My latest for OSV News:
While parishes across the country gear up for a Eucharistic revival, we shouldn’t forget another sacrament that is often just brushed aside.
I’m talking about baptism. Where the Christian life begins.
Over 15 years, I’ve baptized hundreds of infants, and marveled at the wonder of it all. I’ve also been surprised at how much parents don’t know about Catholicism and about this foundational sacrament. Every month, I meet with parents to begin the process, and hear things like: “One of the godparents will be Buddhist and the other Jewish, OK? We want it to be ecumenical.”
“I’m not sure if my husband and I were married by a priest. I’ll find out if she was ordained or not. But maybe she was a nun?”
And then there’s:
“We’re having a hard time finding godparents. We don’t know any Catholics.”
“Yeah, I know the godfather is an atheist, but honestly, I can’t think of a better person to raise our children if anything happens to us. He’s really a good guy. Can’t you make an exception?”
Most of us know that the state of catechesis in our Church is, to put it gently, wanting. Understanding of the sacraments is especially weak. But I think the problems go much deeper than that, touching on our whole sense of ourselves as Catholics.
Not so very long ago, receiving the sacraments was a benchmark of Catholic life. But now? Catholics seem to just shrug them off. For many, baptism — this moment of sacred welcome — has become a mere requirement to be met. For some, it’s a social event. Naming someone a godparent is like asking them to be your maid of honor.
They’re missing the point.
As Pope Francis noted in 2018, “Baptism is the door that permits Christ the Lord to make His dwelling in us and allows us to immerse ourselves in His mystery.”
Perhaps we clergy need to try harder to catechize from the pulpit or in the bulletin with gentle reminders that “godparent” does not mean “guardian in case of death,” and driving home the idea that the godparent is supposed to be more than just a nice person, but a living model of Catholic Christianity and a witness to the faith.
Long before the baby is born and the invitations are in the mail, we need to ensure that people understand, and deeply, that baptism is more than an excuse for a get-together; it is a transformative moment of grace.