Giovanni Baptista Montini, Pope Saint Paul VI, was born on September 26, 1897 and baptized four days later.
That same day in Lisieux, France, a Carmelite nun called Therese happened to die at the age of twenty-four. Jean Guitton, Paul VI secret, p. 137.
When Montini in maturity pointed out the coincidence the Carmelites said that on her death-bed Therese had promised to “come back to visit the cribs of newly baptized babies”. Paul VI, The First Modern Pope, by Peter Hebblethwaite
Papal Artifacts remembers them in gratitude today. And Happy Anniversary of your Baptism, Fr. Richard Kunst, Curator!
St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!
Pope St. Paul VI, pray for us!
( October 9, 2018, Pope Paul VI was canonized.)
How the Funeral Mass relates to Baptism
In a 2008 column, I mentioned that there are a lot of saints’ feast days in August because of the excessive heat. In days past, air conditioners did not yet exist, so people tended to die more in August. And, since saints’ feast days are most often the date of their deaths, we celebrate more feast days during this month.
Death should be something we are ever mindful of, not in a morbid sort of way, but in a way that helps us realize we were created to be here only a short time. Our real home is in heaven with God.
If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Rome and see the beautiful churches, you will notice that there are a lot of images of skulls and skeletons on the walls and in the paintings. This was done to drive home that very point: We were not born to stay here. We were born to be elsewhere, with God.
St. Therese of Lisieux, as she lay on her deathbed, was asked by another sister if she was afraid to die. Therese, almost surprised by the question, responded: “Why should I be afraid? Death is nothing more than the soul leaving the body. That’s it. Nothing more.”
In the past week of my writing this column, the Diocese of Duluth has lost two great men, ministers for the church in northeast Minnesota—Father Jim Scheuer and Deacon Roger Birkland. We bid farewell to these two men with one of the most beautiful rituals the church celebrates, the funeral Mass.
Nearly every funeral I have ever presided over has received positive comments by someone from another faith tradition. The funeral Mass is beautiful in part because of its rich symbolism connecting it to the sacrament of baptism. Funerals only make sense in light of our baptisms because our baptisms make us members of Christ’s body. For Christians, baptism is where our faith life starts and ends, and so by default the funeral Mass is rich in baptismal imagery and prayers.
The first clear symbol comes in the form of the Pascal candle, which is lit and placed by the casket. The Pascal (Easter) candle’s importance is due to its role in the Easter Vigil Mass and the entire Easter season. We light it anew at the Easter Vigil because it represents Christ, who is the light of the world and our source of life. It remains lit for all the liturgies of the Easter season.
We also have the Easter candle lit at all baptisms because we are baptized into the death of Christ, which brings us life eternal. So the candle lit at the Easter Vigil and at our baptism is also lit at our funeral, showing the three events are deeply connected.
The first action in any Catholic funeral is the blessing of the casket with holy water. As the priest or deacon is doing the sprinkling rite, he prays: “In the waters of baptism (deceased’s name) died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory.”
The holy water sprinkled over the casket is to remind us of the holy water that was poured over our heads when we were baptized.
Immediately after the sprinkling rite, the pall is placed over the casket. The pall is a large white cloth covering, usually with the symbol of the cross so that the cross appears on top of the casket. White in its purity, the pall richly symbolizes our baptismal garment, with which we were clothed when we entered the church.
After we are baptized, our baptismal garment is placed over us by the priest, who says our name and “…you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
Here the prayers and the symbols of the baptism and funeral rituals are intimately connected.
The prayers that are said at our baptism and at our funeral often refer back to each other. Our baptism looks ahead to our funeral and our funeral looks back to our baptism, so the prayers and the symbols form a special unity of purpose.
For faithful people seeking after the truth, personified in Jesus Christ, death is a beautiful thing. The fact of the matter is that in this current life we are less alive than those in heaven are because in heaven we are one with the source of life. The closer we are to the source of life, the more alive we are. When we die to this life, we become more alive.
God has more in store for us on the day of our death than on the day of our birth!
Never Spiritually Abuse a Child—Get Them Baptized
Most everyone reading this column likely has had some interaction with people who do not want to baptize their children. It may even be family members or people who were brought up Catholic themselves who have decided not to baptize their own children.
Most often the parents will give a lame reason for not doing so, like, “I want them to pick their own faith when they get older.” I call that lame not to be offensive but because it is, in fact, lame. A kindergartener could logically explain the illogic of such reasoning. To be consistent, the parents should not speak English to their child either, because they should let their kid pick their language when they get older. They shouldn’t feed their kids either; they should let them choose what to eat when they get older.
Nine times out of ten, the real reason is simple laziness. The parents simply do not want to take on the responsibility of bringing their children up in the practice of the faith.
What makes this sort of circumstance even more unfortunate is if the couple got married in the church. At the very beginning of the marriage preparation, the Catholic party (if a mixed marriage) literally signs an agreement that they will bring up any children in the practice of the Catholic faith, and then in the wedding ceremony itself it gets more serious. In the actual vows of a Catholic wedding, the third question asked of the couple is this: “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
People who have been married in the church and have then decided not to baptize their children are literally breaking the vows they made to God in front of their family and friends and the church’s minister. That is not a light matter.
We are all aware of the terrible actions of some parents in how they abuse their children either physically or emotionally. It is hard to forgive people who do such things to innocent children, and it’s unthinkable that parents would do it to their own kids.
What is important to note is that physical and emotional abuse are not the only forms of abuse that can happen. There is also spiritual abuse, and it is as real as any other type of abuse. If the parents are Christian, and they refuse to have their children baptized, it is the most egregious form of spiritual abuse possible.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’s last words address this in a pretty direct way. Literally as he is about to ascend to heaven, Jesus, speaking to his apostles, says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). In other words it takes more than just believing to be saved. It also takes being baptized. These are Christ’s own words.
If a couple with children is Christian, why would they not act on these words of Jesus? It is spiritual abuse, because the parents are jeopardizing their own children’s salvation. Now obviously God can work salvation outside of the sacraments, but if Jesus said this is the way to do it, why would a Christian then not do it, especially if it is for the spiritual health and salvation of their kids? As usual, Jesus does not allow room for middle ground. He does not allow any room for lukewarmness in the matter. Instead, he offers a stark reality when it comes to believing in him and the necessity of baptism.
Sometime I think a lot of people view baptism mostly in a sweet, nostalgic way, like it is a nice little ceremony that you do at church with your newborns for a great photo-op and then choose the godparents based solely on who in the family has not yet been chosen to be a godparent.
Christian baptism is anything but a meaningless ceremony. It is, in fact, the single most important day in our lives—it is the day we have become a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. If we live to 110, the day of our baptism will still be the most important day of our entire lives.
Some of the early church fathers would use great images to drive home this point. I cannot remember exactly who said it. But one of the earliest theologians of the church said that if we could see the soul of a newly baptized person we would be tempted to fall down and worship it, because it so much resembles God himself.
There is little need to say more about the importance of having your children baptized. It is for the good of their potential salvation. If you are reading this, and you know someone who is deciding to let their child decide their religion on their own, you might want to share this article with them. As parents, we are literally responsible for the souls of our children. There is no greater responsibility. In the long run it is even more important than providing your children with food and shelter.