- What is it?
- Is it for me? Or for my children?
- Why and how does one ask for it?
What is baptism?
This is how a child understood it:
“ Baptism is when Jesus is born in my heart”. This is what a five-year-old child said. And this is basically what it is. In fact he made the connections : Jesus (God made man) comes to live in us, “to be born in our heart”, where one loves him, through Baptism
Baptism is at the same time our own birth in the life of God.
A New Life
Baptism, as the child said, is the beginning of a new life, a birth:
“Baptism constitutes the birth of a new life in Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no 1.277).
This means a new life with God, and Saint Paul, one of the Christ’s first disciples, says the same: “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5: 17).
Baptism makes us become “adopted sons and daughters of God the Father”, brothers of Jesus Christ, God the Son. (One can learn all this in detail and one can ask such questions during preparation for Baptism in the Catechumenate [or RCIA programme].)
If through Baptism we become “children of God the Father and brothers of Jesus Christ”, we shall be able to live with him forever in heaven. After our death, like Jesus Christ, we shall rise again. But, from the time of our Baptism onwards, in our life here on earth, we truly become adopted brothers of Jesus Christ.
In Baptism he gives us forgiveness of all our sins and makes divine life come into us. It is for that reason that we speak of a “birth”.
Baptism is something given, it is a grace. “Grace” is a gift of God to human beings. Baptism is the grace of new life with Christ: to live as he lived, to love as he loved.
What does it mean, “to baptise”?
The word “to baptise” originally signified, first of all in Greek, to plunge into water. After 2,000 years of Christianity and of baptisms, it has become synonymous with entering the Church of the Christians through a ceremony in which one pours water over the person’s head.
Either in fact the person being baptised is plunged totally into water three times (this is called “Baptism by immersion”), or he or she receives more simply, and again three times, the water of Baptism on the head.
This signifies that “we are plunged into the death of Christ” and “have the promise to participate in his resurrection”; in fact from this point on through the blessed water we receive the source of a new life, “the Grace of God”.
The forgiveness of sins
Baptism purifies us of all the evil we had ever been able to commit before; through it God forgives all our sins (that is to say the faults against God’s love, against the love of others, and against the love of myself). Through the water, and by the grace of Baptism, everything is wiped out: we are all new, “a new creation”.
At the same time Baptism breaks our solidarity with the sin of origin, the mysterious “original sin”: it makes us enter into solidarity with Jesus Christ, the new Adam (for “Adam” see below).
What is “original sin”?
The first man and the first woman, in the course of evolution, received the extraordinary gift of human dignity and the capacity to love freely. This was a gift from God, a life of love and a promise of living for eternity in God’s company.
This first man and woman who received this gift of love are called for convenience’ sake “Adam” and “Eve”. We know their dramatic history through its consequences. The “Bible” is the collection of all the texts through which God tells us who he is and who we are. The first book of the “Bible”, Genesis, gives an account full of imagery of how Adam and Eve voluntarily broke the union of love, the covenant, that they had with God their creator, dragging their descendents along with them.
This break in the covenant is a reality, the consequences of which we experience in our difficulty in truly loving, of being good, of not making any compromise with the evil in the world. It means that no person is able to say truthfully that he or she is “innocent of all evil”. Often “we do the evil that we do not wish to do and we do not do the good that we would like to do”. We have a tendency towards evil, to not loving or to loving badly.
All people try in their own way, in some confusion, to get out of evil, to have a better image of themselves, to be “purified”. This is the purification that some people seek in the idea of successive reincarnations, during which they gradually become better and better; others suggest a path of fasting, physical exercise like yoga, or mental discipline like “transcendental meditation”, even through diets, or “elements”, “stones”, “metals”, or “energies”…
Baptism is much simpler: God himself, Innocent of all evil, he who is not only good, but who is Goodness itself, comes to our help: through the water of Baptism, he wipes away our sins and gives us the grace to love.
Only He who is Good can make me become good.
Why is Jesus Christ called “Our Saviour”?
After the first man and woman broke the covenant with God, God was not happy to see people being lost, or experiencing death.
He decided to propose “a new covenant”, and therefore he sent them his Son.
For love of us, God-the-Son was made man like us. He took a body and a soul through being born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem in the year 1 of our era (more or less, for it was most likely 6 years earlier). His name is Jesus, which means “God saves”.
The books called “Gospels” report his life and words. We give Jesus the title “Christ”, or “Messiah” because he is the “consecrated one” of God. “Christ” in Greek and “Messiah” in Hebrew mean, “consecrated”, a person who has been anointed by God.
Jesus Christ announced during his life on earth, in history, “the Kingdom of God”, that is the way to be purified of one’s sins, to grow in a life of love and to find friendship with God again. This is forever, for eternity. But his message was not accepted by the religious and political leaders of the time. Finally he was put to death on a cross.
He accepted this death voluntarily, for love of us all.
He has offered his life in order to give us God’s salvation.
He was placed in the tomb.
But on the third day he rose again, and he sent his Holy Spirit on his disciples (“the Apostles”).
These disciples, witnesses of his life, of his teaching, and of his resurrection, went to announce the Gospel to the ends of the earth (and this continues today).
Jesus Christ after his Resurrection, and before his Ascension, in effect entrusted a mission to the disciples:
“Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Gospel of Matthew chapter 28: 19)
To recapitulate the coming of Jesus Christ, Son of God to save us, here is a summary in the Gospel according to Saint John:
“For this is how God loved the world:
he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
Not to judge the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.”
(Gospel of Saint John chapter 3: 16-17)
What does one need to do to be baptised?
To receive Baptism, one needs to ask for it - in truth and with a sincere heart.
Whoever asks for Baptism, recognizes Jesus Christ as “Lord”, that is to say, God; he or she believes in God the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
He or she believes in the gospel, that is, in the words of Jesus, which are given to him/her by the Church. He or she believes in the Catholic Church to which Jesus entrusted the mission to make his gospel known in the world.
This is what one calls the faith. Faith is confidence in God, confidence in the promises of Jesus Christ. The Church transmits these messages to us through the gospel and through the “sacraments”. Baptism is the first of the Sacraments, the entrance.
The faith, or confidence in God, is a gift of God, a grace. This gift is received freely. And if the gift of the faith is accepted by us, it will grow:
during our preparation for Baptism (Catechumenate – or RCIA Programme);
and still more after our Baptism.
It is not necessary therefore to have “complete faith” in order to ask to be baptised. During the ceremony of Baptism, one asks of the candidate (or of his or her godparent is it is a little child):
“What do you ask of God’s Church?” and they reply, “the faith”! With Baptism, with this grace of a new life in Christ, our desire to know God, our love and our confidence in him, will grow. The community of the baptised, the Church, will help us.
What does one do after Baptism?
After Baptism a whole new life of faith, hope and love begins. This will last until our earthly death and our meeting face to face with God in Heaven.
Once we are baptised, we can experience peace and a deep and lasting joy that do not come from us. Sometimes there are highs and lows, and there is a battle for love and truth. The Lord God comes to our aid; he sends us the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us; he gives us his grace. He supports us through a Christian Community: according to the word of Scripture, “a brother for a brother is a fortified tower”.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, which will be explained during the preparation for Baptism, we shall receive new strength in order to live as a Christian. And little by little we shall receive the grace of Baptism more profoundly. We shall receive it certainly in our life of prayer, but also in our work, in our family life, and in our social relations.
Then, as Saint Paul, would say to us: “It’s no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me!”
Through our Baptism, God opens Heaven for us.
This is our hope, as it was said in the famous “Bok of Job” (in the “Old Testament”, the Bible before the Gospel), 500 years before Jesus:
“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he at the last will rise up on the dust of the earth.
After my awakening, he will set me close to him,
and from my flesh I shall look on God.”
(Job, 19, 25 and 26)
But from now on, as baptised people, without having seen Christ yet, we already have a joy that no one can take away from us:
“You have not seen him, yet you love him;
and still without seeing him you believe in him
and so are already filled with a joy so glorious
that it cannot be described;
and you are sure of the goal of your faith,
that is, the salvation of your souls.”
(First Letter of Peter 1: 8 and 9)
Is Baptism possible for adults?
Every year, even in a traditionally Catholic country like France, thousands of adults ask to be baptised. If one has not been baptised as a child, one can ask for Baptism at any age. Even at 90 years of age, like Madeleine, a woman who was in a nursing home. One can make enquiries at the parish office of the churches in town that will put you in touch with the priest responsible. In the country, one asks at the presbytery. You can also be in contact through the internet with our service of evangelisation, which will facilitate contact with a priest and with Christians in your region: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any questions, look up the website:
“Questions about man” on http://www.1000questions.net where a certain number of answers are given to frequently asked questions.
Is it possible for a child to be baptised?
Yes, certainly, this is normally the case in our country; Baptism is a gift of God, it is not a recompense for intellectual work. There is no minimum age required for one to receive this grace. Through Baptism, the life of union with God in love can begin immediately in human life.
From birth onwards, therefore, every infant can be baptised, if the parents ask for it and if they promise to bring the child up in the faith of Christ.
The instruction of the child concerning Jesus Christ and the Trinity, the Church and the Sacraments is called “Catechism”.
Will the young baptised child be free?
Of course, like a baptised adult, the child in growing up will always have the freedom to say, “yes” to his or her baptism, to life with Christ. Baptism is a grace for life, but it is a grace to which one says, “yes” every day, freely, that is to say, with love. But Christian parents will truly not be showing love to their little child if they refuse the gift of God in Baptism. This is a gift, which they themselves have received and thanks to which they are better able to love and to hope.
Little children have a spiritual life
One needs to know that very young children really have a “spiritual life”, that is to say they are sensitive to God, and they love him. If parents pray with their young ones and even with very young children, they discover their children’s spiritual life. They themselves will receive a great encouragement in their life with Christ in seeing their children’s confidence. They will receive the light of the Holy Spirit through the reflections of their children (note the child speaking of Baptism in the very first paragraph of this brochure).
God is not the property of adults. He knows a way to speak to the heart of children long before the age of reason: “I bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children”. (Gospel of Saint Luke, 10: 21)
Why I asked for Baptism
Witness, by Julien, who was an atheist.
I grew up in an atheist family and so I had had practically no contact with the faith. When I visited a church, the sadness in the faces in the windows really didn’t give me any desire to know any more.
At twenty-five years of age, I had for some months taken a beating before broaching a doctoral thesis in science. Having always wanted to know the truth, the answer to all the great questions about man, I told myself it was time to examine the question of the existence of God. On the advice of a Christian friend, I went to see a priest.
For me it was a quaint idea, but I had confidence in my friend. The first time I met the priest, he was playing billiards, which I found likeable. He taught me the following thing: for Christians, God is not just a simple belief, but someone who can come and meet us personally and who through that very encounter can give us each individually a proof of his existence. What should I do? It was enough to spend a few minutes each day with God alone. I did this every evening in my bedroom, and after three months, God came to meet me and he showed me in a very strong and undeniable way his existence, his presence and his love.
A new life opened up for me, a life where I was sure of the existence of God, and where I felt his presence by my side in everyday life. In spite of that, in difficult moments I found it hard to stay in peace, joy and hope, even though other Christians told me they had a peace, joy and hope that lasted and which didn’t come from themselves. Why? “Because we are baptised”, they told me. In effect, through Baptism the Holy Spirit, God himself, comes to live in our hearts and he gives us his peace, his joy and his love, in a lasting way, even through ordeals. For me, this was the trigger that made me decide to ask for Baptism,
Since I have been baptised, I myself have also experienced that peace, joy and hope, which are not on a human scale but which come from God.
Why I asked for Baptism,
Witness of Leila.
My name is Leila; Leila-Myriam, since I received baptism ten years ago. I was then thirty years old.
My parents come from Kabylie and have been established in France for more than 50 years. My family being Muslim, I was therefore raised far from the Catholic religion. Jesus didn’t mean much in my home - he was more or less the character in a film “peplum” seen in my family. My mother told us in passing that Jesus was Jewish and that placed us at the antipodes with respect to him.
So for me Catholicism was a foreign religion until the day when at the age of 10 another film watched by the family captured my attention. It was “Forbidden Games”. The story took place during the Second World War; a young orphan was welcomed by a family, whose son liked especially to bury animals and celebrate Mass for them. The child who was welcomed didn’t know the basic prayers, the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary”. He taught them to him and at the same time I learned them.
The next day I improvised in my bedroom a “prayer corner” with an image of Jesus offered by a neighbour and a statue of Our Lady (“Our Lady of Victories”). I then continued, to the amusement of my brothers and sisters, to pray regularly to the Virgin Mary, then more sporadically, until adolescence, when, because of problems of identity, I distanced myself from the Catholic faith.
Rich in two cultures, and although not practising Islam, I felt I was despite everything attached to my Kabyla origins. At this time I made an amalgam of Kabyla culture and the Muslim religion (in fact the two are clearly associated in education and tradition); it seemed to me that to be interested in Catholicism, I would have to deny my origins, and therefore a part of myself.
I progressed up to the age of 20 in great confusion, when I justified my unconvinced way of being a Muslim, most probably because everyone in my circle of friends was Muslim.
Then there was a period for me of great reflection and I then realised that the Islamic religion and my Berber culture were completely separate and had been through history.
This finding reassured me and so I calmly linked myself again to the Catholic faith, under the guidance of a friend, who was a practising Catholic. I then learned to say the Rosary, thinking that as a good Christian I should say it at least once a day, and that was what I did. I went regularly to Mass. I found the liturgy terribly long, but gradually a frustration with not being able to go to communion began to trouble me. I then had to think about the question of Baptism, but I immediately put it aside. I particularly didn’t want to resemble those parishioners who had the look of being crucified. Nonetheless I persevered in attending Mass, as though thirsty for the Word of God. Besides, it was the only attractive moment in the Mass for me.
I was most disappointed when I realised that the recitation of the Rosary was not widespread among Christians. If this religion accepted so many liberties, what good was it to be Catholic? I asked myself. Still continuing to go church from further and further away, I discovered positive thinking, and notably the writings of a pseudo doctor Murphy, based on biblical texts.
My only ambition then was to become happy and that seemed to work only through great effort, relying on my own strength. At the slightest touch of depression, I gulped down an impressive number of manuals (from the Coué method to Zen relaxation).
I functioned this way for some time and, when I reached the age of 30, I met the director of the company for which I work, who was young, dynamic, joyful, very much of his time, and above all a practising Catholic. He shared with me the joy he experienced in going to Mass. His witness showed me a new reality. I realised that one could be fully alive and be Christian, and that joy is not excluded from the Catholic faith.
So I reconsidered the question. I balanced my books about positive thinking with the New Testament, and a few months later I asked to be baptised.
What has Jesus changed in my life?
Well, a short time after my Baptism, an incident allowed me to realise how much Jesus had changed my life.
A certain time after my conversion, I was experiencing the need to change my profession. I had undertaken, with other frameworks of research, to identify my skills under the guidance of a consultant. This lady was pleased to tell us that no method of personal development was a secret to her.
At the end of the process, she told me: “Leila, you are looking for work, you are experiencing the same difficulties that the others have, and yet you are radiant with joy. You give your time with pleasure to support others. You are doing my work! You are a monster of poise; what is your secret? I am sure you have some good addresses to give me!”
I then replied to her: “ The only address that I know is that of Jesus, and his visiting card is inscribed on my forehead since my Baptism”. You can imagine her astonishment!!!
Baptism did not make me an ethereal being without problems and difficulties. It simply changed my view of events, of other human beings and myself. It freed me of my worries, of my fears. And at the same time it filled me with joy and hope, thus leaving me more available and open to others.
I had for a long time believed that Christians wanted at all costs to convert people all the time and that they wanted to appropriate for themselves the conversion of all the pagans (perhaps this was for me the syndrome of a colonised person). Today I am convinced that only God converts hearts with infinite gentleness and patience. And finally I think, like Bernadette, the Saint of Lourdes, that we Christians do not have the task of making people believe, but we are responsible for speaking about our faith.
Today I am called Leila, and even is Myriam is added, I have not since my Baptism changed either my identity or my temperament. Even more, thanks to this amazing encounter with Jesus and, accompanied with tenderness by the Virgin Mary, I can now live fully, each instant of my life, the name chosen by my parents.
For more information :
Who were Adam and Eve?
Is Jesus historical ? Is Jesus Christ God ?
Life After Death
Can the stars guide our lives?