Saturday, February 13, 2010

Starting at the beginning

Recently I found myself in a conversation about Baptism with my oldest stepdaughter.  I suspect I witnessed her very first religious question:

“What about people like me who haven’t been Baptized?” 

My husband was Confirmed Catholic in 2008. My stepdaughter was raised non-denominational with him.  Her personality predisposes her to say things she thinks people will be pleased with, so I was overjoyed to hear a real live question!

The best I can do is come at it from some angle relative to her; in this case, sin. We all sin, and it’s something she cannot help but observe in herself, so regardless of religion she knows that it’s true. Let’s start there.

I explained the three types of sin: original, venial and mortal.  The ritual of Baptism erases original sin.  We touched on Confession as well (Baptism cleanses original sin; Confession heals venial and mortal sins), and even nudged Communion. I'm very glad for the experience of RCIA at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, where they have a similar challenge of explaining complex topics, in a couple sentences, to a non-Catholic audience!

Since many of her friends were baptized or Confirmed just a couple years ago, I also explained why the Catholic Church baptizes at infancy—that it’s about cleansing the soul, not just choosing a religion. It provides a leg up on life, with extra strength obtained from membership in the larger Body of Christ. Then usually around the teen years, Confirmation is the Sacrament that signifies that a choice has been made.

Living in a cross-denominational family, it’s also important that I correctly, respectfully explain the other practices she may have seen in the past. For example, my younger stepkids were baptized at their mom’s church last year. They had a Christmas party with annual “communion” the previous year before their baptism, and at 8 and 9 they prattled that they’ve “accepted the Lord Jesus as the Savior in our hearts.”  Simultaneously.

It’s a little difficult to explain the differences between the Catholic Sacrament of Baptism and the Protestent concepts since there are so many variations, and non-denominational churches can vary minister-to-minister even within the same church. Again without the RCIA program, I never would have known that the Church does recognize any denomination's Baptism that is done “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and intends to cleanse the soul of original sin. That reinforces the fact that Baptism is about cleansing the soul, not about joining a church. But I cannot get around the fact that her brother's and sister's baptism is not recognized, either by the Catholic Church or by most Protestant faiths.  I wish so much that I could be happy for my stepkids, who are so illusioned.  But that's a post for another time. 

My oldest stepdaughter is too old to be carted off to any church to be baptized by her parents.  Parents and godparents are no longer in a position to fulfill the promises that we'd have to make, to vouch for her, etc.  I wish with all my heart that she would just request Baptism.  It hurts my heart every Sunday when she can't receive Communion with us.  But all in time.

My family provided me with a uniquely theological background, and together with my husband I can’t wait to share that with her. “Philosophy at the dinner table,” as my sister-in-law says!

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