On May 18th, 2013, in front of my closest friends and family, I held my two-month-old son, Timothy, as he received his first sacrament — Baptism.
Given his aversion to bath time, I was a little worried that this first step in his Christian initiation would bring about one of his more impressive crying fits. However, as Father recited the prayers and poured the holy water over his head, Timothy remained perfectly calm and content — as if he understood what was taking place. It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring moment, and I realized for the first time how reverent and powerful the act of baptism truly is.
I knew coming into the Church that baptism was approached in a different manner than what I was used to growing up in the Baptist church. Back then I was taught that baptism, while important, wasn’t considered necessary to salvation. Stemming from the Sola Fide perspective, baptism was more a “public profession” of one’s faith in Christ and doesn’t really “do” anything.
Of course, upon my entrance into Catholicism, I discovered baptism to be crucial to salvation. In fact, Jesus was quite specific on the importance of this Sacrament — borne out by the fact that he, himself, was baptized. Not only that, throughout the scripture, baptism pops up again and again in Jesus’ ministry, and even further into the ministries of Peter and Paul.
In John 3:3 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” And just a few verses later, Christ and his disciples go off and do what? Baptize people!
In Matthew 28, Jesus commands his apostles to baptize all people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:38, Peter says we must repent and be baptized. In Mark 16:16 Jesus tells us we must believe AND be baptized. The list goes on.
As I read these scriptures, I couldn’t find one instance where baptism was viewed as a symbolic gesture or unnecessary for salvation. It was quite the opposite! And I had to ask myself, “What did I think this meant before? How did I not understand the importance here?”
By accepting baptism as a significant event, rather than a symbol or “public profession,” I was able to fully grasp the beauty and holiness of the sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to it as the “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” It is the very essence of God’s grace, and it is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we are born again of water and Spirit so that we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Catechism also refers to it as vitae spiritualis ianua–the gateway to life in the spirit. This is why it’s the first part of our Christian initiation — but we must continue to walk with Christ and receive the other sacraments in order to retain our salvation.
And that brings me to the subject of infant baptism.
While infant baptism is a debatable topic between Catholics and non-Catholics, I look at my little family as the example of its importance. To my wife and me, Timothy is a perfect child without blemish. Proud parents that we are, however, we understand that our son is human and therefore born into sin, making him in need of baptism. While my wife and I made this choice for him, and while it is our duty and responsibility to raise him in the faith, it will be Timothy who ultimately decides to continue to follow Christ. We can only pray that his cleansing by the Holy Spirit through baptism will keep him on the path to God.
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”–The Catechism of the Catholic Church