Monday, August 31, 2009

Minister of Baptism

I have been wondering whether or not I should baptize my grandchildren. I don't mean arrange for them to be baptized but actually do it myself. And, no, I'm not yet an ordained deacon. I'm simply aware that bad things happen to good people, and my stepchildren don't have the same understanding that I do of the necessity of the sacraments.*

By the way, my fall theology course is on the sacraments. The first lecture talks about the requirements for a valid baptism, and Dr. D'Ambrosio brings up an instance where a baptism isn't valid—a child dunking his friends in the pool and saying, "I baptize you..."

If it's in jest, it's not intentional, hence, not valid.


I think I may have performed two valid baptisms when I was a child.

I had a couple of playmates across the street on Fairchild AFB. We lived in the officers' housing area, but many of the residents weren't officers' families. (My father was probably a major at the time.) Anyway, we had quite a mix of people in the neighborhood, from my Southern Baptist friend on the corner (a fan of Gen. Lee and my comrade in arms against the other neighborhood clubs), to my Mormon next door neighbor, or the guy across the street whose black father was a running back at UCLA and whose mother was from Puerto Rico and barely spoke English, or my Japanese and Korean classmates. Life in the military in the 70s was not segregated by any means, and I never thought for a moment about our differences.

Except for the people whom I met who were not Christians. That was new to me. I didn't understand the whole Catholic/Protestant divide, but I knew that we were all Christians (with the exception of Dr. Srinivas and his wife who arrived much later).

Anyway, into this fairly homogeneous religious mix my friends across the street. I don't recall their names, but there was a boy and a younger girl. They were friendly, but they sometimes couldn't play because they were on restriction. It was rather rare that both were out at the same time. I remember a couple of time commenting on some injuries they had on their upper arms—very uniform. They indicated that their parents had punished them with a knife. I didn't understand that they were being abused, but I understood that their home lives were quite different from mine.

I don't know how we ever got on the subject of baptism, but this was a time of some religious fervor on my part. I had seen baptisms before, and I knew what the intent was (as well as a 7 or 8 year old can understand the sacrament). At some point, I asked if they were Christians, and they said they were not (as far as they knew). Naturally, I told them about God and Heaven and Jesus. And I told them that to have all of that they needed to be baptized. And they said they wanted to be baptized.

For the life of me, I don't know where I got it into my head that I could baptize them. However, we turned the hose on, running lightly, and I did what I had seen done. I took the hose, poured water in my hand, and I poured it on my friends' heads, saying, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

I don't know what other words I would've used since that was what I had witnessed.

There are five elements required for the objective validity of a sacrament:

- Valid minister
- Valid recipient
- Correct intention
- Valid matter
- Valid form

Anyone can baptize. Even a nonbeliever can baptize if the other conditions are met. So the first condition is met. Both of my friends wanted to be baptized. Their understanding as to what it meant may have been deficient due to their age, but the desire to know God and be His friend was certainly present. My intention was to do what the Church does in the sacrament. I used running water (although with affusion). And to my knowledge, I used the words I had heard.

Subjectively, my friends needed to be prepared to receive the grace of the sacrament, but from what I can recall, the sacrament was administered validly.

I do wonder, though, if that action had any impact on their lives. I recall my horror at their rather lackadaisical acceptance of their parents' abuse. I pray that they were given other opportunities for faith. My wife suggests that perhaps I was put in their lives on purpose. That would be oe of those mysterious workings of God if so.

*I'm saying this all sort of tongue-in-cheek. I wouldn't baptize our grandchildren without their parents' consent, and if they consented, we'd have it done by the normal means anyway.
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