‘Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. At the age of 30, and even though he himself was without sin and in no need of its purifying and strengthening grace, Jesus underwent Baptism by John in order to highlight the role and importance of the sacrament for us, his disciples. (Jesus spent the last three years of his life instructing his disciples on the meaning and implications of the life to which he called them: loving God above all things, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. When St. Patrick first brought Christianity to this country about 15 hundred years ago, the usual process of becoming a member of the Church and of the local Christian community involved a lengthy period of preparation and training. As well as instruction in the basic principles of the faith, people were also gradually formed in Christian living and introduced into the Christian celebration of the Sacraments and of the Mass in particular. Baptism was celebrated only on major feasts like Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany, and only those who had personally appropriated the essential principles of Christian living were considered eligible.)
When I was growing up in rural Co. Limerick in the late fifties and early sixties, almost everyone was baptised, like I was, within days of being born. We had to know our catechism and pass the scrutiny of the diocesan examiner before we could be confirmed. In those days, the social structures, and the culture, of this country were strongly influenced by Catholicism – some would say they were overly so – and the Christian faith was largely unquestioned.
Things have changed over the years and many of the traditional aspects of the Catholicism of that time – the rosary, family prayer, and benediction, for example – have, in many cases, become no more than memories.
As they have grown older, many people of my generation have drifted away from the faith of their childhood, and today, in this parish as well as elsewhere, such essential elements of Catholicism as weekly Mass, daily prayer, and the gradual introduction of children into the faith by their parents, can no longer be taken for granted. In his Lenten letter for 1999, Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick said that, for possibly the first time in our history, there was now widespread concern that this present generation would fail to pass on the faith they had inherited to their children. It is not unknown now for children to receive First Communion or Confirmation in a situation where the family rarely if ever comes to Mass. In some cases, what should be a child’s First Communion has proved to be their last!
In the past, the individual aspects of Baptism (being freed from Original Sin) were strongly emphasised and its social implication neglected, to some extent. To redress this balance, and in order to enable the sacraments of initiation to achieve the purpose for which they were intended – the creation and cultivation of a truly Christian community – the Church has tried, over the last half-century or so, to highlight and develop the social and communitarian dimensions of our shared faith in Christ. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has increasingly emphasised the need for suitable preparation for each of the three sacraments of initiation – Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation. Apart from catechetical instruction, the new rites for these sacraments are based on the assumption that children will be gradually introduced into daily prayer and into the life of the local Christian community by their parents.
In this parish, as in many parishes throughout the country, we have tried to respond to the changing social circumstances by establishing a Baptism Team to help parents prepare for their children’s Baptism, and by endeavouring to ensure – through preparatory meetings for parents – that they are made aware of their commitments and responsibilities when they present their children for Baptism, First Communion, or Confirmation. In order to support parents, and to help them to pass on their faith to their children, the priests, together with the Baptism Team and the Parish Council, have decided in future to celebrate Baptism on one Sunday only each month and to invest as much energy and talent as we can in order to make the preparation and celebration of Baptism as meaningful and memorable as possible. We will be outlining the details of the proposed changes to you next Sunday but today, we would ask you as parents, and as members of the Christian community here in Knocklyon, to reflect on the whole process of passing on your faith to your children and on the best way in which the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism can support and assist you in this vitally important responsibility.
One of your parental responsibilities is to enable your children to be able to discern their true vocation in life, to help them to relate to God and to listen to his Word, and to become fully mature and responsible Christians, capable of passing on the faith to their own children when the time comes. In order to achieve that goal, you will need to introduce them, not only to Christian teaching, but to Jesus himself. Like the disciples of John the Baptism in today’s Gospel, Jesus invites each one of us to “Come and see” where, and how, he lives in the local Christian community. In order to fulfil your own vocation as parents, and to enable your children to grow into an ever-deeper, and more meaningful relationship with Jesus, the Son-of-God-made-flesh, you need to gradually share your own faith with them, and gradually introduce them into the New Life which we share with Christ as members of the Church. (In order to fulfil our responsibilities as a parish we have developed and modified our input and contribution to making your child’s Baptism a real invitation from Jesus to you, and through you, to your children. We hope that the new structures which we have put in place will be an invitation to “Come and see” how Christian life is lived and passed on here, in your local community, an invitation to foster the spiritual and religious development of your child, and an invitation to both you and your children to share your faith with your neighbours here in the Parish of Knocklyon.)
Baptism frees us from sin and unites us with the life of Jesus Christ himself, the life we share with all those who have been reborn of water and the Holy Spirit as children of God, our Father. It is the Church as a community that both prepares for and celebrates the initiation of new members into its shared life in Christ. And it is into the life of the local parish community that we are initiated when we receive the Sacrament of Baptism. It is our hope and prayer that the new structures that are now being introduced will help us to celebrate the first step in that process in a way that is more in keeping with the present-day needs of the people of this parish.
Baptism and Parental Commitment
Parents in presenting their child for Baptism are implicitly stating:
” We have faith in Christ and seek to follow Him within the Catholic Church to which we belong. We now commit ourselves to share this faith with our child”.
Since Apostolic times and down through the ages to the present day, adults have come into the Church in the following way: firstly, they experienced conversion which led them (secretly) to seek instruction and when judged ready (they) were baptised.
With infants, the process is reversed: firstly, they are baptised, then over the years that follow they are instructed in the faith primarily by the teaching and example and living witness of their parents; through this process and God’s grace one hopes they will experience conversion, and be – in the words of Christ – “born again”.
Unless parents take seriously what they solemnly undertake on Baptism Day, namely, the Commitment to raise their children in the faith, by their teaching and example, etc.
The children may have little hope of ever growing into true Christians, unless the parents fulfil the solemn promises they make on the day of Baptism.
St. Therese has profound words of insight, gleaned from a personal experience she had when she was barely 15 years old, and was looking after two little girls, the elder not yet six. She writes:
” Baptism must sow a vigorous seed of the theological virtues in the soul. I didn’t promise these two little girls toys and candies to make them stop quarrelling; I told them that good children were given an everlasting reward by the Child Jesus. The elder one was just beginning to think and her face lit up with joy as she asked me scores of fascinating questions about Jesus and his wonderful heaven. She eagerly promised that she would always give way to her sister. … These innocent souls were like soft wax on which any imprint could be stamped – of evil, alas, as well as of good. I understood the words of Jesus: ‘If anyone hurts the conscience of one of these little ones, he had better have been drowned in the depths of the sea.’ Many, many souls would become most holy if they had been properly guided from the very start.”
Arranging a Baptism
- Contact the Parish Office at 01 4941204 to enquire/book a date. Office hours: 9.30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- A Preparatory Meeting, which both parents are required to attend, is held on the Wednesday prior to first christening date.
- The Solemn Celebration of Baptism takes place twice monthly at 12 noon on Saturdays.
- Arrangements can at times, be made to have a baby baptised at another time, if the couple have their own priest and with the consent of the Parish Priest.
- Parishioners requesting permission to have their baby baptised outside the Parish must provide (i) good reasons for this request and (ii) adequate notice so that appropriate preparations for the sacrament can take place either in this parish or in the parish where the baptism is to take place.