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.