“While my godson is growing up, I’m not going to tell him whether the earth is flat, like a disc, or round, like a ball. When he is old enough he can look at the scientific evidence and decide for himself.”
Wouldn’t that be a strange statement for a typical adult to make? Even if you didn’t know that I was a professional astronomer before becoming a priest, you’d probably be rather worried if I came out and seriously made a declaration like that.
In fact, for the record, I do believe that the world is round, like a ball. The ancient Hebrews thought of the world as a disc floating in a vast ocean, and so our poetic first reading speaks of God’s Wisdom – for which we can read the Mind of Christ – giving shape to the world by “drawing a ring on the surface of the deep”. At the end of the poem, God’s wisdom is in this world, to guide all God’s children.
There are some decisions that human parents make on behalf of their children because it’s their duty, as parents, to give their children the best options possible in an uncertain world. I was taught the Green Cross Code, the six-times-table, and the English language. If my grandmother had taught me Welsh at her knee, I could be making Welsh-language documentaries on space travel by now… but she didn’t, so here I am.
Parents decide what is best for their children. It’s their job! They do it all day, every day, from providing toast, not a bar of chocolate, for breakfast, to setting a firm bedtime which, of course, is never late enough to satisfy their offspring! But Mum and Dad know best!
And yet, when it comes to faith, parents sometimes hesitate. How many of you know a Catholic parent who has said: “I am not baptising my child now. He, or she, can make their own decision when they are older”?
The choice by Catholic parents not to baptise a child says: “Darling, we think God might be real, but we’re not sure enough that God is real to want you to be part of God’s family. If we’re right, God loves you and will want to protect and guide you. But we might be wrong about that, so we wouldn’t want to risk dedicating you to such a loving God right now!”
The decision to baptise a child says something about our confidence in God’s existence, God’s presence, and God’s love. Today, Trinity Sunday, we remember that we profess something quite remarkable: we believe in a God who is One and who is Three. That’s not easy to wrap your head around and the only reason we even begin the mental gymnastics involved is that we’re trying to make sense of what God has actually shown us through Jesus and his teaching. And we use the Name of the Trinity every time we carry out a baptism.
The original meaning of the word baptism is ‘to plunge’, and in a moment we are going to plunge this child into the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Orthodox Churches of the East, babies are usually baptised by being plunged rapidly into water three times. Our baptisms are a little more timid – a little splash of water on the head – but make no mistake, though the child’s body is only wet in one place, the child’s soul will be fully immersed into the life of God!
Blessed John Henry, Cardinal Newman was able to write, in his famous hymn, Firmly I believe and truly, God is Three, and God is One. If we believe firmly and truly, then we are confident in God – the very word is con fide, with faith – and we can confidently plunge our children into the life of the Holy Trinity through baptism. If my godson, or this child baptised today, wished to leave the Catholic Church – or, for that matter, join the Flat Earth Society – no-one would have the right to stop them. But that would be their own mature decision to respectfully disagree with what their parents judged was in their best interests.
At this Mass, however, we have a family who have made the choice to present a child for baptism. Well done! In today’s world this calls for courage. Some of your friends might think that what you are doing today is old-fashioned or ill-informed. But here, in this congregation, you have our support.
Your task, in the years to come, is to help your child recognise the God into whose life they are being plunged today.
Some children come to faith through marvelling at the beauty of creation – you certainly get the impression that today’s psalm was written by such a child.
Some children come to faith through sheer logic. “Why am I here?” Either it is a random fluke, or someone loved me into existence – and they connect with that Someone, who is God.
Some children come to faith through the experience of being loved. They experience tenderness from those closest to them, who care for them, and see in that love the echo of a Greater Love which called the world into being.
While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him that there is a God, at whose command the whole of the cosmos sprang into being. (If he’s interested, I can also teach him the maths which set out exactly how that happened!)
While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him that a man called Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago, was the human face of God – and we must follow the teachings of Jesus if we want to be perfect friends of God on Earth.
While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him God wants to fill each human being with God’s own Holy Spirit, so that God can live in us, guide us, and help us to become saints. I will tell him that when he was baptised, his family asked Jesus to look after him, and invited the Holy Spirit to live within him, to keep him safe.
If you can say, with Cardinal Newman, “firmly I believe and truly”, then give thanks to God for the gift of a firm faith. But if your own confidence is plunging, if your faith feels uncertain, then ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within you through your own baptism, to fulfil the promise which Christ gives in today’s Gospel – to lead you to the complete truth. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Take the first step of faith, and God will give the increase!
And now, in confident faith, let us plunge this child into the life of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!