ADVENT, BAPTISM and PENANCE. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, not simply by buying presents or decorating the house, but by “prepar[ing] the way of the Lord” into our hearts and lives. We begin by reflecting on the words St. Luke uses in today’s Gospel to summarize the entire message of St. John the Baptist: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, for the baptized, these words might recall to us our baptismal innocence, especially if we were baptized as babies: a newly baptized baby is absolutely pure and holy in the eyes of God. As we get older, though, we lose some of that innocence, eventually finding ourselves willfully committing sins, even terrible sins we deeply regret, and we develop sinful habits, “vices,” we can’t’ seem to get rid of.
For us, who have lost our innocence after baptism, what do we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent when we here St. John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”? We can’t be baptized again, so what do we do?
First, we remember that Baptism is a sacrament that has no end: once baptized always baptized (so there is no “re-baptism”). And the Advent proclamation of St. John reminds us that we are not doomed to wallow or drown in our sin, but that as Baptized Christians we can and must make it a staple of our life to constantly “repent” and be open and eager to receive “the forgiveness of sins.”
And for that, even though we can’t receive the Sacrament of Baptism again, we can receive the sacrament many of the early Church Fathers compared to “a second baptism”—the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament our sins are once again washed away, so our souls are as pure as the soul of a newly baptized baby, and we have a new chance to start again to live the life Christ created us for and introduced us to in Baptism. But there’s a problem: while we have repented and sin is forgiven, all the sinful habits—vices—we’ve built up, and all our memories of past sins, and all our weaknesses developed over years of living in the world, all these remain. And they can become like valleys and mountains that seem so hard to get over, or like crooked and rough roads that cause us to stumble and fall in sin. Which is another reason we need the Sacrament of Penance, as it gives us the grace to level all obstacles, and to straighten the crookedness and smooth over the roughness our hearts, so that the sacrament becomes a fulfillment of the Advent prophesy and promise: “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
During Advent, we will be hearing confessions every single day (until and including Sunday, December 23); in addition to the regular confession times a priest will be in the confessional every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 6:15pm to 7pm (he may stay longer, but only if his schedule permits). Please take advantage of this sacrament to prepare the way of the Lord into your heart and life. But, please do not wait for the last minute, since we may only be able to have one priest hearing on some days and he may have to leave at the set time, even if the line remains. And don’t wait until Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, and get upset when the priest has to leave when Mass begins!
INFANT BAPTISM. As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus, who opened to us the gates of paradise, and while I’m on the subject of Baptism, I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that is a growing concern to us priests. Since the first century the Church has happily baptized infants, not as a merely symbolic rite of entrance into the Catholic Church but to wash away the original sin and open to them gates of Eternal Life. Christ made it very clear that the grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation (“no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”—John 3:5). And while the Church teaches that God sometimes gives the grace of Baptism in certain extraordinary ways, e.g., in the “baptism of blood” of the martyrs, the Church has always maintained that it does not know if anything like that applies to babies who die without baptism. And while Bd. John Paul II gave hope to all parents of unbaptized babies as he wrote to post-abortive mothers in Evangelium Vitae , “You can entrust your child to the same Father and to his mercy with hope,” this was not a change to official teaching. So, the Church continues to teach that we do not know if unbaptized babies go to heaven, and that, while we should always trust in God’s mercy we should also never presume on God’s mercy to do what we fail to do.
Because of this, and with loving concern for the eternal souls of babies, the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law, personally promulgated by Bd. John Paul, requires: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child….” [Can. 867 §1]
Unfortunately, many parents nowadays don’t seem to know about this “obligation” and delay their babies’ baptisms well beyond “the first few weeks.” So I write this, just as Bd. John Paul did, not to frighten or berate you, but out of love for babies and their parents, and to assure that all our babies will share in eternal life. Please keep this serious obligation in mind, and remind your Catholic friends and families as the case arises.
REMINDERS. I invite you all to join the choir, the lectors and me at 6:30pm next Sunday, December 16, for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Also, I will continue my Advent Series this Thursday evening, on the topic: “Re-Introduction to The Bible: An Overview.” Newcomers are more than welcome, especially those with little familiarity with the Bible! Finally, I remind all of you that the parish has a special fund set aside for families or individuals in need. Please let me know if you are aware of anyone, especially a parishioner, is need of assistance this Advent.
Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles