Do we ever remember the time we were baptized? The expected answer to this perhaps is no, for we were baptized when we were babies as practiced in the Catholic Church. Only pictures and documents serve as proofs that there really was a baptism that happened when we were very young to remember.
Baptism in the Philippines is such a popular life event among Filipino Catholics. Why is this so? Some basic reasons given are our basic “family-centeredness” and “love of children.” These two Filipino characteristics are fostered as baptism is celebrated in our country. The Filipino culture has such a strong religious dimension, and from this foundation, baptismal celebrations play a significant role which is also meaningful in a social sense (Catechism for Filipino Catholics, 1587).
But before one gets carried away with excitement for baptisms, especially if the first-born in the family is the one to receive the sacrament, let us all be reminded that there are various requirements to be fulfilled especially at the parish church where the baptism is going to be held. All these have to be settled first.
Although, in some parishes some requirements may vary, but generally, there are those general requirements that are to be fulfilled and/or submitted such as the birth certificate, attendance in required seminars on catechism, godparents’ names, and the like which all need careful attention. Before planning for a grandiose reception in a posh venue, these things have to be settled. In this case, proper coordination with the parish office is a must. Time is also of utmost value; thus arriving on time for the occasion may not make one an angel, but it will be a great show of respect for the family and the others who will join in witnessing the sacrament.
Also, it cannot be avoided that we approach our dearest friends in high school or people closest to our hearts to be the godparents of the child but they need not be a whole horde of close friends from elementary days to the corporate world where the parents of the child might be employed. There is no need for an overwhelming number of godparents as they might just end up as spectators or candle bearers without a hint of the real role they must play in the child’s life. The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church stipulates that one sponsor, male or female, is sufficient, but there may be two, one of each sex (can. 873). Furthermore, this person should “be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken (874.1.3), and is not less than 16 years of age (874.1.2).” Another thing to be taken note of is the godparent should “not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptized (can. 874.1.5).”
In my experience as a priest, Filipino superstition would sometimes enter the scene at baptism. There are those who would immediately run to the church door right after the baptismal ceremony, carrying the child, with the belief that the child who gets out of the church first right after baptism gets the best share of God’s graces and blessings. This may be very dangerous. In other cases, in order to have a lavish feast for the occasion, parents would borrow money from relatives or friends, thinking that this would make the child abundantly blessed, but this unnecessary extravagance may just drown the family in debts. We must remember that the banquet after baptism comes secondary and may not even be completely necessary. What is most important is the spiritual nourishment that the child and every community member gets out of this.
With regard to naming the child, how careful are the parents in choosing the appropriate name? I can not forget a baby I once baptized a few years ago.The dictionary meaning of the child’s name is “any of the numerous small to medium graceful and swift African and Asian antelopes.” Later, the child might think that she was sabotaged by her parents by giving her the name of an animal. Gone are the days when parents would look at the calendar for some names of saints. Nowadays, the practice is sometimes to combine the names of the parents or just pick the name of their favorite local or foreign celebrity or some high-profile personality. Remember that the name becomes the trademark and identity of the person. Thus parents must reflectively select a good name, one that is at least not difficult to pronounce or remember because it is too complicated. Later, the child might also be bullied because of the name given him/her.
Today’s Feast of the Lord’s Baptism (January 10) is a worthy occasion to remember in connection with our own baptism. It inaugurates Jesus’ public life. He demonstrated that he was the Son of God by the character of his public life which was rich in compassion to sinners, solidarity with the oppressed, and preferential option for those at the margins of society. We are not Jesus, but by virtue of our baptism, we can always resonate with his life by turning away from our sinful ways, constantly directing our love towards God and neighbor, and responding to the call of our baptism which has sent us on a mission to the poor, needy, and marginalized.
Now that we have matured in faith, though we have no memory of our baptism when we were innocent children, we can think of it as a beautiful gift, and full of gratitude, we can create more meaningful memories as we live by the mission we are called to fulfill.