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The Gospel’s Tough, Kid!

May 28th, 2013by Fr. Dave Endres

As a seminarian, I was assigned to live at a local parish. One of my duties there was to assist the pastor in setting up for Mass and other services. One day I was readying for a baptism, getting out the oils, candle, baptismal garment, and last of all, filling a basin with water to eventually be blessed and poured over the child’s head.

Fr Endres baptizing an infantI had been preparing a basin of warm water, when the pastor questioned me, “What are you doing? Are you using warm water?” I said that I was and explained how warm water is less jolting to the child. In my limited experience, I mentioned that with warm water the child often hardly makes a fuss, and even at times if a baby is crying he or she settles down when the water is poured.

But the pastor – who had certainly baptized hundreds of children – was unconvinced. He responded emphatically, “Use cold water, children must learn as soon as possible: the Gospel’s tough.”

I was surprised at the apparent coldness of the pastor’s response, but that line – “the Gospel’s tough” – has stayed with me. For every time I celebrate a baptism or renew baptismal promises as part of Mass, I am reminded of the truth of his words. Before the priest or deacon baptizes, he asks the parents and Godparents to renounce sin and profess their faith in Christ. He asks them whether they reject Satan, all of his works, and all of his empty promises – not an easy choice throughout our lives, but instead a weighty commitment.

It’s a vow, a commitment that a child can’t understand, but one that the Church recognizes that parents and Godparents must communicate to the child as he or she matures – so that the radical gravity – the toughness of the Gospel – can be communicated not just by cold water poured over a child’s head, but by the living witness of Christians to the demands of faith.

Fr. Dave Endres

Fr. David J. Endres is assistant professor of church history and historical theology at Mount St. Marys Seminary/Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati.