09. Reborn of Water and the Holy Ghost
A new soul enters this vale of tears. Does it enter with heavenly glory, or is it surrounded by dark clouds? After birth, the body of the child is placed in competent and helpful hands and then given over to the nourishing breast of the mother. The soul, however, comes into the world laden with a fearful burden. If the soul lacks something, it is the fault of neither father nor mother, much less that of the child. It is, so to speak, born blind. The soul with its natural powers cannot see the clear light of God. The soul is, as it were, naked and bare. It lacks the snow-white garment of sanctifying grace. Since the first sin in Paradise, all men are born blind, poor and naked of soul, outcasts from Paradise and heaven. This misery and loss we call original sin. But since God is love, He could not permit our souls to remain blind, poor, and naked. So He sent His Only-begotten Son to open the eyes of the soul and clothe it with the bright garment of God. This happens at Baptism, when the water flows over the forehead of the child and the priest pronounces the words: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." At that very moment the child opens its eyes for the second time, and is reborn to a new world, the world of God and heaven. This wondrous miracle is accomplished in the soul through the Holy Ghost.
A Living Temple of God
Leonidas, the Martyr, silently approached the cradle of his child. He stooped over and reverently kissed the child on its breast and said: "What a wonder is my child! A living house of God! For in baptism, God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost have made its soul their abode." In the works and creations of God we can distinguish three orders. The lowest is the order of nature, the second, the order of grace, and the third the order of glory. The realm of the shining stars, the riches of all the jewels and diamonds in the world, the glory of the mountains and seas, are like a shadowy nothing compared to the glory of the sonship of God. If Christians would only always keep in mind the glory they carry about with them from their baptism. A Christian may be as poor as a beggar, yet he is infinitely rich, if he has been baptized and has a clean heart. No king's son can look forward to a heritage so great as the glorious heritage awaiting every Christian. Heaven awaits us! We always carry heaven within us by baptism. We should be proud to be Christians. We can never be grateful enough to our parents for having had us baptized.
If the fact that you are a Christian fills your soul with deep inner joy even here on earth, how much greater will be your happiness when you have once reached your eternal goal, heaven! In this world this glory is seen only in pictures and comparisons, but in eternity you will come face to face with this inexpressible happiness. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what things God hath prepared for them that love him." The door to this eternal and heavenly bliss is baptism.
So we see what responsibility rests upon the mother. She should throw open to the child not only the flowery gardens of earth, which are often full of thorns-but she should show her child the path that leads to heaven. How delicate these tiny creatures are! A short, sudden sickness and the tiny flame of life is extinguished by the breath of death. But suppose it died without baptism? It will knock in vain at the portal of heaven.
The Church therefore urges that the baptism of children be not delayed for any length of time. The mother of St. Clement Hofbauer had him baptized on the very day of his birth. This was the custom in earlier days in most parishes, when the faith was still strong in the hearts of the people. A woman of faith, who truly loves her child will not delay the baptism, but will have it done as soon as possible. Is it likely that a mother would wish to exclude her own child from the glory of heaven? Should a child die without baptism, it cannot even be buried in consecrated ground! True, in the hereafter it will not go to a place of punishment, but will enjoy natural happiness. But the happiness of an unbaptized child can never be compared to the happiness of one baptized, for the latter will enjoy God for all eternity. The difference is far greater than that between a child born blind and one having eyesight.
Holy Mother Church
The Church approaches the cradle of the child as its second mother to grant it eternal life. For this reason we use the beautiful name of "Holy Mother Church." In the name of Jesus, she demands that the child, still a little pagan, be baptized and regenerated in the sacred waters.
Baptism in the Church is far preferable to baptism in the home. There is a deep significance in the fact that the infant is carried to church in the arms of the sponsor. There the entire communion of saints awaits the new citizen of heaven. The infant will be made a child of God in the house of God. There, too, it will be admitted to the sacraments of penance and Holy Eucharist, there it will be confirmed, and God willing, also married. These great advantages cannot be overcome by all the fine arguments adduced in favor of a baptism at home. Naturally, in case of sickness, a baptism in the home would be countenanced and no objection raised.
The sponsors should be chosen only after sufficient reflection. After all, to be a sponsor is not merely a ceremony but the sponsors are supposed to be models and guides of the child on its pathway to heaven. In a novel written by D'Annunzio a prominent family requests an ordinary peasant to stand sponsor for their children, so that they may some day learn the deep faith and the courage of a Christian confessor from him. When this good man would scatter the wheat seed in wide circles over the field, he would pray: "May God grant that my children be as the bread which will come from this ground; this wheat bread which will one day be changed into the mysterious Body of our Lord in Holy Communion. May my children also become the sacred bread of God." Accordingly the dignity and responsibility of sponsors is very great. If the parents die, then the responsibility of educating the children devolves upon the sponsors. One day St. Elizabeth met a poor woman who could hardly walk, because of her pregnant condition. She brought the woman to her own quarters, became sponsor for the child, and gave it her own name. She visited the mother and little Elizabeth every day. When the mother was able to leave, she presented her with shoes and her mantle. The infant was to be kept warm by the princess' own fur mantle. Besides this, she also gave the mother some gold coins to purchase food. The motto of St. Elizabeth was: "Bring the poor to me, so that they need not suffer."
Baptism is so great and sacred a miracle that all the pompous show at the baptism of the children of kings and emperors is but as dust and ashes in comparison. When the infant of Emperor Napoleon III and Eugenia was baptized in the cathedral of Notre Dame, seventy-five Bishops were present. Pope Pius IX was sponsor, and the Queen of Norway and Sweden witnessed the ceremony. Yet this baptism was no greater nor of more significance than the baptism of a poor infant in any poor village church.
Baptism is sometimes so wonderful that it reaches up to heaven and down to the depths of hell. The infant dares to renounce the devil and all his pomps, and consecrates itself to God. The priest exorcises and drives out the evil spirit to make room for the Holy Spirit. As an outward sign of this decision made between heaven and hell, the priest signs the forehead of the infant with a cross, which means that Christ the Lord places His hand upon the child and takes possession of it. The words of the Gospel seem to ring out loud and clear: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Then follows the ceremony of the "opening." The senses are to be opened to God's world. So the priest touches the ears and says: "Ephpheta, be thou opened." How much meaning there is in all these sacred ceremonies, and yet they are so little known!
After the first part of the service has been completed-which takes place in the sacristy or in the rear of the church-then the priest places his stole on the infant or, when it is an adult being baptized, he takes the person by the hand, and leads the way to the baptismal font. There the child is anointed with the oil of catechumens, the sponsors recite the Apostles' Creed, in the name of the child; and now the child is ready for baptism.
The child is carried to the font as Jesus once entered the waters of the Jordan. In ancient times the fonts were real baths. Those to be baptized were completely immersed, for the idea was that the whole man was to emerge from the baptism, completely washed anew.
At the actual baptism the child also receives its name. The great question always is, what shall we name it? Such a commotion about naming the child! All kinds of names are suggested; even the names of dogs, cats, horses are mentioned, every kind of pet animal or bird is brought forward. But it has been a matter of Christian pride, dating back to ancient times, that the infant should be named after some saint. The names of the saints stand for beauty, strength, courage, purity and loyalty. Like guiding stars they lead the child on the pathway of righteousness. Unfortunately the choice of saints' names is rather limited, although there are legions of saints. Quite often in Christian countries the name of the saint is chosen on whose feast the child was born.
The Church does think highly of the infants, for she gives them her choicest gifts. She makes them children of God, entrusts them to their Guardian Angel, and assigns them each a saint as model and protector. She clothes the infant with the snow-white garment of sanctifying grace. In the future it will not walk blindly and in the darkness of night. The burning candle at baptism symbolizes Christ, the Light which is to guide the infant along the path of life, until the eternal Light shines forth from beyond.
While the infant in the church is being ushered into the communion of saints by appropriate symbols and ceremonies, the mother at home prays for the child to whom she has given life in pain and agony. This is a fervent prayer, not of the lips, but from the heart. In body she is weak, but strong of soul, for she is mediatress between God and the child. In thought she is hurrying along the path of life which her child must walk. There is so much to pray for, so much to worry about. She thanks God for the blessing of motherhood, she is grateful that her womb was fruitful and not a sealed door. She cries out in gratitude that now her child is truly a living temple of the Triune God. Thus once again the child is born by the prayers of the mother.
The Baptized Lamb
Now the infant is brought home to the mother anxiously waiting. A certain mother I know of kept watching at the front window until the carriage with the child had arrived. In many districts of Hungary, the custom prevails even today of having a beautiful ceremony take place at home after the return from church. The mother and midwife are still secreted in the mother's room. The sponsor, standing at the door, holds the child. Then from the room comes the question:
"What have you brought?"
The answer from outside:
"A baptized lamb
A lamb pure as an angel;
a lamb now sanctified
It, too, is redeemed by the Lamb of God-
The newborn lambkin of the mother.
Agnus redemit oves."
Before, she saw her child only with the eyes of the flesh, now she sees it with the eyes of faith. Yet another human being has been received into the love of the Heart of Jesus, a member of His Mystical Body. Now it can never, never be separated from Christ. Even if this soul fall into sin, even if it be damned to hell, which may God forbid, that mark of Christ on the soul can never be effaced. When one becomes a Christian it is a matter of eternity; it is no mere short passing ceremony, something to be gone through only as a matter of custom.
It is something wonderful to give life to a child and help populate the earth; but faith shows us something more wonderful still. Is it not far more wonderful and beautiful to help populate heaven? Your children will not and cannot cease to exist, for the soul of man is immortal. On the last day the bodies will rise again, and will share either in the eternal happiness or eternal condemnation of the soul. Were there a greater realization of the meaning of baptism among Christians, they would have a deeper conscious pride in their heritage. There is nothing grander and more wonderful than to be a Christian.
Lent and the Sundays of the ecclesiastical year help us from year to year to secure a deeper and better understanding of baptism, and to renew our appreciation of what it means. Formerly Lent was the time of preparation for baptism, and Sunday was the day of recollection. If you spend six days in work, then you should feel it your duty to spend the seventh day as a Christian and a child of God.
Since baptism is, after birth, the occasion when the foundation of your Christian life was laid, the memory of this occasion should be celebrated annually. This is a festal day for the soul. We should rejoice that we are permitted to be a brilliant flower, a white ray of light in the kingdom of God.
St. Zeno of Verona said: "He who remembers that he has been reborn will always be happy; happier still, he who has forgotten what he was before his rebirth; but the happiest is he who will never lose the right to be called a child of God."
This item 1469 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org