Every parent has a few standout moments of “Whatever have I gotten myself into?”
One of my mine was of my second baby, Daniel’s baptism. As the priest began, “I baptize you in the name of the Father …” our preschool son, Jonathan, threw himself on the floor pounding his fists, kicking his feet in vehement protest. “I don’t want Daniel to be bap-i-tized! I don’t want Daniel to be bap-i-tized.”
The protest was not on religious grounds; he simply wished the gathered folks to disperse. He wanted a snack and a nap and maybe for Daniel to go back where he came from.
It was a memorable parenting moment. While I was shrinking in embarrassment, more seasoned parents were chuckling. Thankfully, my kind mom scooped Jonathan up, found a quiet spot and gave him some Cheerios to reinstate his 3-year-old belief he that was indeed the center of the universe.
Beyond this humbling moment, which I came to realize was characteristic of parenting, I think Jonathan was onto something. Baptizing your child is a very big deal. It is a commitment of a lifetime and nothing we should take casually or lightly. If we are understanding what we are committing to in baptism, we maybe should have a little more emotional reaction, too.
In baptism, parents make vows of utmost significance, committing to be the primary teacher of faith to that child. We should be advising parents as your child enters the waters of baptism, “Tighten your seatbelts. You just made a big promise to this little one.”
I now prepare parents for their child’s baptism. It is a front row seat to the opening moments of a great adventure, parents lifting their child to be blessed by God and welcomed into the Church. It is the public dedication to pass on the gift of faith. Parents present their child and sincerely ask godparents and in fact the Church community to help them raise their child in the faith. Each baptized child in some way becomes our child.
In preparation for baptism, parents reflect on the rite they will experience. They consider the symbols that speak so eloquently of this promise to pass on our faith.
As parents and godparents trace the Cross on the baby’s forehead, they mark this child for Christ. The priest or deacon says, “My dear child, the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In his name I claim you for Christ, our Savior, by the sign of his cross.”
Baptizing in water is a sign of cleansing of original sin and signifies our dying to life before Christ, living for Christ and eventually rising, with Christ.
Oil is to strengthen this child for the many unknowns encountered on the road of life. The oil of chrism, olive oil mixed with sweetly fragranced balsam, anointed on the crown of the head, seals the gifts of the Holy Spirit as it will again in the sacrament of Confirmation.
A white garment, is placed on the child as the prayer is read, “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment, the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
As a candle lit from the Easter candle is given to the parents, we pray, “Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ … always to walk as children of the light. May they keep the flame of life alive in their hearts.”
Parents and godparents make a grand promise at a child’s baptism. In fact, we all do. We commit for a lifetime to be family and community fostering the faith of this child.
It is the journey of thousands of steps. If taken to heart, this can be overwhelming. So, we invite parents in three simple ways to begin that journey by committing: To go to Mass weekly. To pray with your child daily. To get involved with one thing in your Church community that has meaning to you.
Raising a child is a long and winding road, but these three small steps are a good start. Faithful parents more often raise faithful children. We parents won’t be perfect. But God loves our wholehearted effort to keep this great promise we make in baptism.