When an infant is presented by his or her parents and godparents to be baptized, the priest or deacon asks the parents of the child this question, “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand the commitment you are undertaking?” The parents dutifully and boldly respond, “yes.”
The baptism of a child is a crucial, grace-filled moment in the life of the infant’s family, in particular for his or her parents. It is a moment of commitment to Christ and His Church. It is a moment for parents to recognize their primary role in the religious education of their children and their essential role in his or her lifelong spiritual wellbeing.
A few years ago, I read a book titled Divine Renovation by Father James Mallon from Nova Scotia, Canada. Mallon reveals that at a certain point in his ministry, he became tired of facilitating perjury. He explains that too many times, he asked the question above to parents and they answered correctly, but he knew that the parents did not intend to carry out their commitment. He became concerned to the point that he revamped the sacramental preparation programs of his parish. Before any child could receive a sacrament at his parish, the parents were engaged first so they became active Catholics. This not only ensured the parents were active parishioners, but most importantly according to Father Mallon, so that the couple did not commit perjury at the baptism of their child by promising to do something they would not carry out.
Experience as a parish priest has revealed that most of the time, I anoint and visit at the hospital dying Catholics that I do not know because they are not active in any parish. I baptize children of parents that seldom attend Mass, and less than half of the young men and women preparing for First Communion and Confirmation regularly attend Sunday Mass. There is a missing link. Jesus taught us that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood has eternal life. As Catholics, we either believe this or we do not. Jesus does not want a lukewarm faith – if we believe Him we would do everything within our ability to attend Sunday Mass and pass on the faith to our children. Mass attendance as a family is an integral part of our faith. Yet, experience shows this does not happen.
My first Pastor after ordination, Monsignor Fred Nijem, reflected with parents that it would be pointless to take your child to every single baseball practice if you never took your kid to play the games. Why practice for something that you will never participate in? Nobody gives a child a booklet with the rules of soccer so the kid begins to love the game, you take him or her to the Mercedes Benz Stadium to cheer in an Atlanta United game. The primary duty of parents is to prepare their children for heaven – doing everything that is possible to facilitate their spiritual development. So much emphasis is given to other dimensions, which in themselves are not bad, but if the soul of a child is not fed, everything else will have been done in vain. The firm religious foundation in the life of a child will carry him or her through earthly life, and into eternal life.
Picture used with permission.