Gift, Response, Community: A Letter to Parents about Baptism

More than you love your newborn child, God loves you. More than you want to develop your relationship with your child – smiles, laughs, talking – God wants a relationship with you, and with your child.

(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Author’s Note: This talk was presented this past Sunday as part of a relaunched baptism prep program for new parents who are seeking baptism for their first child. The talk’s goal was to prompt the parents to become regular church-goers. It is offered here for reflection on the essence of baptism and as a potential resource for those engaged in similar catechetical work in their own parishes.

Welcome, all of you. Let me reiterate how happy we are that you are here and that you are giving the gift of faith through baptism to your child. You just heard many of the great things our parish has to offer you. I would like to talk to you about the one indispensable reality that makes all these things possible. That is baptism.

I would like to frame this presentation about baptism around three key words: gift, response, community.

First, gift. Baptism is a gift from God. Baptism is not something we deserve or earn, nor is it something that we determine or repurpose as we like. In baptism, God calls us – you and me, and now your child. He calls us through the agency of other people – likely through your parents when you were baptized, and now, as you prepare for your child’s baptism, you are the agents of God’s plan. God is giving the gift of baptism to your child through you.

And what is the gift of baptism, specifically? I will limit myself to two aspects of the gift: adoption as children of God and, as a consequence, the beginnings of faith.

More than you love your newborn child, God loves you. More than you want to develop your relationship with your child – smiles, laughs, talking – God wants a relationship with you, and with your child. He begins this relationship through baptism. By the power of the Holy Spirit transmitted as the priest pours water over your child’s head, God adopts your child – as He adopted you – as His son or daughter.

It’s easy to nod at this point and think, “Oh, that’s nice.” We have to stop and reflect here. God, the creator of everything, who is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, desperately wants a relationship with you, and with your child. How awesome is that? God created you, and your child, to be His son, His daughter. We have no greater honor or dignity in this life than to be God’s son or daughter. We may have problems with family, friends, bosses, coworkers. But no matter what, no matter how bad we may feel or what evil we may do, God is our Father and He is constantly calling us back to Him. God is love. And He loves you and your child more than we can know or understand.

The second aspect of the gift of baptism is faith. Faith is what we call the relationship between God and us on our end. Faith is our firm belief in the fact that God is our creator and our loving Father. As a result of faith, we know the world is greater than what we can see and measure. We know that the world has a purpose, and that we, too, have a purpose in this world. We know that this world is not the end of our existence, that death is not the last word. We know that we were created for union with God forever – this is our destiny. So, no matter how difficult life may be at times, Catholics never despair because we know that God has a plan for us, even if we cannot understand it in the moment.

The second key word concerning baptism for us to consider today is response. We just heard what an incredible gift baptism is. Through no merit of our own, God adopts us and promises to never forsake us. Now we have to respond to Him and His gift. We have to extend our arms and receive the gift of faith with love in return for the love God gives us.

How do we respond to this gift of faith, this gift of being a child of God?

Just as we develop our relationship with our child by giving him or her our time, we develop our relationship with God in the same way. We have a name for spending time with God. It is called prayer. To live out our relationship with God as His children we must pray every day. We can pray formally through the great prayers of the Church, prayers which you will teach to your child very soon: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. Just as importantly we pray by sharing whatever is on our minds and hearts with God. He wants to hear our prayers. So we must make time every day so He can do so.

The greatest prayer, and the greatest response to God’s gift, is our attendance and participation at Mass each Sunday. The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross, re-presented so that we can receive directly into our souls the redemption from our sins that Christ’s death brought about. In other words, Mass is our ticket to Heaven, and Christ’s sacrifice is what gives baptism its power. During the Mass Christ enters into the most intimate union possible with us this side of eternity. We call this union Holy Communion. Every time we receive, God touches us and transforms us so we can become, little by little, more like Him.

So we show our thanks to God by attending Mass each Sunday. All of us parents here implore you: bring your child to Mass every week, from infancy onwards. So what if he cries? That’s an infant’s way of praying. If the child becomes unruly, you can take him to the vestibule. It may be difficult for you to pray in such moments, but know that God is delighted that you are making the effort to be there.

By doing this you develop the most important habit that your child needs to acquire: becoming a weekly church-goer. Your child will follow your example. We mentioned that we are all agents of God’s plan. As parents, we have a daunting responsibility: to ensure that the faith that our child receives at baptism grows and develops. Without doubt, the best way to do this is to practice the faith sincerely ourselves by attending Mass each week and praying earnestly while we are there.

The third and final word surround baptism I would like to consider, and it follows directly from our weekly participation at Mass, is community. Our world today has an unhealthy obsession with the individual. It tempts us to believe that we are all that matter, and all things should cater to our needs. This is not how Catholics think. By virtue of our baptism, by becoming sons and daughters of God, we also become brothers and sisters with all other baptized Catholics. We are united into a common body that has Christ as its head. We call that body the Church.

In the media there is much focus on the pope and bishops who lead the Church. Their role is essential, but they alone do not constitute the Church, for the Church is the community of all believers – popes, bishops, priests, nuns, and lay people – who have been baptized in Christ. All the great things that this parish has to offer stem not from any one person or family, but through God’s grace that reaches us through the Church, through this community of believers.

Through baptism you and I and your child have full access to the Church’s gifts, which include the sacraments, the teachings that illuminate our hearts, and the laws that direct our lives. The Church exists for one purpose: so that we can encounter Christ directly in this life. The Church is most fully alive every time the Mass and the other sacraments are offered, for Christ is present in those moments. We know Christ, therefore, through our participation in the Church.

To sum up, baptism is a gift that requires our response. It transforms our lives by making us children of God and members of the community that is the Church. Baptism is the first step in making our journey to God. The journey for your child begins very soon. May God reward you as you walk the journey to God beside your child.

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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 27 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.


  1. 2020…
    The sacraments…
    A nonessential service…the defacto instruction of the Church…
    It hasn’t gone away

  2. “By the power of the Holy Spirit transmitted as the priest pours water over your child’s head, God adopts your child – as He adopted you – as His son or daughter.”

    The attribution of this effect to Baptism, rather than the Mystery of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, called “Confirmation” in the West, has been disastrous pastorally and theologically. The Gift of the Holy Spirit needs to be reintegrated with Baptism in Roman Catholic Christian Initiation, and there is no good reason to delay this any longer.

  3. I have observed many times when the church fathers could make a pitch to those in the pews to return to Sunday Mass. Sadly, I never heard a peep. Too many priests seem content to let the church just fade away. I guess they figure they have done their job and the rest is up to someone else. As someone who is in church ministry, I see the times when a crowd of many of those who are generally NON-church-goers are actually present in our church . THAT is the time to make a pleasant positive pitch for them to come back again. Yes, a Baptism is one. I would say, Easter, Christmas and Ash Wednesday, as well as Palm Sunday, would also qualify as such days. In addition, weddings. Some people might come back if only asked. Or ask, “what has been missing in your life? It could be THIS.” That is pretty simple. For others, a more emotional appeal that God loves them and has missed seeing them, as has the priest, might be the way to go. Or, try all three. This is a simplification, as much more could be said. In any event, being afraid to say a single thing for fear of “offending” them is no way to run a church. And Priests who let this go are in fact failing in a significant responsibility to try to bring back the lost sheep. People have to get on with business and stop worrying about who might get offended.

  4. I think Funerals are a prime time to invite the lost sheep back. There are always family members as well as relatives and friends who are no longer practicing their Faith.

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