experience the beauty of the Church's music and art, and deepen their understanding of Church teachings through catechesis. In the parish church and diocesan church, children can come to recognize they are a part of something much bigger than themselves or even than their family. They are a part of a Church that spans across the ages and to the ends of the earth.
After my niece's baptism, I spent some time viewing the photos of my daughter's baptism. I love the photo of me holding my daughter in the baptismal water, slightly leaning over the edge of the font. Next to me, our pastor also leans over the edge of the font, reaching his arm down into the water. His arm reaches down parallel to my arm suggesting to me the harmony between our movements. The image captures how the family and the Church work together to introduce a child to Christ. Parents are the primary educators of their children, but this education is not carried out in isolation. There is an intimate unity between domestic church and parish church that continues throughout our lives. The unity between the experiences is deep for it is the same God encountered in both contexts. My parents carried me to the font, I carry my children to the font, and perhaps someday my children will have their own children whom they will carry to the font. The same Holy Spirit is active, gratuitously pouring out grace upon us both in our families and in our parish communities, both through the generations of our families and through the ages of the Church.