Fun fact: I was baptized on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Since I was an infant at the time, I have no memory of the event, but I know that it was a momentous day in my life. It was the day I entered the Church, the beginning of the foundation of grace that would guide me through the rest of my life.
Recently I was teaching my catechism class a lesson on the Sacrament of Baptism, and they had questions about why Catholics baptize infants while many Protestants only practice adult baptism. Why, they asked, should parents should be able to make that kind of big decision on behalf of their child—shouldn’t the child be allowed to choose for themselves whether to be baptized as a Catholic?
But infant baptism is a gift, not coercion. Just as parents make decisions for their children in everything else, guiding them to develop good habits and strong values, Catholic parents also bring their children to be baptized, to have grace lavished upon them before they are even aware of what it means. Even though a baby doesn’t have an understanding of the sacrament, the graces are still there for them to receive. Their soul is marked indelibly as a Christian, and they are freed of original sin. Whatever they choose to practice later on in life, their baptism will have a positive effect on their soul.
It is a grace so immense and so humbling; in Baptism we are all like helpless infants, being rescued from the snare of sin. Whether we were children or adults at the time of our Baptism, we were all unaware of the immeasurable significance of the sacrament—something impossible for any human to fully comprehend—and undeserving of its graces. But we were given those graces anyway, as a generous gift.
Jesus, though He was without sin and had no need of baptism, immersed Himself into the waters, into our human experience. And in doing so, He purified the waters for our sake, making it possible for us to be truly clean and pure in the sight of God. Most of us were given that clean slate in our infancy, and even though we don’t remember it, it still affects us today. Our baptism gives us the opportunity to be freed from the stain of sin, and we renew that stainlessness every time we go to Confession.
Just as parents make sure their children take baths, they also bring them to be cleansed in the waters of Baptism. As children, our parents make those kinds of decisions for us; as we grow older, it is up to us to continue the habits they instilled in us or allow the dirt in our lives to build up around us. As adults, we must make a conscious decision to embrace the gifts of our baptism and put them to good use in our lives, knowing that we have been entrusted with the most precious of gifts.