Catholics are missing the whole point of baptism

While parishes across the country gear up for a Eucharistic revival, we shouldn’t forget another sacrament that is often just brushed aside.

By Deacon Greg Kandra

I’m talking about baptism. Where the Christian life begins.

Over 15 years, I’ve baptized hundreds of infants, and marveled at the wonder of it all. I’ve also been surprised at how much parents don’t know about Catholicism and about this foundational sacrament. Every month, I meet with parents to begin the process, and hear things like: “One of the godparents will be Buddhist and the other Jewish, OK? We want it to be ecumenical.”


“I’m not sure if my husband and I were married by a priest. I’ll find out if she was ordained or not. But maybe she was a nun?”

And then there’s:

“We’re having a hard time finding godparents. We don’t know any Catholics.”


“Yeah, I know the godfather is an atheist, but honestly, I can’t think of a better person to raise our children if anything happens to us. He’s really a good guy. Can’t you make an exception?”
(For those who are wondering: At least one godparent must be a confirmed Catholic. The other, if not Catholic, must be Christian. And it doesn’t matter if the parents were married by a priest. What matters is, as canon law puts it, having a “well-founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic.)

Most of us know that the state of catechesis in our Church is, to put it gently, wanting. Understanding of the sacraments is especially weak. But I think the problems go much deeper than that, touching on our whole sense of ourselves as Catholics.

Not so very long ago, receiving the sacraments was a benchmark of Catholic life. But now? Catholics seem to just shrug them off. For many, baptism — this moment of sacred welcome — has become a mere requirement to be met. For some, it’s a social event. Naming someone a godparent is like asking them to be your maid of honor.

They’re missing the point.

As Pope Francis noted in 2018, “Baptism is the door that permits Christ the Lord to make His dwelling in us and allows us to immerse ourselves in His mystery.”

Perhaps we clergy need to try harder to catechize from the pulpit or in the bulletin with gentle reminders that “godparent” does not mean “guardian in case of death,” and driving home the idea that the godparent is supposed to be more than just a nice person, but a living model of Catholic Christianity and a witness to the faith.

Long before the baby is born and the invitations are in the mail, we need to ensure that people understand, and deeply, that baptism is more than an excuse for a get-together; it is a transformative moment of grace.

There are families out there who get it. They give me hope.

One young couple asked if they should go to confession before having their baby baptized — a lovely thing to do, but not necessary. This same couple brought an embroidered handkerchief to the baptism, and used it to dab away the chrism, to save it for posterity.

Then there was the moment I offered the final blessing for mothers, and noticed one mom cradling her infant tenderly in one arm while reaching out to clasp her husband’s hand.

I remember, too, the parents who gave everyone at the baptism a tiny gift box containing a rosary.

We need more of these. Please. We need more Catholics to realize that baptism is a precious, beautiful, grace-filled moment. We need them to approach this sacrament — and every sacrament — with awe, humility and a sense of gratitude.

At bottom, Catholics need to recover their Catholic identity, fathom what it means — really — means, to be Catholic. Maybe the National Eucharistic Revival can help us to get the message out there and to appreciate even more the seven sacraments that are woven into the fabric of our lives.

We need to take to heart what we hear after the Profession of Faith at every baptism: “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog “The Deacon’s Bench.” He serves in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.

Top photo: A child is pictured in a file photo being baptized at a church in Mexico City. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.


No sarcasm intended here. What about when you live abroad, faithfully attend Mass every week, your priest knows you by name, but you’re part of a largely transient expat community without much opportunity to foster community relationships, such as knowing who to trust as a godparent? And you raise this concern at church and are given little concrete guidance, but also a staunch refusal to allow proxy godparents to stand for the faithful Catholics you know at home but for whom travel has been impossible? What do you say to that family whose child is no longer an infant, loves Jesus and the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph so deeply it astonishes you, when her parents know this sacrament matters and her mother cries and struggles because of the pain and guilt and shame that her child is still in need of baptism? There’s only one Catholic community in a language the family understands available to them, and “try and arrange it during a visit to their home country” led to “the parish baptism coordinator taking information and then refusing to return any follow up calls or emails.” If nothing else, please pray for this family, please. God knows who they are. I know you may not be able to give concrete answers beyond what’s available in your particular diocese, but I certainly believe in the efficacy of prayers.

I know from personal experience that Deacon Greg is a wonderful deacon, a great homilist and a true gift to our church. And I’m sure when he meets with these couples looking to baptize their children, he stands as an example of the finest our church has to offer. I’m sure that as he celebrates the sacrament, a spark of inspiration is ignited in the hearts of these young people. Perhaps this spark will be enough for these young people to say, “Maybe the Church does have something of value to offer us and our growing family. Maybe it would be worth stopping in once and a while.”

BUT, I worry many in the church will read this article and hear, “Of course there is something of value and these “kids” oughta know it.”

Well, they don’t. And I don’t blame them for not knowing it. Who could? I’m a millennial myself. I have no peers left in church. I really haven’t had any since college. Perhaps if it was a handful of millennials that left, the church could levy the blame elsewhere. But they’ve ALL left. Doesn’t that call for some introspection?

Of course there are exceptions. I use and will continue to use absolutes and hyperbole for effect but also because they are much closer to the truth then we’d like to admit.

So, the days of faithful Catholics walking through the church door to get married or to baptize their children are gone. Long gone. And we as a church need to take responsibility for why they are gone. We cannot pawn off this responsibility on them. It is, without exaggeration, a matter of our church’s survival.

I’m sorry, but preaching from the pulpit will not solve this – these couples won’t hear it because they won’t be in the pews. A conference or Eucharist revival could not be more irrelevant to these people.

So what do we need to do?

We as a church need to recognize the miracle that unfolds before us when somebody under retirement age walks into a Catholic Church and wants to actively participate.

In my opinion, these people are not looking for an excuse to party – there are better and easier excuses. They are there because somewhere deep down they know this is what they ought to do. This is what they must do. And I think the only explanation for that is grace. The grace they themselves received at their sacraments of initiation.

To me, it’s a miracle this grace has endured and brought these souls back home. And now we in the Church must look past the blissfully ignorant exterior and look inside to see a starving soul that has taken every ounce of its energy to get back home… like a gunshot victim who staggers, bleeding, to the entrance of a hospital.

And then we must realize the incredible opportunity we have to change peoples lives for the better by inspiring them to become active members in our faith by showing them a joyful church that is alive with God’s love, mercy, peace and hope.

Priests, Deacons, those lay people who work in baptismal and pre Cana ministries – even the person who answers the phone or door at the rectory – must realize they are on the front lines of the battle to keep our church alive. By the grace of God, this also extends to religious education programs as the parents continue with the sacraments for their children.

Please don’t turn these people away. Don’t even make things difficult. Don’t tell them they should’ve called before they booked their wedding venue. Yes, the godparents shouldn’t be atheists. But, please realize it may very well be impossible as a millennial to select a godparent that has a relationship with you and your child and is a practicing Catholic let alone a role model in faith. Ask me how I know.

These souls need life support, not doctrinal correction. Don’t demand to see their health insurance card as they bleed out in the waiting room. These people need to see a loving and welcoming church. A church with something to offer. The red carpet needs to be rolled out. They need to be pampered. They were lost. They’re starving. They came home. Slaughter the fattened calf.

Well said Brother. Amoung the things I have heard are:’ Me: What do you ask of God’s Church for ….. ?” Them: “A long happy life.” Also: “We have a reservation at …. will this take long?”

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