So many questions surround the Catholic Baptism. Be it infant or Adult Baptism. These questions spring most times from our separated brethren.
Some Catholics are not also sure if they are baptized or not especially when such baptisms are done at infancy, some even doubt if they were ever baptized especially when they were not immersed in a river or sea.
Experience has shown that 80 - 90% of Catechumens preparing for Holy Communion, when asked, 'have you been baptized?' They become mute, not sure. This is because neither their parents nor God parents ever talked about it when they were growing nor are there picture evidence to show the celebration, but you will always have pictures for "Isomoloruko" (naming ceremonies or church thanksgiving of the new born). Pastors should emphasize the importance of these photographs as evidence and encourage parents and God parents to talk about the Sacrament once the child attains the age of understanding.
Many Catholics, when they encounter some Pentecostals on this issue they get even more confused in their lack of understanding; these people put before them questions like: Are you born again?, have you been baptized of water and the Holy Spirit? Were you baptized by immersion? And so on.
These questions have led many Catholics out of the church and those who leave request to be re-baptized.
This short write up is meant to clarify some misconceptions people have about baptism and put us as Catholics in the right path when questioned on this matter.
WHAT IS BAPTISM? Put simply, Baptism is a Sacrament that washes/cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, members of the church.
WHAT IS ORIGINAL SIN? The church's teachings make us understand that original sin is the sin we inherit from Adam and Eve. This is attested to in Psalm 51:7 "For I have been guilt-ridden from birth, a sinner from my mother's womb" Ref: (Christian Community Bible).
A further biblical pointer to this fact of original sin is found in Romans 5:12 "Now sin entered the world through one man and through sin, death and later on death spread to all mankind, because all sinned.
Furthermore Romans 5:15 reflects "Multitudes die because of the fault of one man (Adam), but how much more does the grace of God spread when the gift he granted reaches the multitudes, from this unique man Jesus Christ".
"The disobedience that brought condemnation was of one sinner, whereas the grace of God brings forgiveness to a world of sinners" Vs 17. If death reigned through the disobedience of one and only one person how much more will there be a reign of life for those who receive the grace and the gift of true righteousness through the one person, Jesus Christ. -Vs 18. Just as one transgression brought sentence of death to all, so too, one rehabilitation brought pardon and life to all - Vs 19 and as the disobedience of only one man made many sinners, so the obedience of one person allowed a multitude to be made just and holy.
It is a known fact that Baptism like every other Sacraments gives grace, as we have discovered from Romans 5:15, the grace of God spreads when the gift He granted reaches the multitudes from the unique man, Christ and to be baptized is to have a life in Christ who is the gift of God to all humanity. The question then is: Why should an infant be excluded from this gift, from this grace?Knowingfully well that the infant from what we see in Psalm 51:1 also has a share in the sin of Adam and Eve from conception.
Let me also at this point remind us that when we talk about Sacraments, we should bear in mind their inward grace and external signs, character. Now the focus of those who criticize the Sacrament of Baptism in particular is mostly on external signs forgetting that Jesus Himself completes the mysterious way of granting the Grace to a well-disposed individual.
If Sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace ordained by Jesus Christ by which grace is given to our souls, Baptism as a Sacrament does same, and this justifies the fact that every soul whether of an infant or an adult again requires baptism, after all babies also have souls, the same soul an adult has. This in a way gives an answer to those opposed to infant baptism
Now, to the question of immersion and how one is baptized with special focus on lowering the individual in water which symbolizes dying with Christ and lifting or raising the individual, still from the same water symbolizing rising with Christ. Again, I will safely say, these are still external signs of inward grace. If we are to take this literarily too, we must be talking of physical death and physical resurrection. Now 1 Peter 3:18-22 clarifies this confusion about water with this beautiful piece:
Christ himself died once and for all for sins
The upright for the sake of the guilty to lead us to God, in the body, He was put to death, in the Spirit he was raised to life and in the Spirit, He went to preach to the Spirits in prison.They refused to believe long ago, while God waited patiently. To receive them in Noah's time when the ark was built, in it only a few that is eight souls were saved through water.it is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now - not the washing off of physical dirt, but the pledge of a good conscience given to godthrough the ressurection of Jesus Christ…..
From the above it is an obvious fact that the water is an essential part of Baptism but not the quantity used or the bathing of the entire body. This again alludes to external sign of inward Grace. The emphasis here is the inward transformation of human person.
Dear readers, I want to draw your attention to the several uses of the words:
All Mankind - (in the quotation from Romans 5:12)
Multitudes - (In the quotation of Romans 5:15)
Al - (in the quotation of Romans 5:18)
And even Psalm 51:5 which clearly depicts that even from the womb, we are sharers in the sin of disobedience of Adam.
The word all mankind, multitude, all all inclusive and the Psalms implies no one is spared in as much as we are human beings and we have souls, hence the question of why baptize a baby will put a question mark on the humanity of the baby. Is a baby a human being? YES! Is he/she categorized among all mankind, multitude, all? Yes! Does an infant have soul? Yes! If that is the case, how then will people question baptizing an infant. Of course if we are to take census of a nation, we definitely will count babies, they will not be left out, so why do we think they should be excluded from the life of Grace. The same soul in a baby is in an adult, the same salvation the adult seek, the baby also requires, why the discrimination in the life of grace.
One can be plunged in and out of sea yet no life of grace or transformation.
I believe these few lines should help us, convince us of the validity of the baptism of infants and other related issues.
(Rev. Fr Clement Emerue is the Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Ibadan.)