Don’t wait too long to baptize your baby

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baptize baby
Julio Prendergast holds his 5-month-old son, Gabriel James, as he is baptized by Msgr. Frank Schneider Nov. 12, 2022, at St. John the Baptist Church in Wading River, N.Y. Looking on is the baby's mother, Christina Prendergast. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

I just celebrated my birthday. Twenty days after I entered the world, I was carried by my godparents to Immaculate Conception Parish in Maplewood, Missouri, to be baptized by the pastor, Father John Ryan.

Mom told me she and Dad were nervous because they had waited almost three weeks instead of the expected two, and feared they would be scolded!

How things have changed! Now, we priests are christening “babies” sometimes a year old. While I hardly propose returning to the two-to-three-week expectation — as laudable as I consider that — I do wonder if we are now waiting way too long to baptize our babies.

We’re beyond, happily, the fear that came from worrying the baby might die before the sacrament and thus be denied heaven. That’s not the healthiest reason to expedite baptism. But, considering the infinite value of this powerful sacrament, shouldn’t we make the baptism of a baby a high priority, at least within the first two to three months after birth?

Parents certainly don’t postpone visits to the pediatrician and proper vaccinations for the bodily health of our treasured new life. That’s good. Shouldn’t we be eager to have our babies receive the immense spiritual gifts of the treasured little baby, as soon as possible?

Joining the family of God

What are these benefits? Yes, the cleansing from original sin, but also the recognition of divine adoption, the welcome of the baby into the supernatural family of the Church and the graces of protection and interior strength of the tiny infant. The little one is fragile, helpless, unaware of the mystery and majesty of the sacrament. That’s fitting, since it’s all pure, unmerited gift. We’re all “little ones” in God’s eyes.

I recognize that baptism is also, beautifully, a time of family celebration and gathering, and that, these days, since families are scattered, it can take a while to gather everybody. But we shouldn’t wait too long!

During Lent, we recall our own baptism, and rejoice that tens of thousands of adults throughout the country, catechumens and candidates, are in the final preparation for their initiation into the life of Christ at the Easter Vigil, when we all renew our promises. But these are adults … let’s not wait so long for babies!

A pastor told me of a call from a parent wanting to register her 2-year-old in the parish’s popular and crowded school. The pastor asked if the child were christened. “Not yet,” replied the parent. “Well, first things first,” the pastor replied. “Let’s take care of the sacrament.”

No, I’m not saying we should ever deny a child at any stage this epic sacrament. God forbid! But, it does rattle me when the “baby” can walk up to the baptismal font!

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is the archbishop of New York.