Baptism tradition

Question: My son refuses to have his young children baptized. He says the priest who celebrated his wedding indicated that infant baptism is only a tradition not a mandate. Is this so?

Name, location withheld

Answer: If the priest said this, he was wrong. Canon law states: “Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it” (Canon, No. 867.1).

Thus we have a mandate, not a mere cultural tradition.

The mandate is rooted in the child’s need as well as in the teaching of Scripture, which says: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Lk 18:15-16). Elsewhere Jesus adds: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). The children referred to here are little children or infants, since the Greek word in Luke 18:15 (brephe) clearly means “infants.” And Jesus calls them paidia, a diminutive form of pais, which means “children” in Greek.

Hence, we are not to hinder the little children from access to the Kingdom and to Jesus. And the way to gain that access is through baptism.

That children are in urgent need of baptism is rooted in the reality that each of us is born with original sin, which is a very grave spiritual wound (see Rom 5:12). Healing from this condition should not be delayed, but should be offered as soon as reasonably possible.

For these reasons and others, the Church has always baptized infants. Early documents both affirm and witness to this. St. Irenaeus, writing in A.D. 189, says of Jesus: “He came to save all … infants, adults and the old” (Against Heresies, 2:22:4). Hippolytus, writing in A.D. 215, says: “Let the children be baptized first. All those children who can answer for themselves do so, and to those children not yet able to speak, their parents shall answer for them” (Apostolic Tradition 21:16).

Beatific vision

Question: We hear about the beatific vision in heaven. But if God is pure spirit, how will we see him? Will our eyes have new powers?

Carl Minnick, Fort Worth, TX

Answer: Though our eyes will likely have great powers in our resurrected bodies, a better approach to this question is to distinguish between physical seeing and spiritual seeing.

Physical seeing is the experience of light particles or waves reaching our retina and neurologically informing our brain. Spiritual seeing is the capacity of our intellect to understand a thought. Thus, when you express an idea to me, I might say, “Ah! I see.” But I do not mean that light is reaching my retinas. Rather, I mean my mind is illumined by what you have said.

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It is in this spiritual way of seeing that we speak of the beatific vision. Our whole soul, mind and heart will be illumined by God, and we will experience him in an unimaginably rich and satisfying way that brings the stable, serene, confident joy we call beatitude.

While it may be possible for the eyes of our resurrected bodies to perceive new things, we need not presume that we will see God with our physical eyes.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.