A Place and a Way For God's Spirit to Thrive
A young couple recently moved into Connecticut from another state and joined our parish. I met with them last week and, among other things, they asked about having their eighteen-month-old son baptized. I explained the procedure, filled out the paperwork, and we started looking at some dates for the christening. They seemed relieved and explained that they tried to have the baby baptized a year earlier. They spoke with the priest at the nearby church and the first thing he asked was the amount of the father’s annual income. Next, they were told that they would have to join the parish, attend Mass for at least six months, and use the envelopes before a baptism would be considered.
I was appalled and embarrassed. I didn’t know quite what to say to them. I think the priest was trying to impress upon them the serious commitment involved in asking for baptism for their child, but I’m not at all convinced that it’s a commitment that can be measured with six months worth of envelopes.
Wouldn’t it be better to talk, instead, about John the Baptist (whose nativity we celebrate today)? His work as a herald for the Messiah, preparing the way for Christ, is a role we all share, but a particularly apt one for parents of young children. They introduce Christ to their child by the way the speak and act, in the way they worship God, in the way they take some time to nourish their own faith. In asking for baptism for their son or daughter, they are really committing themselves to taking a look at their own spiritual lives, allowing God to form them a little more neatly into an image and example of Christian living. You really can’t tuck that into a collection envelope or accurately demonstrate it in just a few months. Likewise, church leaders need to be mindful of their “John the Baptist roles” as well, preparing a place and a way for God’s Spirit to thrive.
A welcoming, nonjudgmental, and prayerful attitude goes a long way toward that end. I admit missing this bar many times out of frustration or fatigue and saying things that I regret. I can only hope that no permanent scarring was caused and that these instances occur less and less frequently. This Sunday, John gives us all an example of holiness to follow, not only for our children’s sake, but also for our own.