One of the people that I had never met (except as an infant) was the priest who had baptized me. And so, when I was visiting my family in Iowa, I was delighted to learn that this priest had recently celebrated his 90th birthday and was also celebrating his 65th anniversary of ordination to the Sacred Priesthood of Jesus Christ. My parents (who had presented me for Baptism as an infant) joined me in a delightful visit with Msgr. Dean Walz (Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa) who is living in retirement next to Lake Delhi.
One of the first things I noticed was his well-worn Divine Office book next to his sitting chair indicating his faithfulness to praying the Liturgy of the Hours which is required of priests. My parents reminisced with him about different people they had all known and I spoke to him of my work with Mother Angelica and EWTN and the remarkable growth and fruits that I have witnessed there. He told me of his work with a number of the archbishops of Dubuque and of his work in the archdiocese. I was grateful to meet my “spiritual father” and he told me that he was happy to meet his “spiritual son”. This is true in reality, for I was given new birth in the font of baptism when I was only 13 days old, when the young Fr. Walz baptized me. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Jesus once said (when the apostles were trying to keep children away from Him), “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:14). Parents do well to bring their children to Jesus for Him to bless them as the Gospels relate that He did (Mark 10:16; Matthew 19:15). Parents make many decisions for their newborns for the sake of their physical welfare: what food they are to eat, how much sleep they need, what they are to avoid and how they are to treat others. A human person, however, does not have only physical needs. One’s soul also needs to “be nourished” (CCC #1251). This, parents see to in teaching them (by their words and, even more, by their example) how to pray and how to love God.
Baptism, however, does something even greater. It is not simply symbolic. Yes, it does have symbols but they point to what is actually taking place within. It is a wonderful work that God does in the infant (or adult) that really does something beautiful in the soul. The parents (like my father and mother) on behalf of their newborn want the child to have what is needed for body and soul. Baptism begins a new relationship with God whereby the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity begins (CCC #1265); the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are given (CCC #1266); the lost inheritance of original sin is restored (CCC #404-405); we are “freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God” (CCC #1250); and the gate to all of the Sacraments and to Heaven is opened to us (Cf. John 3:5). In fact, we are enabled to worship and love God with new abilities and powers to do so more fruitfully for others and for ourselves (CCC #1273).
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16). The Incarnation (God becoming man in Jesus Christ) was God’s loving initiative. We did not earn it nor deserve it. But God, looking at us with the greatest love, deigned to join His divinity to our humanity, so that we could be given divine life through Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. “God has loved us first” (1 John 4:19) and He continues to do so, every day! The way we chose to live our lives each day is our response to His love. When we chose to love God and others (Matthew 22:36- 39) and to seek to be led by His Spirit (Romans 8:14), we are responding to His love with love. Love, in fact, can only be repaid by love.
God continues to prove His love for us by giving us the Sacraments to impart divine life, healing, strength, peace and joy through the gift of the Sacraments (CCC #1116). These Gifts are “waiting under the tree” for us. Not a Christmas tree, but the Tree of the Cross. Christmas gifts (which are expressions of love and can benefit us) can be rejected. So, too, one can be indifferent to the Gifts that God freely offers to us in the Sacraments. His Gifts, unlike Christmas gifts, really do something, change us for the better, and do so much beyond our understanding (even as adults). That is why I am grateful that my parents presented me for Baptism to Msgr. Walz so many years ago and why I wanted to personally thank him, my “spiritual father”. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
CCC #1252: “The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole “households” received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.” (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8)