'In the eyes of the world, this child means very little,' the priest told us that day. 'But in the eyes of the Church, this child's life is very important.'
I recently attended the baptism of my first grandchild, 3-month-old Charlotte. I must say, Charlotte is adorable. So, with that impartial assessment out of the way, I offer some reflections that Charlotte's baptism brought to mind.
My parents were in a huge hurry to baptize us. It was the before the Second Vatican Council, when people feared that an unbaptized child would go to "limbo" if he or she died.
It worried my dad, and so, barely out of the hospital, my mom planned our baptisms, as well as the family receptions that followed, complete with linens and the good silver. These days, for most Catholics, limbo hardly fits the concept of a merciful God.
The beautiful words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describe this sacrament as we should see it: "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."
That's powerful stuff -- "the gateway to life in the Spirit."
Baptism, by the Church's definition, anticipates for Charlotte a life of grace. It initiates her into the Christian community. It prepares her to be a follower of Christ, destined to live for the kingdom of God. It opens a beautiful door.
These words are my favorite part of every baptism ceremony: "And when Christ returns may you go out with all the saints to meet him."
I think of Charlotte, walking someday with the community of believers to meet Jesus.
Years ago, I attended the baptism of a child in foster care through a Catholic agency in our Alaskan city. The foster mother desired his baptism. He was sick and destined to die soon. Yet the priest at her parish was concerned with bureaucratic details.
He wanted the birth mother found to provide consent, a nearly impossible mission. A priest at the chancery quietly intervened. Bring him to the regular Friday chancery Mass, he told the foster mom. My husband, who worked for the archdiocese, was the godfather; the foster mom, the godmother. There wasn't a dry eye in the conference room, filled with chancery employees.
"In the eyes of the world, this child means very little," the priest told us that day. "But in the eyes of the Church, this child's life is very important."
All baptisms are touching. Charlotte's was moving to me, as she is named for my mother, and wore the baptismal gown my mom made for me so many years ago.
Yet, of all the baptisms I've witnessed, the long-ago baptism of that little boy at the chancery may have been the most powerful of all, as a community to whom he was a stranger welcomed him as a child of God.
EFFIE CALDAROLA IS A COLUMNIST WITH THE CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE.
Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.