Friday, April 4, 2008

In My Father's House There Are Many Mansions (John 14:2)

In days of yore, when knighthood was in flower and playing baseball was the most important thing one could imagine, some young Catholics mused regretfully one sunny afternoon in Duluth (not that many of those) on how much better it would have been if they had not been baptized. Being baptized, you have to observe all the commandments and other rules of the Church and if you got to Heaven, all you do all day long would be to pray and "sing Hosannas." As Otto the Bavarian railroad worker and beer drinker once said, "Hosannas, Hosannas, damn Hosannas!" (Or stronger words to that effect).

While if we had not been baptized, we would get to go to Limbo where God didn't exist and we could play baseball all the time. Understandable for ten year olds. I hope my readers have come to learn about the glory of God and how much He loves us and how wonderful it will really be for us to love him back, yes, even if we have to sing Hosannas a lot.

“Babies That Die Without Baptism” is the subject of Fresno Bishop John Steinbock’s pastoral message for April. Referencing the millions of unborn children who “are killed by abortion” as well as the estimated “one in five pregnancies [that] end in a miscarriage,” Bishop Steinbock says that “older Catholics remember from the days of their catechism that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that Limbo was a place where unbaptized children would go after death.” However, Steinbock says, “many Catholics may not realize it but Limbo was just a theological opinion, and was never part of the official teaching of the Church.”

Steinbock cites the conclusions of the International Theological Commission’s Vatican-initiated study, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized, which, last April, concluded: “There are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation.”

This document, says Steinbock, urges people to confide children who have died without baptism “to the superabundant mercy of God.” The bishop notes that the International Theological Commission’s document “quotes Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical ‘The Gospel of Life’ where he speaks words of compassion and love for women who have had an abortion.” The passage that Steinbock says the commission’s study quotes is the following: “The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.”

The passage, which appears in Paragraph 99 of the 1995 English translation of the pope’s encyclical, appears neither in the English translation nor the Latin typical edition found on the Holy See’s web site.

Nor does the International Theological Commission’s study quote this passage, except in a footnote. There the commission says that the editio typica of The Gospel of Life “has replaced paragraph 99 which read: ‘You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord’ (a phrasing which was susceptible to a faulty interpretation), by this definitive text: ‘Infantem autem vestrum potestis Eidem Patri Eiusque misericordiae cum spe committere’ (cf. AAS 87 (1995), 515), which may be translated as follows: ‘You can entrust your child to the same Father and to his mercy with hope.’”

Steinbock concludes his letter, saying God “can give the grace of Baptism to someone who is unable to receive it. Catholic parents should do everything possible to ensure that their children are baptized as soon as possible after birth, but if an unborn child or young child dies without baptism, parents should find comfort from the teaching of the Church, entrusting with hope their unbaptized children to the merciful love of our God.” California Catholic Daily

See Bishop Steinbock's full letter here.

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