Since all our extended family is out of town, we decided to have my son Peter’s baptism over Labor Day weekend. He was due on August 15th, so it seemed like no problem. Until days went by after the due date, then a week. I started to worry that he would miss his own big day! Finally, we induced at Due Date +9, and he was baptized just over a week after being born. This worked out very well for me, as everyone had pity on me and took care of all the party details!
Two and a half months later I had much more to be grateful for than just having gotten out of cooking and cleaning for my guests. As Peter laid in a pediatric ICU crib, I was profoundly grateful that he had already been baptized. Not that we could not have performed the simple ritual ourselves, or had one of the priests who visited us do the honors, as we had plenty of warning that things were serious in the days before his death. We were glad that if his life had to be very short, that he had lived almost all of it as a child of God, full of sanctifying grace.
Baptism matters. It is tempting in our society to see it only as a simple rite of passage, like sending birth announcements or getting 3 month photos taken. But it is much more! Baptism, like all sacraments, would blow our minds if we could see past the visible symbols to the spiritual realities. The fact is that Baptism makes us God’s children. Which means that before we are baptized, we aren’t God’s children? Um, yeah.
Consider this analogy. We are in the process of adopting my youngest daughter. It’s made me think a lot about our relationship to God, since we are all his adopted sons and daughters, adopted at baptism. Think of my little girl, born in some maternity care unit to some woman whom I have never met. Do I have any claim to her at that point? No. Am I responsible to pay her medical bills, or to wake up at 3am to feed her or to raid the clearance rack at Carter’s for the latest adorable pink sleeper for her? No. At that point she is not my kid. In justice, I owe her none of those things. Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally hold and feed someone else’s baby (though at 3am? Not so much.), or that I do not donate money to support women in crisis pregnancies. Heck, I all but look for opportunities to purchase cute girl clothes for other people’s babies! But this is a free gift, not a responsibility.
Once my daughter was placed in my care, however, what would have previously been gratuitous generosity instantly became a duty. Now I owe this stranger’s baby those late night feedings, burping and diaper changes. I owe her this because she is no longer a stranger’s baby. She is now my daughter.
This is the heart of baptism. Due to the unfortunate entry of sin into the world, we are now born strangers to God. He does not owe us anything. Now, of course he showers us with all kinds of blessings anyway, like an earth that supports our needs and the very fact that we still exist. He even provides actual graces to the unbaptized that can lead to conversion. But once we are baptized, this philanthropist God does the unimaginable—he binds himself to us as our Father. He takes us into his very family and cares for us tenderly as his own children. The graces are now permanent parts of our souls (provided we don’t drive them out through mortal sin), and extra helpings are promised through the sacraments. We now have claim on this Father to take care of us.
One last thought. On hearing of our new baby, many people have commented that she is so lucky to have us as parents. This is a very well-intentioned sentiment, designed to complement our parenting. But a quick and sincere rebuttal always rises swiftly in my heart: No, we are the lucky ones! There is not a day that goes by when I do not return my baby’s adorable smiles when I do not feel like I won the lottery. Granted, given the ratio of waiting couples to babies placed in domestic adoption, we really did win a sort of lottery. But I have talked to couples who have adopted kids who had nowhere else to go, and they feel the same. Indeed, any decent parent is stretched to their limits of generosity every day, and yet they would not trade their kids for anything.
I think this is insight into the heart of God the Father. He has sacrificed everything for us, down to the life of his only Son. He has patiently offered us everything, even when we coldly reject him. And yet, he does not hold those things over our heads. He just loves being our Dad. As we are raised out of the waters of baptism, he smiles on us as we do over our own kids—he delights in our every coo and smile. If he didn’t have a perfect timeless memory, he’d take a ton of pictures. He is crazy in love with us. We are his kids.
This is the context in which we should frame all the responsibilities that come with Baptism. We don’t go to Mass or keep the commandments because God will smite us if we don’t. We should do what he has asked us because we desire to return the love he has offered us.
So, even though our newest daughter is our least likely yet to die in infancy, she was baptized the soonest of our four. We want her to know that although her new parents love her dearly, she has an adoptive Father in heaven who treasures her more than the human heart can fathom.
Copyright 2010 Libby DuPont