In the parish, I would say that we have three fundamental tasks which arise from the nature of the Church and of the priestly ministry. The first is the sacramental service. I would say that Baptism, preparing for it and the task of giving continuity to obligations taken on at Baptism, already brings us in contact even with those who do not fully believe. It is not a task so much to preserve Christianity, but a challenging encounter with people who probably go to Church rarely.
And so, the task of preparing for Baptism - opening up the souls of the parents, relatives and godparents to the reality of Baptism - already can and should be a missionary commitment that goes beyond the confines of those who are already 'faithful.'
In preparing our parishioners for Baptism, we must make them understand that this Sacrament means being introduced into the family of God, that God exists and cares for us, that He cared enough to have taken on our flesh and to have instituted the Church which is His Body, in which He is able to be incarnated, we might say, in our society.
Baptism gives us new life in the sense that beyond our biological life, we need the gift of a sense of life which is stronger than death. The gift of biological life can be justified only if we can add to it a sense of stabllity, of a future which, despite crises which will come - and which we cannot know beforehand - will give value to our life, make life worth living, make us value the very fact that we were created.
Therefore I think that in preparing for this Sacrament or talking to parents who have doubts about Baptism, we have a missionary situation. We are transmitting the Christian message. We interpret for them the reality that begins with Baptism.
I am not sufficiently familiar with the Italian rite. In the classic rite, inherited from the early Church, Baptism begins with the question: "What do you ask of the Church of God?" Today, at least in the German rite, the answer is simply "Baptism." This does not state adequately what it is that one desires. In the ancient rite, one answered: "Faith," that is, a relationship with God. To get to know God.
"And why," the question goes on, "do you ask for faith?"
Answer: "Because I wish for eternal life." That is, we want a life that is secure even in future crises, a life that has meaning, that justifies being a man.
In any case, I think that this dialog should take place with the parents before Baptism. Which is to say that the gift of the Sacrament is not simply a 'thing,' nor a 'thingification,' as the French put it. It is missionary work.
I guess this just jumps out at me because it echoes my own thoughts about evangelizing our own. This topic is also fresh in my mind because I have been following the discussion on Jimmy Akin’s blog about the appropriateness of baptizing the child of a lesbian couple.
I am working on my first lesson plan for seventh grade CCD. This is the confirmation preparation year. I am committed to giving these children a solid foundation in the Catholic faith, but even more importantly, I see this year as an opportunity to reach out to parents who may be in need of Catholic evangelization. Let me know if you have any strategies you have found successful in bringing parents into the catechesis process. I will share my results with you as well.