My Top 3 Reasons For Following the Catholic Tradition of Infant Baptism
This past Sunday, I baptized my baby boy. He is not quite six months old but he handled the water on his forehead fairly well. He was asleep but when the water touched his head he stirred just a bit and gave out a small cry. Other than that, he seemed to enjoy being surrounded by family and friends and was very curious about what was happening around him.
A couple of years ago, one of my students in RCIA had recently had a baby and was struggling with whether she should have her baby baptized or wait until he was older. She posed this question to me:
“Why should I baptize my baby? Doing it just to satisfy my mother-in-law’s wishes isn’t good enough for me.”
My answers to her led to the reasons listed here on why I baptized my babies.
This post does not go into why I believe all the things I do about being Catholic. For example, I won’t explain why believing in God is so important to me, why I believe in original sin, or Heaven. That’s a long story for another post. Instead, this post simply addresses why I wanted to baptize my baby.
Reason #3: It’s Tradition
I explained to my student that although the bible does not specifically say that babies should be baptized or detail an infant baptism, infant baptism is a tradition that started early in church history. It came about as converts decided that they wanted their whole families baptized and this was assumed to include children and babies.
Additionally, many families keep this as a part of their family tradition. My mom baptized me and all of my siblings as infants and I wanted to continue that tradition.
Of course, just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right. Certainly, if there was something wrong with infant baptism, I wouldn’t do it simply for the sake of tradition.
So the question then becomes, “Is infant baptism acceptable to God?”. The following three items help to address this question.
- There is nothing in the Bible that says that babies should be denied baptism or that any individual at any age should be denied for that matter.
- Luke 18:15 – 17 states: People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hand on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to Him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
- Baptism as a spiritual rite of initiation, and thus a rite of inclusion into the Christian community, replaces circumcision which, in the Old Testament (and for Jews today), was performed on infants that were just eight days old.
Still, this explanation of tradition and infant baptism being acceptable was not good enough for my student.
I continued on to explain the hopes that sponsors and parents have for the baby to be baptized. This led to my next reason.
Reason #2: The hope that my child will know God, grow in relationship with God, and keep God close to him.
In wanting to raise children to be followers of Christ, I want to give my child a good start with baptism. I want to release my child from original sin as early as possible. From the start, I have hopes that my child will get to know God.
There is never a promise that my child is going to be a believer simply because I baptized him. I, myself, was baptized but turned away from religion and did not “find God” until I was a full grown adult.
But it’s a start. It’s a sign of hope.
And, hopefully, being baptized and growing up Catholic will help my son to find God later if he ever diverges or gets lost in this crazy world.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
I think it’s easier to turn to God if you were baptized then it is if you were not. In a way, baptism gives you permission to be a believer. And it’s not a permission by the church or even by God, but a permission from and for ourselves.
I think this has to do with identity. We hold strong to our identities. My experience is that not many people are willing to change their identity and especially not if it might affect how others view them. Therefore, unless we are of a very open mind, we tend to block out anything that might cause a shift in our identity. Thus, we are afraid to even begin asking the questions or trying to understand the answers for fear of where it might lead us. It is harder then, to turn to God when believing was never a part of our identity.
“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child will not enter it at all”. Luke 18:17
For me, even after “finding God” it took me five years to become confirmed as a Catholic, because I had strayed so far and was afraid of how being fully confirmed as Catholic might define me.
Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story reminds me of the powerful grace that is instilled with baptism. Jennifer was baptized as a baby by her mom for the sake of tradition, but Jennifer was raised an atheist by her dad and lived most of her life as an atheist. She began searching for God after she had a transcendent experience with the birth of her first baby. After a long and well researched journey, she decided to become Catholic. In a post on her blog titled An Indelible Mark, she reflects on how she believes that her baptism was one of the reasons for her eventual and full conversion to God.
Yet, even after a discussion of the hopes we have for our children and the grace of baptism, my student still felt that her son should at least know more about God and have a better understanding of the faith before being baptized as a follower.
This led me to the final reason and the most important one for me.
Reason #1: Baptism is a Requirement for Entrance into Heaven
In John 3:3, Jesus says:
“Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”
And in John 3:5:
“Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”.
The understanding is that baptism is a rebirth. By the spiritual cleansing of water and imparting of the Holy Spirit in baptism, one is reborn. This rebirth is required to both see and enter Heaven.
It’s important to note, however, that there are two other ways one can gain entrance into heaven, they are by blood and desire. And Heaven is not just the afterlife, Father Guardini wrote a good essay on How Jesus Makes Heaven Present to Us Today.
These are the top three reasons why I chose to baptize my son this weekend and why I baptized my daughter when she was just five months old. Each of the reasons alone are good enough motivators for me but it’s the combination of these three reasons that makes the case for infant baptism especially strong.
A couple months after my student completed her sacraments to become a full member of the Catholic church, I saw her in the vestibule at church. She came over to me and told me that she was baptizing her son that day!
With my son, when he was first born, I had the urge to immediately bathe him and swaddle him.
However, the new hospital procedure was to wait an hour before bathing a newborn. It was a long hour but I was happy when he was finally clean and comfortable.
Similarly, when we got home, I felt the urge to have him baptized right away, but I knew that I had to be patient and wait until I had recovered from the labor and birthing as well as when I felt comfortable having him out in public for a long time. Finally, the day came…
I’m so elated that my baby boy was baptized this past Sunday!
I felt immense joy in giving my son over to baptism and in doing so, acknowledging that my son is actually God’s son, and that God has so generously blessed us by entrusting this little boy to us to raise and care for.
What are your reasons for baptizing your children as babies instead of waiting until they are older? Are they similar to mine? Let me know in the comments below.