Reducing Faith to a Flu Shot?

It is tragic to me as a Catholic priest that many parents bring their children to baptism but nothing else and think all the while that they have done all that they should. Almost as though baptism was no more than a flu shot: Take it and forget it. As you might imagine I am very firm in my pre-baptismal catechesis to rebuke such a notion.

Baptism is the beginning, not the end: Let me ask you, is it enough to give birth to a child and think your work is over?  Hah!…It has just begun!  We cannot simply bring children to birth, we have to feed, cloth, teach and care for them for years. It is the same with baptism, we cannot simply think that bringing  them to new life in baptism is all that is required. These children need to be taught about God and prayer, nourished on the Eucharist, bathed in confession, strengthened in confirmation, fed every Sunday at God’s altar, brought to maturity in Christ. Real faith is  not about a half-hour ritual many years ago. It begins there but it does not end there. The work for a Catholic parent has just begun. It is a work that is costly and cannot simply be reduced to a half-hour baptismal ceremony.

And if you’re a baptized Catholic don’t tell me that just getting baptized is all it took. If you get born and never eat your life is doomed. If you get born and never grow, learn to walk and talk, never reach maturity, something is terribly wrong.  Likewise, if you get baptized and never grow, never feed on the Eucharist, never learn of Jesus Christ and begin to speak of him, something is seriously wrong. You can’t reduce your faith to a simple half-hour ceremony, as though it were simply a flu shot. Real faith costs something, it demands change and effort from us. We have to die, so that Christ can live in us. This is costly.

The Protestant Version- Once Saved Always Saved: Some of the Protestants (but not all!) have a strange and quite unbiblical notion called “Once saved, always saved.” That is, once you get saved, you can never lose that salvation no matter what. Well, I don’t have time to tell you all the biblical texts that such a notion violates but really, tell me if that makes any sense at all. We all know that we can make commitments and sadly walk away from them. But here too, on display is the nation that faith costs nothing more than walking up in a service and saying the “sinners prayer” or some little ritual. No indeed, faith is more costly than that, we are called to give our life to Jesus.

We do not get our faith “on sale.” The kind of work Jesus has to do in our life is not inexpensive or minor. It cost Jesus his life, and, I’ve got news for you, it will cost you your life too. It’s not some simple ritual, not like a simple flu shot. The Catholic Theology of baptism is that we die with Christ and rise with him to new life. Did you hear that? We die. Truth be told, we all have a lot of things to die to: sin, ego, possessions, popularity, greed, resentments, hatred, sensuality and on and on. Give your heart to Jesus but realize, it’s not just some sort of inexpensive, harmless ritual. To embrace our baptism is to die to this world and all its pomp and glory, to die to our ego and all its exaggerated needs.

Watch this video, if you dare, it’s not for the lukewarm. The speaker is a Southern Baptist, Paul Washer. He is rebuking his fellow Baptists some of whom think God’s grace is cheap and can be reduced to a simple altar call or to a “Once saved always saved” notion. But we Catholics do it too. Some of us think all we need are a few rituals and an occasional prayer. But the sacraments are more than this, they are not mere rituals, they are meant to be transformative realities. Sacraments cost Jesus everything, and, if you are serious about them, they will cost you too, and effect a radical transformation that isn’t always easy and costs us something. Faith and the sacraments  are more than a flu shot.

10 Replies to “Reducing Faith to a Flu Shot?”

  1. My husband’s stepsister pretty much fell away from the Church as a young adult, and married an atheist. Their daughter, now a college student, seldom if ever has set foot in a church. My in-laws are distressed that the child was never baptized, but I think that her parents showed more respect for the Sacrament by NOT participating in the ritual. They did not confess a faith in which they did not believe, and they did not make promises they would not keep.

  2. Our parish’s pastor preached a homily along very similar lines about three or four weeks ago. He used some of the same analogies (the flu shot analogy, for example). Good points, really.

  3. Beyond the point about flu-shot baptisms, I found the video quite interesting. While yet an itinerant Baptist preacher, and by confession a calvinist, Paul Washer seems to have grasped some Catholic truth. Of course our separated brethren have grasped much of Christ’s truth and do show evidence of it in living out their beliefs. I have to say, that as a convert, I do sometimes miss the passionate preaching I used to hear as a Pentecostal, but of course that is no substitute for the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.

  4. The Protestants do not seem to understand the theological difference between redemption and salvation and have manged to confuse the two.

    1. Many years ago it was common to be asked, “Are you saved?” And it was a difficult question for a Catholic to answer sonce for us Salvation is to be safe with God in heaven forever but, as you point out, to a Protestant it meant something different, kind of what we mean by “justified” or redeemed. I was taught to answer, “I am justified” and to point out that Paul did not say in Romans 3 that we were saved by faith apart from works of the Law but rather that we were “justified” by faith. At any rate, as you point out the distinction was lost by many of them and it seemed to come down to the fact that were we using the word “saved” in very different ways. It seems to me in recent years that there has been some progress in the dialogue as we come to understand our different definitions and terminology. At any rate I don’t get asked too often anymore if I am saved, but rather if I have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have accepted him as Lord and Savior. To all this I can say yes.

  5. My pastor talks about this frequently – the soul being lit on fire through Baptism, but then never tended. He makes an analogy about telling a small child that a birthday party is being planned for him and gets the child all worked up – only to have no party on the birthday. The soul responds the same way – hey – you got me all fired up here and now you’re just calling it all good.

    And then of course, depending on the disposition of the parents, sometimes you don’t even see the child again until it’s time for First Holy Communion and Reconciliation. And after those two are out of the way, then you don’t see them again until Confirmation draws near. And of course, after Confirmation you don’t see them until they want to get married in the church, for some inexplicable reason.

  6. “Are you saved?”

    Would answering a definitive “yes” not constitute the sin of presumption? Are we really to presume upon God’s mercies? And is not a definitive “yes” the sin of pride, falsely claiming that you are now and always will be perfect and without sin?

    I’ve not been asked that a lot, but if I remember correctly, when I was asked, I responded with, “if it is God’s will, I am,” to which I got a sneering look in response.

    The very question is fraught with danger. Implicit in the question is the idea that, once accepting Jesus, you get an automatic ticket to heaven no matter what you do thereafter. That you are willing to let Jesus do all of the work, to get tortured and crucified, and you will not do anything to help, but will instead play Him for a sucker, taking your salvation and then doing whatever you want to do.

    But the problem is that most people take that ticket and throw it away, or they stick it in a drawer and forget about it, or they leave it in their pants and run it through the washer and it comes out in pieces. The problem is that most people, not ten minutes after they have been led out of bondage in Egypt, are crying about how they want to go back, and ten minutes after that, they are making golden calves to bow down to. “Are you saved?” suggests that that lost or mutilated ticket is still good, and that you don’t need to go get a new one, that God doesn’t care if you took that gift of salvation and threw it in the trash, or that you prefer silly idols to Him.

    It is a dangerous question. Far from leading people to Him, it looks to more often lead people away from Him.

  7. Jimmy Akin’s book, “The Salvation Controversy,” does a superb job of explicating issues related to Catholic vs. Protestant differences in the use of the terms “justification,” “sanctification,” and “salvation,” and of discussing the practical ramifications of those differences.

  8. I believe that you misunderstand the doctrine of eternal security (“once saved, always saved”). It does *not* mean that one who is saved may commit whatever sins. On the contrary, it means that one who willingly commits sins was never saved at all. On the other hand, one who is truly repentant will be saved — Christ’s promise is once and for all, and can never be retracted. As you can see, there is nothing inherently unCatholic in this view.

Comments are closed.