Have you ever wondered why we baptize infants without even asking for their input? We hear reasons like “it is a gift freely given” – which is true – yet it is not allowed (I’m not even sure if it is valid) to baptize an adult in his sleep who does not want to be baptized. If Baptism is truly valuable and the input of the receiver does not matter, then why would you not mark that man’s soul with the indelible character of Baptism in his sleep? We balk at the idea of baptizing an adult in his sleep, but we praise the child who sleeps through his own Baptism. Why do we have the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to educate them in the Faith before they receive it, but let infants skip the classes?
I have heard many arguments and believed them, but there is one obvious reason that I have never heard – or at least never hit me before – but answers the question magnificently. The reason is that Baptism makes us sons and daughters of God – not the answer you were expecting, was it? I assure you that the theology behind such a simple statement is well-founded, and you can check the Catechism if you like. If you already agree that Baptism makes us sons and daughters of God, then let’s unpack that to see how that justifies infant Baptism.
I don’t know about you, but I have never met anyone who chose to become a son. A scene in which the doctor screams into a megaphone at the mother’s stomach to ask the baby if he wants to come out is so ridiculous that we can’t even imagine that being portrayed in the strangest of movies. None of us were consulted when we were born. It is truly a gift undeserved.
Let’s take the analogy a bit further. Once a baby is born, the parents love it without expecting any love given back. Gradually, however, the child begins to recognize its parents love and respond in kind: giving Mom a hug or helping Dad clean the garage. This is the fulfillment of the parent/child relationship since it goes both ways; the child is choosing to be a part of the family. There’s just one catch: the child now has the capacity to reject Mom and Dad. So every time that a child loves his parents, whether through a kind word, a gift, or an act of service, he is choosing to be their son. We call this choice “Confirmation.”
The progression from love-accepting to love-exchanging is the normal progression for a child, but let’s suppose the child is adopted after he or she has already developed the ability to use reason and choose. This scenario would be equivalent to the adult in RCIA who learns about the family, accepts the invitation into the family (Baptism), and chooses firmly to be a part of that family (Confirmation). Just as the adopted person, if old enough, would have to accept the invitation into the family, so the adult has to accept the invitation into God’s family.
There is no forcing anyone to be part of a family; there is only love which is offered, accepted, and returned. Just as we welcome newborns into our families, shower them with love, and patiently wait for the day to have a conversation with them, so God welcomes us into His family through Baptism, showers us with love, and patiently waits for us to choose to love Him in return (Confirmation).