Did you know that St. Augustine was responsible for infant baptism? In his time (the 4th century AD) baptism was reserved until the last possible instant. You had only one chance to be completely cleansed of sin, so Christians in the 300’s held out until they were close to death, thinking that they had a better likelihood of achieving heaven if they were close to sinless at the time they met their maker.
Augustine reasoned that his delayed baptism led him to act worse than he otherwise would have. He lied, he stole, he took a mistress and fathered a child with her, and all of this was excused by his elders because he had not yet been baptized. He had no incentive to behave. Or so he said.
We went to the Easter Vigil service on Saturday night. It’s the biggest celebration of the year in the Catholic Church. (Christmas is secondary because without the belief in the resurrection, there’s no point in celebrating some prophet’s December birthday.)
It was our first time to bring the kids. Easter Vigil is a tough service because it’s very long — nearly three hours. But it’s a special service. It’s the service of adult baptism.
Seven years ago at Easter I converted to the Catholic Church. I was baptized a Methodist in my infancy, and when I attended services occasionally someone would be inspired to join the church. When that happened, the Reverend would welcome him to the front, ask him a few questions, and *bam* we had a new Methodist.
Not so with the Catholics. To join their church (if you’re not born into it), you have to go through RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It’s a nine-month-long process requiring weekly classes and weekly church services. You have to really want to do it to go through with it — this is no spur-of-the-moment commitment.
Sometime in the future I may discuss why I chose to convert, but for now I’ll simply say that I’m grateful to my generous, wonderful parents who supported me throughout the process, even as they must have wondered what kind of crazy thing their daughter was getting herself into.
The Easter Vigil was where I became confirmed as a Catholic. (I was already baptized a Christian in the Methodist Church, and the Catholic Church respected that.) I like to go back and revisit the Vigil, see my old friends from RCIA, and watch people become new Catholics. There’s something very moving about it; they’ve worked so hard for this moment, and they’re so excited to have made it. Some are on their second or third try, having dropped out of previous classes.
When Father Bill doused each catechumen three times with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I could feel the joy radiating out from the baptismal font to the back of the church where I sat. Really. That’s a special feeling that more than makes up for three hours of cranky six-year-old, bless her little heart. (I think a Sunday of sleeping in, chocolate, treats from the Easter Bunny, and hunting for eggs with the neighbor kids made up for three hours of torture in her little mind. Her brother was perfectly cool throughout the Mass, as it was something “adult”, and therefore something he wanted to do. Plus he got all of the Sunday benefits his sister got.)
It tied in nicely that this month my online reading group is discussing St. Augustine’s Confessions, a work to which I alluded back in September. I alternated reading it and listening to excellent lectures from The Teaching Company about it this weekend while I worked out in the garden between family times.
I don’t have a deep conclusion to draw about adult baptism and whether or not Augustine was right. It’s a point to ponder. Would I now be better behaved if I had not received that sacrament until age 29? I don’t really know.
I can say this much, however: this Easter weekend, I am grateful to be with the people I am with, in the place that I am, in the life that God has given me. I pray that I will continue to feel gratitude, no matter my life’s circumstances. Amen.
Blessings to you and your family this Easter.
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