Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

The Year of Strong Catholic Parents

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 1 each year is the day when priests of the archdiocese begin new terms of office. It is also, in recent years, the date that marks a new phase in the Strategic Pastoral Plan of the archdiocese. Two years ago, parishes were asked to examine youth ministry and see if new ways of being present to young people could be tried. Last year, in the midst of the universal church’s Year of Faith, the archdiocese concentrated on teaching about the Mass, explaining it and calling Catholics to fulfill their obligation to worship the Lord each Lord’s day by participating in the offering of the Holy Eucharist.

This year the archdiocese turns its attention to parents who bring their children to the sacraments, with a special concern for those parents who ask that their children be baptized. Sometimes, parents who neglect to practice their faith regularly still desire that their children be baptized and raised in the Catholic faith. The celebration of baptism is, therefore, a privileged pastoral moment.

Jesus’ final command to his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” echoes through the church’s practice year after year (Mt 28:19). Parents have the opportunity to reclaim their faith when they ask that their children be signed with Christ’s cross, marked for Christ in this life and for eternity, washed of original sin and incorporated into the Body of Christ.

The Body of Christ is a community, made up of living members united to one another through their union with Jesus himself. After telling his disciples to baptize, Jesus promises, “I am with you always.” The risen Jesus baptizes, using the ministry of deacons and priests to do so. The church listens to the profession of faith of sponsors and parents, with the expectation that the small child will recite that profession on his or her own, after being catechized in preparation for confirmation as a youngster.

The celebration of any sacrament requires preparation. When the request for baptism is made, the parish and its ministers are to help the parents of the child re-visit the creed and the other articles of the church’s faith so that they will take to heart their personal obligation to raise the child in the community of faith. It is a moment to re-examine the parents’ style of life and open it to prayer and the other means the church offers to unite all the baptized to their Savior.

Baptismal preparation is an integral part of the celebration of the sacrament. Less frequent, unfortunately, is followup. This year, our parishes are being asked to stay with the family of each newly baptized child, so that the sacrament changes everyone’s life. Perhaps volunteers from each parish could visit the family of the newly baptized child shortly after the baptism, helping the parents realize that they are not alone in raising their child as a baptized Catholic.

The anniversary of a child’s baptism could also be noted by some members of the parish where the parents practice. To be re-born in Christ is more noteworthy than natural birth. Natural birth initiates us into this world and, inevitably, ends in death; baptism gives us entry into the world of the risen Christ, a world of life eternal. When I was growing up, my parents reminded me each year of where I was baptized, at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish on Chicago’s West Side, and when I was baptized, February 14, 1937. I still silently thank God every Feb. 14 for the gift of this sacrament of faith.

Catholicism is a communal religion. No one is Catholic by himself or herself, nor is one Catholic on his or her own terms. It is Christ who shares his life with us and sets the terms for living faithfully with him in his Body, the church. In our families, we learn how to love because we experience being loved. In the church, we learn how to love God because we experience God’s love in Christ. The church’s ability to introduce the world to its Savior depends on parents who, strong in their own faith, tell their children who Jesus is and show them how to live a life of grace and love.

We can begin this Year of Strong Catholic Parents now by praying for those who are preparing to have a child baptized.