Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

The Question Box

by Father I.J. Mikulski

(From the June 10, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Father I.J. Mikulski Q. We received snapshots of the baptism of our grandson showing a priest and a local Protestant minister both holding the baby. We were told both shared the co-baptizing of our grandson. Is that something new in our baptismal liturgies?

A. We cannot say it has never happened. The folks at the national office of liturgy told us there’s nothing that will surprise them anymore, but we suspect your story may have been a bit trampled in the re-telling.

If we understand that baptism is the sacrament of initiation into a specific community of faith, such a bi-partisan baptism makes no sense. We cannot advise Solomon’s solution to split the baby in two.

There’s nothing to suggest that priest and minister simultaneously baptized your grandson. The priest said the words and poured the water while the minister was nearby as an interested witness, a relative or close family friend.

That often happens at inter-faith weddings. In an Episcopal church, let’s say, a Catholic priest may be invited to read Scripture, say a few words, or bless the couple. He will not witness the marriage vows. That’s the privilege of the resident pastor.

That’s probably what happened at the baptism. The resident pastor conferred the sacrament. Both did not baptize your grandson. If you like, you could ask the pastor ask for a certificate of baptism. It will make a fine keepsake and it will show the name of the pastor who baptized your grandson.

Q. I was stopped totally when a friend brought up this line from Matthew 23:9: “Do not call anyone on earth your father.” From that he went on to say Catholics violate the spirit and letter of the Bible because that’s what we call priests. He always says Reverend when he refers to his minister. I am at a loss. Please explain.

A. That’s one of those “golden oldies” that surfaces a few times a year. People who gather sentences from the Bible at random, like picking wild flowers, a bit here and some there, can prove anything.

The first rule of interpreting the Bible is context. We can’t take bits and pieces at random, a little here and there, line them up, and try to prove a pre-conceived position. That’s an abuse of God’s Word. You may have seen photos of kidnappers’ ransom notes made out of clippings pasted together, words, phrases, half-sentences in various sizes to make one message. That’s what your friend is doing.

If you read all of Matthew 23 you will get a true picture. In one of the great chapters in the Gospels Jesus lashes out as his critics. He had enough of their nit-picking accusations and their holier-than-thou image. With a street crowd watching he turned on them and blistered them in a public harangue that exposed them, line by line, for all their petty ambitions.

There were three honorary Jewish titles they lusted after: to be called rabbi, father, and teacher. Don’t be like that, Jesus told his apprentice followers. Learn to serve others.

All that has nothing to do with the present clerical word “Father” as applied to priests. Irish immigrants brought that custom with them as a respectful way of speaking about the head of their parish family. A hundred years ago many Protestant denominations did the same.

Q. What does any church mean by being saved? Some people say it’s like a guarantee of reaching heaven or feeling close to Jesus or even being born again if that’s possible. It seems strange that saved people know they are saved but un-saved people don’t know they’re not. Can you fill in the missing parts?

A. This requirement of getting saved by being born again is a recent American phenomenon from the tent revivals of the last 150 years or so. For the previous 18 centuries that born again phrase referred to the sacrament of baptism because the rest of John’s “born again” line insisted on ‘’water and the Holy Spirit,” which surely meant baptism.

Anyone who insists on another religious experience of being born again, and maybe just one more time, has invented a new sacrament with a mandatory urgency that makes papal infallibility seem tame.

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