Does baptism automatically make one a believer?



I am responding to last week’s editorial regarding the use of “I baptize you” vs “We baptize you,” and concluding that the use of the “we” pronoun equates to “arrogance bordering on blasphemy.” The word “baptism” comes from an ancient Greek term for a rite of admission or initiation, often associated with the use of water. For Catholics as well, baptism is the sacrament through which the child or adult is publicly recognized and admitted as a member of the Church.
Many of us learned in Catholic grammar schools that there are types of baptism, other than those associated with the use of water. These are the “baptism of blood” by martyrs and “baptism of desire” by those who love God but have not been officially baptized. (I trust that this applies to those of all faiths and beliefs.) We were also told that the souls of unbaptized infants would be relegated to a place known as Limbo, where they could never enjoy the happiness of those in heaven. How could a merciful God be so heartless?!
The Diocese of Phoenix recently said that a priest performed thousands of baptisms over 20 years, “all incorrectly” and thus presumed “invalid,” because he used the words “We baptize” rather than “I baptize.” Can the altering of a single pronoun make a baptism invalid? Do the thousands affected by this now have to be re-baptized? What about those who have since died? Are they now in Limbo?
Centuries ago, when there were no books, priests may well have made up their own words for baptism and other sacraments. Some may have baptized “In the name of Jesus” and others “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” But their intention was the same: public recognition and welcome into the Christian community. But the bottom line is: does baptism automatically make one a believer? It can’t save you. Only your faith can save you.
Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit, said that he would have preferred a Vatican ruling that the thousands of baptisms cited above would still be valid, even if not “by the book.” He added that the priest who used the pronoun “we” rather than “I” likely was trying not to defy the Vatican, but rather to make the ceremony more inclusive and less formal. Reese ended his statement with these words: “That’s the problem when you get a bunch of bureaucrats in a room without a thought to the pastoral consequences of the decision.”

Harriet Rinaldi, Cranston


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