[This article first appeared in Christian Initiation 29 (April/May 1998), p. 8]
The tears on the little girl's face streamed from eyes reddened with sadness. Mary lifted her grandchild and pressed the sorrow-stained cheek to hers. "What happened, darling?"
"They told me no."
"Who told you no, dear?"
Mary's heartbeat quickened as she realized the meaning of what she'd just heard. Mouth agape, eyes wide, she felt the pain come back again. How she and her husband struggled to raise their daughter Sherry in the Catholic faith they loved so much. Sherry's rebellious refusal to go to church throughout her teenage years. Sherry's marriage to a divorced man before a non-denominational minister in the public park. The birth of Mary's first granddaughter--which should have brought joy, but produced physical sickness instead when Mary realized that this child would not be baptized. It all came back when she stared in disbelief at the sad young face she caressed in her hand.
"Why did he say no?"
"I don't know," Bailey whimpered, and cried again.
Mary thought she had finally erased the pains of the past. She had tightly held a fragile hope for her beautiful grandchild. After all, God had graciously answered one of the many prayers she hurled toward heaven. For years she'd prayed that Sherry would put Bailey in a Catholic school. And she did. The only thing Sherry liked about the Catholic faith was its schools. Actually, she didn't really like Catholic schools--she just liked the local public schools less. So while Bailey was making Catholic friends in her primary years, Mary's pain began to ease. She kept alive a fragile hope that one day Bailey might seek baptism on her own.
And that's just what happened.
As Bailey began fourth grade, she felt more and more apart from her friends when they all received communion at the school Mass, and she did not. So she asked her teacher, "Why can't I receive communion?" Her teacher said, "First you have to be baptized." Bailey asked, "What do I have to do to be baptized?" Her teacher said, "Ask your parents."
So she did.
Sherry and Robert held a brief discussion that night. Robert said, "Whatever. It's up to you." Sherry said, "She can go to Mass at school, but I'm not taking her to church on Sundays." Robert said, "Maybe your mother will take her to church. Ask her."
So she did.
Mary, of course, was overjoyed. Living across town made it difficult for her to take Bailey to church, but she would still be a godmother. And as long as Bailey was in Catholic school, she could prepare for first communion and go to communion at the school Masses. God had answered her prayers.
Or so she thought.
Sherry and Bailey went to see the priest. Sherry said, "My mother will sponsor Bailey. You can baptize her so she can go to communion with her class." The priest said, "No."
And Bailey cried.
There was more conversation. Words were exchanged. Sherry pulled Bailey from the church office to the car and recommitted herself to her hatred for the Catholic Church.
When Mary heard the full story from Sherry, she stormed to the nearest telephone. She called the priest.
"I thought the Catholic Church was supposed to welcome new members. Not drive them away!"
The priest tried to explain, "Baptism is not about going to communion with a class. It's about faith. Commitment to Christ. Commitment to a church. When a child shows interest in the faith, of course we're happy and we want to help. But it absolutely takes the active support of parents."
"There must be another way."
"Another family can sponsor Bailey. But her mother wasn't interested."
"I'm her grandmother. I would have sponsored the child."
"Will you be bringing her to church every week?"
Mary paused slightly before answering, "Yes."
The priest sensed her self-deception. "Every week?"
"When Bailey grows old enough to get herself to church, she can enter our catechumenate. But if she's too young to come alone, if her parents will not raise her to practice the faith, if she has no one to escort her to Sunday Eucharist, why should we baptize this child?"
Tears then streamed from Mary's eyes.