The Best of Everything
Published on January 29-30, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
After he asks the parents for the name of the child to be baptized, the priest (or deacon) asks a second question: “What do you ask of God’s Church for [the child’s name]?” (cf. Rite of Baptism 37, 76). While it might be well known, even obvious, to everyone in attendance that they have gathered in the Church for a baptism, the Church insists that the parents make their intentions clear to all present. The question perhaps can be asked this way, too: “What do you want the Church to do for you?” or, to put it more bluntly, “Why are you here?” It is a pastoral question; the celebrant gives the parents the opportunity to voice publicly their hearts’ desire.
Remember how Christ had said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7). Through these words, the Lord has given us an example of letting those who approach Him and His Church to request freely what their souls seek, to allow them to make known what their hearts desire. This might baffle the most zealous among us, especially when we feel strongly about sharing the Faith with those who do not yet believe, finding those who are already lost, and opening the door to those who still stand outside. But, here we recognize their dignity and their free will, their right to petition and to choose. In the words of Pope John Paul II of blessed memory, “The Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; She imposes nothing” (Redemptoris Missio 39). A Christian then is an evangelist, a bearer of the Good News of salvation; he is not a dictator of someone else’s religion. For this reason, the celebrant, instead of telling them that he will baptize their child, asks the parents what they ask of God’s Church.
The Code of Canon Law (canon 868.1) supports this freedom of the parents when it states: “For an infant [who is not in danger of death] to be baptized licitly (lawfully), the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place (a guardian) must consent [to the baptism].”
Yet, here another question can be raised: If we respect the freedom of religion of the parents, why do we not respect the freedom of religion of the infant? We ask the parents what they ask of God’s Church. Why do we not ask the child what he seeks?
The answer is quite simple: the infant still cannot speak for himself. He is not yet able to choose and decide on his own. That decision, just like any other at this point, is entrusted to the parents who have the duty of raising and educating him. The parents, we hope, will decide on the best interest of the child. That is part of every parent’s job description and we expect every parent not only to want but more so to work hard so that his child gets the best of everything.
Thus, the question that is posed in this Sacrament is loaded with meaning. “What do you ask of God’s Church?” Parents often respond, “Baptism,” but the ritual allows them to use other words: “faith, the grace of Christ, entrance into the Church, eternal life” (cf. Rite of Baptism 37, 76). For the Church, this is the moment when the parents declare to all present that, not only do they want the best that this world has to offer for him, they also are asking God for the best that Heaven has to offer for their child.