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Was It a Valid Baptism?
Q. I would like to know if what I did is considered a valid baptism. My grandchild, who was very ill at the time with a potentially fatal condition (now in remission), was 2 years old and still not baptized. I was fearful that she could die without being baptized.
When she was born, and I was told about her condition, I immediately called to speak with a priest about having her baptized. I was told that since her parents are not agreeable, it could not be done.
While caring for her, I proceeded to baptize her, without holy water, but with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I made the Sign of the Cross on her forehead, lips and chest.
Was I wrong to do this? Is she considered to be validly baptized? She is now 6 years old, still in remission — thanks be to God — though next month she will be having a brain scan or MRI to rule out some new problems.
My daughter and grandchild are attending a Methodist church, though she was raised Catholic. When my daughter mentioned to me that she had intentions of having her baptized at the Methodist church, I mentioned that I had baptized her. I have not heard my daughter talk about baptism again. Should I tell her to have her baptized at the Methodist church?
M.R., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
You wrote: “I proceeded to baptize her, without holy water . . .” I’m not sure what “without holy water” means. Did you use any water? For a valid baptism, you must pour natural water on the child’s forehead as you pronounce the Trinitarian formula, which you say you did. “Natural water” could be salt water, fresh water or even holy water (water that has been blessed).
So there is some doubt in my mind, according to what you wrote, just exactly what you did. But if you used regular water, then the baptism is valid.
Should you have done it? No, not if the parents are not in favor of the baptism. However, if she were truly in danger of death, you could make the argument that the baptism was not only valid but also licit. Still, the priest was justified in refusing baptism to the child since the parents were not in agreement and there was no reasonable hope to have the child raised as a Catholic.
What should you do now? If you truly doubt the child has actually been baptized, go ahead and ask your daughter to have the child baptized in the Catholic Church. If she is not in favor of that, have the girl baptized in the Methodist Church she now attends, because the Catholic Church will recognize that baptism as valid.
Is Sin Only Human?
Q. Your recent answer to the question about whether Jesus has a human soul (see below for the entry for Tuesday 6/23/09) said that in the Incarnation, Jesus took on everything that makes us human. I’ve heard others say that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.
Well, every human being I know has sinned. Isn’t being sinful part of our fallen human nature? If so, how can we say that Jesus was “fully human” if He never sinned?
D.A., Detroit, Mich.
A. Keep in mind that when our first parents fell from grace, they damaged the human nature that God had created for them. It became disordered, twisted, broken.
Consequently, they could not pass on to their descendants what they themselves no longer possessed. The original sin that now affects all of us is thus a deficiency in human nature, a lack of the original righteousness with which the human race was created.
In this light, then, we come to see that it is precisely Jesus’ sinlessness that makes Him fully human. In His perfect, unfallen human nature, He is the kind of man that God originally intended. Nothing is lacking in His human nature, nothing damaged or diminished by sin.
On the other hand, because we are sinners, we are actually to one extent or another less than fully human. You and I have not, in this life, attained to the full human perfection for which God has created us.
God willing, we will one day reach that full perfection of humanity when we stand before Him in heaven, enjoying the Beatific Vision. Then we too will be “fully human”!
Infinitely better yet, in Him our perfected human nature will be joined to His divine nature in such a way that, as the ancients described it, “What God is by nature we will become by grace.” (The technical theological term is theosis or theopoiesis.) Because of the magnificent grace that comes to us in Jesus Christ, what the saints become in heaven is far beyond what even Adam and Eve were before the Fall.
What About Suicide?
Q. What is the Church’s view of suicide? Is a soul in purgatory forever?
N.N., via email
A. First, let’s address the matter of purgatory.
Purgatory is a process, after death, which purges or purifies the souls of those who have died in friendship with God, cleansing them from the effects of sin so that they will be fit to live with Him in perfect joy in heaven for all eternity.
For this reason, purgatory is not some kind of alternate final destination for souls who cannot go either to heaven or to hell. It’s not a destination at all; rather, it’s a path toward a destination, and that destination is heaven. This means that no one is in purgatory forever, because the whole purpose of purgatory is to prepare the soul to live in heaven forever.
As for the eternal destination of suicides: It depends on the individual, and only God knows whether each individual suicide ends up in heaven or hell. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the matter:
“2280: Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
“2281: Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
“2282: If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.
“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
“2283: We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
To sum up: Dying in the state of mortal sin leads to hell. Suicide is indeed a grave sin, and the person committing it obviously dies immediately.
However, for a sin to be mortal, more is required than grave matter: The person committing it must have been acting freely and knowing what they were doing. Only God knows for sure to what extent any particular suicide was acting freely and knowledgeably. And only God knows whether, despite the seeming immediacy of death, the suicide might have had an opportunity to repent before dying.
For all these reasons, then, as the Catechism says, we must pray for those who have committed suicide and leave them in God’s merciful hands.
Does Jesus Have a Soul?
Q. A rosary meditation I read recently said for the Annunciation mystery that Jesus’ body and soul were formed. Does Jesus have a soul?
I don’t remember hearing anything about this before. I know He has a divine and human nature, and that humans are spiritual as well as corporeal, while angels are strictly spiritual. But does this mean, then, that God has a divine nature, human nature, and a soul/spiritual nature as well?
D.O., Savannah, Ga.
A. Your question was raised in the early centuries of the Church as Christians were trying to figure out more accurately the nature of the Incarnation. In time, the Church gave a definitive answer: When God the Son became a Man, He took for himself a complete human nature. That is to say, the human nature He took (the technical theological term is “assumed”) included everything that makes us human.
Human beings have a single nature, which is composed of both a body and a spirit. In humans, this spirit also functions as the soul, which is defined as the animating principle of a body — that is, the thing that gives life to the body. (Note that body and soul are not two natures, but two components so intimately joined that they form together a single human nature.)
Consequently, when God the Son became a Man, He took for himself not only a human body, but also a human spirit (or soul).
This means that the Incarnate God had (and will always have — He will never lose them) two natures: one divine, and one human, with the human nature being composed of both body and soul.
Why was it so important for the Church to clarify this reality? Because, as the Church Fathers often emphasized, the purpose of the Incarnation was to heal and save human nature, and if some part of that nature was not included in the Incarnation, it would not have been saved and healed, either.
Do we fallen human beings need heal in our souls? Of course! Jesus came to heal the disorder of our souls: our thinking, our will, our emotions. So He took a human soul as well as a body; that’s why, for example, we see Him weeping over the death of His friend Lazarus (see John 11:35).
This reality is also reflected in the traditional formulation that when we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, we are receiving not only His Body and Blood, but also His “Soul and Divinity.” His Body and Soul are so intimately joined, and His Humanity and Divinity so completely in union, that to receive any one of these is to receive them all — the whole Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh.
Why Accept St. Paul’s Writings?
Q. I am in a “Renew” group. The subject came up as to why we read the letters of Paul almost every Sunday and we accept them without question. Yet he had never seen Christ and was never an apostle.
If we accept Paul’s writings, then why don’t we accept the writings of, say, Martin Luther? He had a great effect on the Church during his time. If we are to accept Paul’s writings, then why not accept the Book of Mormon as a condition to arrive at our reward in seeing Christ?
I am a lifelong Catholic and am not questioning our faith. However, I am questioning why we accept some writings and not others.
B.W., Oklahoma City, Okla.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
We accept St. Paul’s writings as Scripture because the Church, by God’s authority, discerned that they were of apostolic origin and divinely inspired, so they included them in the scriptural canon with the other books of those qualifications. The Pauline letters were thus a part of the original “deposit of faith” God gave to the Church. By that same God-given authority, the Church closed the canon so that no other books could be added to it.
Why did the Church include St. Paul’s writings in the canon with other books of apostolic origin? Start with Paul’s credentials. Acts 9 tells of his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, and of his being appointed by Christ as “a chosen instrument of mine [of Christ] to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:16).
The Greek word apostolos, from which our “apostle” comes, means “one who is sent,” at least implicitly on a specific errand. Because the apostles were special envoys of Christ, only He could appoint one.
St. Paul repeatedly identifies himself as an “apostle”: Rom 1:1; 11:13; 1 Cor 1:1; 4:9; 9:1, 2, 5; 15:9; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1, 17; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Thes 2:6; 1 Tm 1:1; 2:7; 2 Tm 1:1, 11; Titus 1:1. Though he was not one of the Twelve, St. Peter and the other apostles, who had been appointed by Christ during His earthly ministry, recognized St. Paul’s apostleship as genuine and his teaching as faithful to the Gospel message they had received from Christ (see Gal 1:18–2:1).
St. Paul was thus not proclaiming his opinions; he was proclaiming the faith of the Church into which he had been baptized (Acts 9:18).
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Cor. 11:23).
“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2).
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15).
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [note that the apostle speaks with the authority entrusted to him by Christ], that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thess 3:6).
The other writings you mention — those of Martin Luther or of Joseph Smith — are purely the private opinions of their authors, who appeared in history long after the close of the canon. These writings are not the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Indeed, in large measure, they are contrary to the Church’s teaching and to the declarations of Scripture. Martin Luther did indeed have “a great effect on the Church” — a very devastating, harmful effect.
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