April 28, 2017

Another Look: The Font and the Tiny Casket

Raindrop, Photo by slgckgc

Raindrop, Photo by slgckgc

Note from CM: This week I am attending a Resolve Through Sharing (RTS) conference at a local hospital, focusing on providing bereavement care for families who suffer perinatal death (death in the period before or shortly after birth). The stories I’ve been hearing from nurses and other health professionals, as well as the bereaved parents themselves, have been at times excruciating. Yet they also reinforce my belief that love conquers suffering.

We are the only institution in our city that provides infant hospice care, and I have had the privilege of sharing in many intimate moments with parents and families in their seasons of distress and grief. But ministering to those who have lost children has also been part of my ministry from the very beginning. In fact, the first funeral I officiated was for a family who lost their first son to sudden infant death syndrome when I was at the wise old age of 22.

I have to admit, my greatest fear has been and remains losing one of my children, or now, one of my grandchildren. That’s hard to even say, but it’s true. And I’m reminded of that fear every time I am called to serve another family in this situation. I’m not sure how I could cope without knowing that Jesus loves and welcomes children and that his Kingdom is made up of such as these.

The following post was written in 2013, about one experience I had with a young couple in our infant hospice program.

• • •

Recently, in my role as a hospice chaplain, I baptized a beautiful little three-month old baby girl, as she was being held in the arms of her mother in their home.

The baby was terminally ill. A few days later she died and now rests with God.

When I baptized her, she was hooked up to a feeding tube and oxygen and monitors — wires and tubes everywhere. The warm water flowing from my hand over her little head seemed to calm her. It made her dark hair curl, and when I dried it, it stuck out everywhere. When I moved to the sofa behind her and said, “Little girl, your hair looks like Bozo!” the nurse who had taken her in her arms said the baby smiled.

I told mom and dad that in our church, after we baptize a baby, the pastor takes the child in his arms and parades her down the aisle, saying, “Welcome your new little sister to God’s family,” and we cheer. But the only audience this day was the baby’s two-year old brother, and he was too busy running around to notice the whole affair. Mom and Dad themselves were preoccupied by the fact that their newborn wasn’t faring too well and that the end might be near. Our cluttered “sanctuary” lacked a sense of celebration.

However, I reminded the parents of their act of faith when I led the funeral service a week later. I shared with them why I believe the little baby lying in front of us in her pink dress in the baby casket is safe with God, and why we can have peace that she is now being cared for in her heavenly home.

First, I said, Jesus always welcomed children, took them into his arms, and blessed them. Always. Even when his friends tried to shoo the little ones away so they wouldn’t interrupt the “important” work Jesus was doing, the Savior would have none of that. He was all about the kids. I don’t know of a single instance when he turned them away. I, for one, trust that Jesus welcomed this little girl, embraced her, and that she is living in his blessing today.

Second, I reminded mom and dad, you can have an even deeper sense of peace knowing that you brought her to Jesus in faith and had her baptized. You committed her into God’s care. And it is the Bible that says, “But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.” (Titus 3:4-8)

I don’t believe, this means, by the way, that without the specific act of baptism, babies are doomed to die without hope. But the act itself can provide deep reassurance of hope, for it carries with it God’s promise of life.

I praised these young parents for loving their baby, for caring for her in difficult circumstances, for giving her a home in which she could live and die surrounded by love and support. I assured them, by the Good News of Jesus, that she is now home with God, safe and sound.

Father, into your hands, we commit her spirit.

• • •

Photo by slgckgc at Flickr. Creative Commons license

Comments

  1. Kyle Smith says:

    Thank you for that. My Father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack last year at the age of 54, I was 26. At the time I didn’t really realize how spiritually impactful the my father’s passing was. But months down the road I found myself really struggling with different aspects of my faith that I thought I had resolved. I think there are really only two ways to react to death, cynicism and faith. Faith, can look pretty silly in the face of death though. Like baptizing a terminally ill baby. But those acts to me, are some of the highest displays of faith. Believing in the good despite the obvious bad.

    On a side note, due to that experience, I have gained a profound respect for chaplains.

    • My greatest fears [ as an adult ] has always been the pre-mature death of my children, and now my grand-daughter.
      I recall showing up at my mother’s house [ years back] after not seeing her for a couple of years due to geography. I had put on some weight. She was quite upset and told me the children were NOT supposed to pre-decease the parents. I went home and lost a few pounds.

  2. Ugh.

    I identify with your ‘this is hard to say’. “The Shack” is still sitting unread on my shelf all these years later because I learnt before starting that it involved a child abduction. So I’ll be leaving it until my children are adults. Maybe.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I’m not sure how I could cope without knowing that Jesus loves and welcomes children and that his Kingdom is made up of such as these.

    Tell that to the Truly Reformed Calvin fanboys.
    (Subject surfaced again in a comment thread at Wartburg Watch.)

    • The “truly reformed Calvin fanboys” as you describe them is a straw man. The men you describe just simply try to understand Scripture as it is written. There is, and there always has been, a lot of struggle among Calvinists how to handle what Scripture says and how it applies to children and others such as the mentally challenged.

      If you’re getting your understanding of Calvinism from TWW, you’ll never actually understand Calvinism.

      • If your view of Scripture makes things like this a problem for you, it should be, in my estimation, a serious reason to question whether your view of Scripture is accurate. Devotion to a system must never trump actual love for people. Mercy triumphs over doctrine. Always.

      • I disagree, Jimmy, but then I would 😉 That thread was full of real life examples of just this kind of thing.

      • Whatever “biblical” gymnastics, systematics, and proof texts are employed by these “strawmen” in the attempt to wiggle out of this dilemma, even the tender hearted ones simply can’t hide the vile implication that if an infant’s death is a sure way to “salvation”, it’s a good thing and the rest of us grown up “ex-babies” are an unfortunate lot having missed that loophole. Every second that an infant gets closer to that magical age-of-accountability is then eternally risky. What sort of god creates a universe like that?

    • Christiane says:

      Yes, the topic on TWW was that some who believe in ‘pre-destination’ wonder if ‘un-elect’ infants who die will go to hell.

      • And that, my friends, is what happens when people turn God into religion.

      • With all due respect Christiane, because I know you don’t agree with this, there are a good number of Roman Catholics today, and were far more in former times, who believe(d) that if an infant dies without benefit of the sacrament of baptism, they go to hell. Some speculated that there was a place called limbo, where unbaptized infants would not suffer though separated from God, but that’s not a doctrine of the RC Church. It’s true that today hope is held out that all unbaptized infants and children will eventually somehow inherit redeemed eternal life, but official Catholic theology and doctrine is ambiguous about whether or not this will be the case.

        • And I repeat…that, my friends, is what happens when people turn God into religion.

        • And I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t give a rip what the Roman Catholic Church believes about infant salvation and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a rip what Calvinists think and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a rip what I think, which leaves me with one and only one option: trusting him with their salvation. Kinda like what I do for my own salvation.

          • As far as I’m concerned, we’re all born in a state of grace, redeemed and secured by Jesus Christ. Birth is the only baptism necessary for salvation.

        • Things like this keep me from other denominations and other expressions of Christianity. Look closely enough, and you might see Jesus…but underneath so much trash.

        • Christiane says:

          Hi ROBERT,

          I have been Catholic all of my life, and gone to Catholic schools, and even taught in Catholic Schools. I know many nuns and have traveled and lived pretty much all over the country. But I have never heard about this before: “there are a good number of Roman Catholics today, and were far more in former times, who believe(d) that if an infant dies without benefit of the sacrament of baptism, they go to hell.”

          I can say that I would be very surprised to hear a Catholic say such a thing, as we hold to the great mercy of God. May I ask where you heard about this? Could your source be mistaken?

          • Christiane,

            I (a Protestant) always understood this view of the fate of unbaptized infants to be standard Catholic teaching.

            And as far as I can make out, it is. In an article in Catholic magazine, linked below: “In his teaching against the Pelagian heresy, Augustine affirmed the necessity of this ancient practice. If an infant died unbaptized, he died in a state of sin, and was therefore destined to eternal damnation.”

            Then later in the same article: “This line of thinking was explored thoroughly by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor consigned infants who died without baptism to the outermost borders of hell, which he called the “limbo of children.” They died without the grace of God, and would spend eternity without it, but they were not worthy of punishment.”

            These are from the article at the link below, which also admits that nowadays, things maybe be a bit softer. Look toward the end at the section headed :” No Certainties.”

            http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/let-the-children-come-to-me

            IMO, dreadful stuff. I love individual Catholics, but most of them, like you, Christiane, have not been exposed to the “hard sayings” of the Church. Not that I’m an expert, but I spent quite a few years on a Catholic message board, and learned a lot. I tried twice to “convert” to Catholicism, but have concluded it ain’t gonna happen in this lifetime! 🙂

          • Christiane
            I was baptized, grew up and was catechized in the Roman Catholic Church, Christiane. This was the teaching I received in my religious education, and this is what I was given to understand was the traditional teaching of the Church; hence the importance of baptizing infants early, and regenerating them from original sin, lest they die and be separated from God forever. That’s what I was taught. That you received different teaching makes me think that we experienced two completely different churches. So much for the uniformity of teaching in the RCC.

          • Christiane says:

            I do know that the Church celebrates the Holy Innocents (babies slaughtered by Herod) as the first martyrs of the Church. These babies were not baptized. I also know that the Church commends the souls of all innocent babies and children who die without benefit of baptism to the great mercy of God, and that we have reason for our hope in the way that Our Lord Himself spoke of little children belonging to the Kingdom of God.

            I have never heard of an unbaptized infant going to hell as a CATHOLIC teaching. I do know that Augustine’s writings are not all accepted by the Church, so the ones claimed by the ‘totally depraved’ doctrine of Calvinism are NOT Catholic teachings, no.

            What I do know is that there is a lot of information out there about the Church that is not accurate, and it is always a good idea for anyone who seeks information about ‘what Catholics believe’ to go to the Vatican site (Vatican Catechism) to find out the formal teachings of the Church.

            My goodness, there’s enough for some people to disagree with that IS Catholic formal teaching, so that it doesn’t make sense to seek out misinformation. You can trust the Vatican web site for authentic Catholic teaching. 🙂

          • The difference is that, even today and even based on information from the site you mention, according to Roman Catholic teaching one may have hope in the mercy of God for infants who die without baptism, but one may be assured of the certainty of the eternal redemption and felicity of infants who die after having been baptized. That makes a huge difference, as big as the one that tormented Calvinists wrestle with regarding the death of infants.

          • Christiane says:

            Hi HEATHER,
            I am not sure what ‘hard sayings’ are in the Vatican Catechism that you are talking about when you wrote this: “I love individual Catholics, but most of them, like you, Christiane, have not been exposed to the “hard sayings” of the Church.”

            Here is the site for the Vatican Catechism, the formal teaching of the Catholic Church. Can you give me the numbers of any of the ‘hard sayings’ that you think I have not been exposed to?

            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

          • Christiane says:

            I do need to tell folks that if a supposedly ‘Catholic teaching’ is not in the formal Vatican Catechism, then it is NOT a Catholic teaching.

            There are plenty of ‘sources’ ready to give you mis-information about the Church. My advice is, if you really want to know what the Church teaches, you can trust the formal Vatican Catechism site. It is very well documented.

            As for the other ‘sources’, when you find out more about them, they are usually along the lines of Chick Tracts in their ‘authoritative’ commentary about ‘what Catholics believe’.

            Consider the source. When I wanted to find out about the SBC, I went to SBC blogs and to the formal SBC site. It’s always best to go to the proper sources to find out what they believe in their own words, yes. It’s the right thing to do.

          • Christiane,
            The article dealing with the salvation of unbaptized infants in the Baltimore Catechism, which was the authoritative catechism for children in the American Catholic Church until the into the 1960s, says:

            Q. 632: “Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven….”

            Here is the link:http://www.baltimore-catechism.com/lesson14.htm

            This is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that I was catechized into; it has changed now, according to your link, but that’s what was then.

          • Also, as Question and Answer 632 in the Baltimore Catechism shows, the official doctrinal hope held out for unbaptized infants through most of Roman Catholic history (until the late 20th century) was not that, by the grace of God, they would “enter Heaven” (yes, “enter heaven”, that is the language used in the Baltimore Catechism), but that, by the grace of God. they would enter Limbo rather than Hell (although this was not thought to be certain).

          • Christiane says:

            Hi ROBERT F.

            I would say that today, the Church teaches what not even evangelicals could accept in the way of God’s Mercy, this:

            “The Church and non-Christians

            839 “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.”325

            The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,326 “the first to hear the Word of God.”327 The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”,328 “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”329

            840 And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

            841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”330

            842 The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:

            All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .331

            843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”332 ”

            ROBERT, not even the evangelical Church has such a view of God’s Mercy as this:
            “1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”62 Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

          • Christiane,
            I accept that the Roman Catholic Church has changed its teachings. I have a copy of the new Catechism here, believe it or not, and I know that it says many things quite different from the Baltimore Catechism. The Church has changed its teaching regarding what can be hoped for in the eternal destiny of the unbaptized dead, infant and adult alike.

            But its a recent change, in the last few decades, and as I said in my first comment, it was not the teaching of the Church throughout most of its history. For most of its history, the Church officially taught that the unbaptized dead, whether infant or adult, could not “enter Heaven”. And that’s what I was taught by the Roman Catholic Church in my childhood, from the Baltimore Catechism. I’m glad the RCC has finally changed its teaching in a more enlightened direction, as many Protestant denominations had decades before.

  4. I am 75, a husband, a dad, a grandfather and I have been ministered to. Thank You

  5. One of our speakers at Cannon Beach this week told a story of a congregant whose fetus developed without any lungs. The baby was perfectly formed inside the womb otherwise, just without any lungs, and because the baby was receiving oxygen from the mother, would make it to full term and be delivered normally, but then die.

    The lesson he shared from the heart wrenching post-delivery moments was this: “Just show up and be there. Don’t go in thinking you have to add any value to the situation.”

  6. I think children know God In a similar way to animals, without intellect. On the heals of Damaris’ post yesterday about the unceasing clamor of the mind I see the innocence of children in terms of serenity of mind. The beauty of contemplative practice is that it brings us back there like a gift from the past. Children are our teachers.

  7. Thank you, Mike. I needed to hear this.