Last November, we took Roo to church for the first time — a Saturday vigil Mass almost exactly one week after she’d been born. I was worn out from her baptism that morning and, you know, having a week-old smallish newborn, but somehow I received the grace to actually pay attention to the homily — not always a given at this season of life!Read More »
Ok, so here’s a sincere question: If we spend more time acquiring goods locally and ethically, doesn’t this mean we are becoming more materialistic, not less? We are definitely thinking more about stuff and probably spending more money, to boot. This is a question that’s been bothering me on and off since AP Environmental Science in twelfth grade, and most especially since a Dorothy Day-inspired private lecture on distributism got me thinking about consumer ethics again in a special way.
I got my Facebook account in 2005. What this means is I have never been a grownup without Facebook, save the occasional stretch of a couple weeks at a time at Lent or in Uganda with limited internet access. Some good things have come out of it: renewing and deepening friendships when geography or life stage brings us into proximity, selling my kids’ old stuff to only semi-strangers, having a rich and mildly embarrassing collection of internet-hosted photos from the last 13 years at my fingertips at all times.
Before I moved to this neck of the woods, my two experiences with Mennonites were a.) spotting the bearded men on bicycles in one neighborhood of my grandparents’ town growing up and b.) a couple of friends in grad school who had gone to a Mennonite church but were currently Baptist.
So, last month I finished On Pilgrimage, the first book I’ve read by Dorothy Day. If you’ve read it, you know it’s a weird experience — like if I printed out a year’s worth of blog posts, interspersed them with my diary entries, stapled it together, and called it a book. But only if I was as insanely interesting as Day, even at her most scattered.
One page struck me especially. We have a new tradition of mother’s blessings here, where we gather to pray for and encourage a friend as her pregnancy comes to its end, and maybe that’s why this passage struck me particularly.
If Kristin Lavransdatteris any indication, in the history of Christendom, baptism was a Pretty Big Deal, and not for the heirloom gown or the pastel cupcakes. Instead, I was struck when reading it with how 14th century Norway Catholics took baptism really, deeply seriously. Like, don’t take your baby out of the house until he’s baptized seriously. Seriously.
Pippin’s baptism was not that way. It took awhile for us to decide for sure we’d baptize him Catholic (vs Anglican — we were a house divided at the time), and then to break the news to family who we thought might not be thrilled (they were, because they’re great). And then all the family wanted to be there, and our insanely generous former Anglican priest, which is wonderful, and suddenly, he was ten months old and too fat for the family baptism gown.
What would Kristin say?
Next up was Scout. She was born four weeks early, throwing our plans off and making us miss the mandatory baptism class, but we fared better: we managed to get her baptized when she was about seven weeks old. (And the party wasn’t too shabby, either.)
But we want to take baptism as the solemn gift it is, as Kristin and her contemporaries did. I love the lacy gowns and (honestly, all) cupcakes, and I will cheerfully attend your kid’s baptism at any age, but even as late as my father’s childhood in the 1960s, the Church was instructing young catechists on how to perform emergency baptisms just in case of roadside accidents. This made me wonder if there was maybe new post-Vatican II teachings that supported why our parish priests had felt so unrushed in baptizing Pippin, and why we kept encountering a lot of resistance to scheduling in our current church.
Spoiler: There isn’t.
Instead, I talked to people far smarter than I am, and this is the sort of thing we found.
From the Catechism:
250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
But maybe the Church has revised its teaching on the ultimate destination of the unbaptized? Maybe there’s a general shift toward greater reliance on God’s mercy? we wondered. And after all, infant mortality rates are way down from KL’s day. But elsewhere we’ve got this line:
1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” 64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
Canon Law reinforces this idea:
Can. 867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.
In talking to a wide range of American Catholics, I’ve found there’s a huge spectrum in how determined clergy and administration are to making that “first few weeks” thing happen — our church tries to schedule on only one Saturday a month and generally refuses to baptize Thanksgiving weekend, Advent or Lent. (Sometimes the argument is that these are penitential times, but baptism is, to my mind, penitential!) It seems like Tridentine churches often get on the ball sooner; big churches like ours seem to struggle most.
But it seems like a practice worth pushing back against. So we informed ourselves and got to politely advocating for a speedy baptism.
Roo’s big day came on her one week birthday. A scramble!
Here’s how we made it happen:
Introduce extended family to your plan early. We have loved having our whole families attend previous baptisms but including them when they live so far away has contributed to a lag. Explain your reasons for baptizing promptly well before your due date so no one feels snubbed.
Get godparents on board. You’ll need flexibility in their schedule or a willingness on their part to let you use proxies (which we did for Scout’s semi-prompt baptism). Roo’s godparents let the priest know she was born the next day and started trying to schedule right away on our behalf.
Meet all parish guidelines in advance.
Gather family heirlooms. I realized at 32 weeks we didn’t have the family baptismal gown here — it was still with my mother-in-law. Since my last baby was a 36-weeker, I made sure to ask my MIL right away if she’d be willing to mail the gown.
Don’t worry much about a reception or party. We got the official time for the baptism less than 24 hours in advance, and promptly sent out text invites to everyone who had fed us and cared for us during that long, long pregnancy. We decided to do pizza and my mom made brownies and salad — other friends offered to bring cake and bread and Prosecco. We didn’t even worry about a final head count until after the sacrament, at which point we counted and called in an order of pizza. And you know what? It was fine.
The piece reports on the tremendous waste of disaster response, often costing the donors fruitlessly, and sometimes even costing disaster responders who must then deal with the sheer volume of inappropriate stuff flooding in, on top of everything else in the crisis. It’s well meant, no doubt, but ultimately ends up falling somewhere between useless and destructive.
We are not wrong, of course, especially as Christians but also as decent humans, to want to aid people near and far who are hurting, or even just lacking, as we live in such prosperity. Many Catholics have heard and heeded the words of St. Basil — a distinctly Gospel message that when we hoard things others could use, we are essentially stealing.
But there’s a more helpful way to look at this issue, now that material goods are often very cheap in comparison to previous eras. I ran across it first in a book called Money, Possessions and Eternity (which was pretty long and mostly not especially interesting, but read it if you want). Author Randy Alcorn suggested seeing the work of thrift shops and charity shops and rummage sales as a service provided to you, not a work of charity you’re performing by donating — regardless of how their slogans make you feel generous and virtuous. There will be exceptions to this, of course — when you give away the peacoat you really love because you just can’t justify two; when you loan beloved baby things you know you might not get back — but on the whole, we are a culture burdened with stuff, and this concept crystallized for me something I had been thinking about for awhile.
See, while we were in Uganda almost a decade ago (!), we saw all the weirdo donations of Americans right there in the field, in all their ludicrous glory: a woman carrying an empty laptop bag on her head; big stacks of American textbooks that cost a fortune to ship and can’t be used in the nationally mandated curriculum; stacks of second-hand Western clothes for sale in markets, edging out traditional dressmakers. A lot of money and well-meaning “thoughts and prayers” went into these donations, but nothing really helps. We were only in Uganda six months, and certainly don’t have all the answers, but these were the things we observed East Africans really needed from us: medical equipment and training; assistance in establishing robust computer systems; money for their own initiatives. In the meantime, local charity shops can take and resell our used, unwanted stuff, or we can do the extra legwork of matching our surplus with local need through Facebook, Craigslist, and our neighborhood and church communities.