(Mt 3:13-17) Baptism is the one sacrament that all Christian denominations have in common. Instituted by Jesus on the banks of the River Jordan, His baptism prefigured our own. Jesus did not ask John to baptize Him because He needed to repent or convert; He did it because it is necessary for us. By humbly performing this gesture of repentance, Jesus showed us that He is in solidarity with us, “with our effort to convert, to leave our egoism behind, to turn from our sins, to tell us that if we accept him in our lives he is able to lift us back up and lead us to the heights of God the Father.”1
People sometimes wonder why the Catholic Church urges parents to baptize their children early. After all, babies are not capable of committing sin; they are not yet able to understand about God and His redeeming love. They have, however, inherited original sin,2 and only Baptism can wash it away. Why is that the case? “Think of it this way: Nobody is born with polio, measles, or chicken pox, but folks aren’t born with any immunity to these diseases, either. A baby needs to be vaccinated so the human body can produce its own antibodies and fight these diseases when it’s exposed to them. Likewise, on the spiritual level, human beings are born with a weakened resistance to temptation and sin, and this condition is part of original sin.”3
The Catechism tells us that, “Before we decide on God, God has decided on us. Baptism is therefore a grace, an undeserved gift of God, who accepts us unconditionally. Believing parents who want what is best for their child want Baptism also, in which the child is freed from the influence of original sin and the power of death. … It is an injustice to deprive the child of Baptism out of a mistaken liberality. One cannot deprive a child of love so that he can later decide on love for himself; so too it would be an injustice if believing parents were to deprive their child of God’s grace in Baptism. Just as every person is born with the ability to speak yet must learn a language, so too every person is born with the capacity to believe but must become acquainted with the faith.”4
Baptism matters. It is important. It not only frees us from the stain of original sin, but from all personal sins and from all punishment that is due to sin. Through Baptism we receive faith and grace; it initiates us into the Christian life.5 By means of this sacrament we become children of God and members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Once we have been baptized, “Our life belongs to Christ … At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go – He who is Life itself.”6
Being baptized doesn’t mean that we have an automatic ticket into heaven, though. If we received this sacrament as a baby, we must still say “yes” to God later in life in order for its effects to be fruitful in our lives. Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The gift received by newborn infants needs to be accepted by them freely and responsibly once they have reached adulthood: the process of growing up will then bring them to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, which precisely strengthens the baptized and confers upon each one the ‘seal’ of the Holy Spirit.”7
Baptism is not just an opportunity to dress up and invite the family over for cake. It is much more than a sign of conversion and repentance. Baptism is about life – new life in Christ. And all you have to do is say “yes!”
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, “Upon your Children Too the Heavens have Opened,” Zenit [online news service], Vatican City, January 13, 2013; available from http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-benedict-s-homily-on-the-feast-of-the-baptism-of-the-lord; Internet; accessed 9 January 2014.
2 Original sin is the sin committed by Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. (Gen 3:1-7)
3 Rev. John Trigilio, Jr. and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, Catholicism for Dummies, 109.
4 YOUCAT (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church), trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 197.
5 Cf. Fr. Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, vol. 1 (Scepter: London, 2003), 376 and 377.
6 Pope Benedict XVI, April 7, 2007. Quoted in YOUCAT, 200.
7 Ibid., Jan. 8, 2006, 197.