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An obscure reference to infant baptism appeared in the Sunday, October 8, 2006 Gospel (Mk 10:13-16). Just by way of example, even though this reference is obscure, it can be used to educate Sunday Mass attendees and, hopefully, whet appetites for more details about the topic in other Catholetics facets. So, here is some material for a homily and a bulletin article on infant baptism though the principal topic for this reading from Mark could be “divorce”.
Occasional Homily Introductory Information (1 minute)
I’m sure you all know that formal Catholic education typically ends in the twelfth grade or sooner. You may not know that, of all persons who claim Catholicism as their religion, some 70% do not attend Mass regularly. Most of us have a cradle-Catholic family member or friend that no longer attends Mass regularly. Many of us have a family member who now practices some other religion. It is possible that, if more of us understood the basis for Catholic teachings, particularly the Biblical basis, fewer of us would drift away. So, we’re going to try a little experiment to see how it is received. When Sunday readings address a Catholic teaching, we’re going to try to call attention to it and follow up with more details in a special section of the Bulletin. This week, we’re going to address the Church’s tradition of baptizing infants.
Homily Suggestion (2 minutes)
There is seldom one Bible reference that validates a particular Church teaching. More likely, it emerges from the analysis of many passages and testimony from the apostles and/or those who followed close behind them, the early Church Fathers. In today’s readings, there is a short verse that along with many other passages and the writings of the early Church Fathers support the Church’s tradition of baptizing infants. Unfortunately, there are no direct references to infant baptism in the Bible but many theologians include today’s reading from Mark (10:13-16) among the proof texts. Jesus is indignant over His disciples trying to keep the children from him. His response gives credence to infant baptism, “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these?” A parallel account of this event in Lk 18:15-16 actually uses a Greek word for “children” that means “infants”. Obviously, infants couldn’t come to Jesus. They had to be brought to him by their parents just as in infant baptism, today.
For a more detailed review of this tradition, see the Pastor’s Catholetics Corner in the Bulletin today (below):
An educational opportunity to use your family Bible
Many non-Catholics believe baptism is only a symbolic washing, indicating acceptance of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior and, thus, not for infants who cannot “accept”. But Catholics believe in original sin (Rom 5:18) and the need for baptism to remove it (Jn 3:5).
In today’s reading (Mk 10:13-16), Jesus objects to keeping children away from him, “people were bringing children to him (Jesus) that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.” Jesus “became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’… Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.” There are parallel accounts of this event in Mt 19:13-15 and Lk 18:15-16. In Mark and Matthew, the Greek word for children is “paidia”. But in Luke, the Greek word used is “brephe” which means “infants”.
It is important to remember that in the Old Covenant, Jesus and other Jewish infants joined the Old Covenant family through circumcision on their 8th day of life (Gen 17:12; Lev 12:3; Lk 2:21) based upon the faith of their parents. In Col 2:11-12, Paul calls baptism the new circumcision. Thus, in the New Covenant family, parents make the decision for the infant to be baptized. Again, parental faith benefits their child. There are many Biblical references wherein Jesus heals people based upon the profession of faith of another (Mt 9:2; Mk 2:3-5; Mk 9:22-25; Mt 15:28; Lk 7:7; Mt 8:5-13).
The Bible also references entire households being baptized which would certainly have included children and, likely, infants (1 Cor 1:16; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 16:33). In fact, the Greek word “oikos” for “household” also includes infants and children.
Nowhere in Bible does God rule out infant baptism nor restrict baptism to adults. In fact, in Acts 2:38-39 “Peter (said) to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.’" The Greek word “teknon” was used herein for “children”. In Acts 21:21, “teknon” was used for 8-day-old infants being circumcised. So, the promise of baptism was intended for infants.
Catholics, the original Bible Christians, also look to oral tradition in the development of teachings (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 3:15; Jn 21:25). So, let’s see what the Early Church Fathers have to say. St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 215 ad): "Baptize first the children; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them." Origen (post 244 ad): "the Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism also to infants." In 252 ad, the council of Carthage condemned the opinion that infants must wait until the eighth day after birth to be baptized, as was the case with circumcision.