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Baptism: What Is It? What Controversies Surround It?

Dear Parishioners,

Happy New Year once again! With each day, we will be receiving roughly one more minute a day longer of sunshine. With each day becoming longer, the nighttime is shortened and pushed away. So too does Christ, our light, our hope, our faith bring light to our hearts. Last week we celebrated Epiphany, a celebration of Christ’s manifestation to the Magi and the whole world. This weekend, we wrap up the Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord.

Did Christ need to be baptized? No. He needed no forgiveness of sins nor repentance since he was sinless. However, he did so to show us the way. We are to follow him as was St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:1). We need baptism. But, this Sacrament is often misunderstood.

Baptism forgives the one being baptized of original sin as well as any personal sin, makes the person a “new creature” in Christ, incorporates the person into the Church, the Body of Christ, creates a bond between all Christians, and is sealed with an indelible (think permanent) mark (think character) that the person belongs to Christ. All this commits the person to a life dedicated to living a life different than those of the world. This event is not repeatable and is the first step towards full communion with the Church which is completed in reception of the Eucharist and Confirmation.

Baptism is also a source of controversy. One such controversy is that of infant baptism. For some, baptism is some- thing that follows one’s commitment to Christ. For adults this is true. But, for infants it is not possible for them to make a personal assent. So, the parents and godparents make such commitments for them. Even then, baptism is one of the most radical Sacraments in that in infant baptism, the child receives all these gifts (charisms) without any merit or personal choice on their own. In fact, such baptisms demonstrate the incredible radicalness of God’s free grace.

Also controversial is the Church’s claim that baptism is neces- sary for salvation. This theological statement is not something the Church made up, for indeed Christ himself affirmed this where he said that we must be born again of water and spirit (see John 3:5). This is the normative way we receive baptism. Yet, the Church also recognizes other unusual forms which include a baptism of blood (martyrdom) or desire (someone who is a catechumen or desires baptism but dies prior to receiving it).

For further reflection, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1217-1284. If you have an unbaptized child who has not reached the age of seven years old, simple classes are required for the parents and godparents. If the person to be baptized is seven years or older, they have the right to take in-depth classes and receive not only baptism, but first Eucharist, and Confirmation. These classes are part of what we call the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults/Teens/ Children also called the RCIA, RCIT, and RCIC respectively. Please seek out Terry Knouff, our Coordinator of Faith Forma- tion if you or a family member is seeking out the Sacrament of Baptism.


Fr. Williams Holtzinger