For the past five years at St. Theresa’s we have baptized 103 new young Christians. Over the past two week our community baptized Marley, Elsie and Gretchen, welcoming them as our fellow Catholic Christians. It is significant that we baptized all these children. As is our practice, we welcomed them to the Christian community at our regular Sunday Eucharist. Their families gathered with us to present their children and our community gathered around them. Why do we do this in the way that we do?
Some would question infant baptism. They would argue that these children were not able to participate fully in what was happening. Would it not be better to wait until these children were able to understand fully what was taking place, to speak for themselves, to commit themselves to Christ?
If baptism were understood to be the end of a process, perhaps this would be the case. If our life and faith journey was a search for a finished and full relationship with God, then perhaps baptism would mark the fulfillment of this trek. But our journey is a life-long pilgrimage with many elements. In our Catholic tradition, baptism marks not an ending or fulfillment, but a beginning.
For Marley, Elsie and Gretchen their baptism was a beginning of their lives as disciples of Jesus. Like the disciples we hear of in the Gospels, or the crowd that surrounded John the Baptist and Jesus at the River Jordan, they were beginning a journey of faith that would be life-long. They will make this journey with a community of disciples.
The baptism of these children was a beginning for them. Many were involved. First of all parents, grandparents and others of their family gathered round them. This family wants to share many things with these children. Among the gifts they want to share is the faith tradition they have. They wish their children to be surrounded by the same loving faith community that they themselves have had. They want their children to be part of their own journey.
At the time of their baptism, these children were also surrounded by this community of faith. We want these children to join us on our own faith journey, to be part of us. And so we welcome them and express our own commitment to share our faith, our love and our support for them in the years to come. We also spoke for the whole of the Catholic community of faith around the world. We are a family of faith to which we have now gathered these newly baptized children.
In a few years, these children will come to the table of the Lord in their First Eucharist and later still they will come to our community seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation. All of these steps are doorways into being full and active members of the community of Catholic Christian, our Church. Each step relies on the full support of parents, family and the larger community of our parish in order to be effective and real.
Baptism, like all of our sacraments, is about relationships – with God, with the community of faith and with one another. Our Catholic tradition is not about individual seekers. It begins with the older initiating and welcoming the younger into the tradition. It continues through life always in the context of community, with each of us being carried and carrying one another. We are always a community of disciple – open to learning and open to assist one another in our discipleship.