Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dear Father Tharp:
My teenage daughter has a 6 month-old baby and she is no longer an active practicing Catholic. The father of the baby is in the picture, but he is not Catholic. Our priest published in our bulletin that the requirements for baptism of an infant is that one of the parents must be an active practicing Catholic. My daughter wants to have the baby baptized, but she is not practicing the faith. I am so worried about my granddaughter not being baptized. Would the Church decline to baptize an infant because the parents are not active Catholics?
Name and City Withheld.

First, I applaud your intention and concern for the welfare of your granddaughter. Baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments and the beginning of our life in Christ. It has been a venerable tradition of the Church to baptize both adults and infants, so that the free gift of God’s grace may be poured out on all. The logic of baptizing infants stems from the fact that like our earthly life, our supernatural life comes not by our willing it, but by gracious willing of God. As St. John reminds us, "Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent His Son to expiate our sins" (I John 4:10).

However, at the same time, we must remember that the Sacraments aren’t magic. They require our free co-operation. It is here that the problem concerning your granddaughter’s baptism arises.

The insistence of your pastor that your daughter be a practicing Catholic before granting the baptism of your granddaughter is found in the Code of Canon Law. The Code of Canon Law gives the Church a way to insure that the Sacraments are celebrated in such a way as to prevent them being treated lightly or in a manner unbecoming to their nature. The Code also gives direction on matters of Church governance as well.

The Code initially lays out the responsibility of parents to see that their children are baptized soon after birth (Canon 867, paragraph 1). This same canon assumes that the parents have already spoken to their pastor and received proper preparation for the Sacrament. At the same time, the Code recognizes that for the baptism to take place "...there must be a realistic hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic religion. If such hope is truly lacking, the baptism is, in accordance with the provisions of particular law, to be deferred and the parents advised of the reason for this" (Canon 868, paragraph 1, degree 2). Given the situation you describe, the burden for raising the child in the Catholic religion falls squarely upon your daughter. That she is not practicing the Faith at this time, the pastor can assume, quite reasonably, that the hope of the child being raised Catholic is slim. The sad fact is the person withholding the baptism from your granddaughter is not your pastor. It is your daughter.

Speaking from my own limited pastoral experience, if I were the pastor in this situation, here are my concerns given this case. First, as your daughter is not practicing the Faith, I would be dubious that she understands either the nature of Baptism or obligations placed on her by her own Baptism. If she doesn’t understand these things, how can she form her child in the practice of the faith? Second, I would be curious to find out what the father of the child thought. Since he is not of the Catholic faith, I would be concerned that he might be more of an impediment than an assistance to the rearing of this child in the Faith.

In closing, I sympathize with you. It must be distressing to see one’s children forego the practice of the Faith that you took such pains to raise them in. You must take St. Monica as your guide and example. It was through her prayers and sacrifices that brought one of the greatest doctors of the Church, St. Augustine, into the Church.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

father, i know the arguments to not baptize the baby, but as someone who once was that non-practicing catholic married to a pagan, i would like to tell you this. my father "arranged" for our daughter to be baptized even though, as i said before, i was not even practicing the faith, but i knew i was duty bound to bring my daughter up as a catholic. long story short,when she was 5 years old ,i went through rcia,my other child was baptized.later my husband has converted. we now homeschool and consider ourselves faithful, orthodox catholics, all because of that baby being baptized "on the sly."

5:56 PM  

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