Monday, June 24, 2013

Talking about Baptism

As with so many other Catholic practices, baptism is so full of significance that one is spoilt for choice for themes to talk to children about.  When you have such a wide choice of themes, it is easy to get lost when trying to impart as much as possible to the children.  However, it is important to keep focus on a small number of themes which you can string together into a single coherent message within the time frame given.

I would like to share the ones I normally use, which I hope you may find useful.  Each concept that I outline below should take no more than two minutes to summarise, excluding the answers from the children before your summary.

Two families
Children I have facilitated would be used to the concept of belonging to two families.  Still it is fun to introduce this concept to children.  You start by asking whether they know that they belong to two families.  You will get answers like the family at home, and cousins or grandparents, etc.

Lead them to understand that there is the family at home and the family of God's.  You need to clarify this by drawing parallels between them.  Just as the family at home has Mom and Dad as the head of the family, you also have God as the head of God's family.  Children need something familiar to liken a new concept to if they were to quickly understand it.  A hook, you may say.

Draw more parallels if you need to: You find the family at home in the house; You find God's family in church.  The family at home gather for dinner at the dining table; God's family gather for mass at the altar.  Etc, etc.

How do you join both families
Once they are comfortable with the concept, move on to asking them how they joined the family at home.  Well, you get born.  Talk about the birthday - not the birthday party but the very first birthday that a baby had.  Of course they wouldn't remember their own birth but you can let them talk about the birth of a younger sibling or cousin.  Talk about the number of people who got involved, what they did to prepare and the fuss that greeted the baby when the baby arrives home.  Also, the baby is given a name after birth, often the name is prepared before birth.

Now, how did you join God's family?  Well, you get baptised. Now work on those parallels.  Just as you have lots people around who loves you when you are born (here, I am talking about the family members greeting the baby at home, not the doctors and nurses in the hospital), you also have lots of people around who love you when you get baptised.  I mean, you can't imagine the baby going up to the church alone, knocking on the church doors and asking the priest to get baptised.  Go through the people who are normally there at the baptism.  The baby getting baptised has to be there, the parents who brought the baby there, the priest who conducts the baptism, the family members and well wishers; and last but not least, the godparents.

Explain the role of godparents.  First, they stand in for the parents if anything happens to them.  More importantly in the Church, a godparent ensures the godchild understands the faith and is living the live of a Christian Catholic.

The following need not be explained in detailed to the children but helps your understanding (and confidence) if you were to explain to the children.

In the Catholic Church, godparents are called sponsors.  An adult's baptism will describe this a little better.  You see, the baptism is a bit like joining a society (of course, in a baptism, the benefits extend beyond life on earth).  Before you join a society, you need to understand what the society stands for and what it does; how it does what tit does and the people in the society.  The society also need to vet your application to make sure you understand all this and that you are suitable to join them.

In the same way, the sponsor leads the catechumen (the person getting baptised) into an understanding of what the Church stands for, what we believe in and how we live our faith.  As the Catholic faith is also a way of life of a community of people, the sponsor also leads the catechumen into the life of community, and to know the members of the community.

Explain to the children that when a child is brought up to the priest to be baptised, the priest will ask the parents, "What name do you give this child?" and the parents will answer with the name of the child.  It is important to note that this is the first time the name of the child Is called out in the church.

You see, every member of the community of God needs to know the name of the new member and this is the first time the name of the child is heard by the community.  Therefore the name has to be called out loud.

Draw the parallel with the family at home.  In the family at home, wouldn't every member of the family know the name of every other member?  In the same way this is how the family of God know each others name.

Normally at this point I asked each child what their parents said when the priest asked them for the names at their baptism.  This is one fun way we can use to get everyone to share their names.  I usually do this for the feast of the Baptist of the Lord to start of the year by introducing new members.

Meaning of names
In the olden days, people give names to the children that have deep significance either in meaning or because it was the name of an important personality.  For instance a girl called Felicity is intended to grow up happy because that is what the word felicity means in Latin.  Alternatively you could be given a name of someone famous in the past because your parents hope that you will grow up to be like that person.  Boys called Solomon should be wise.

It is rather unfortunate that today people give names to children that sounds nice but devoid of any historical context or significance.  In the Catholic Church, we often give children the name of a saint because we hope that the child will take on the qualities of that saint.

You do not need to explain all these details to the children but you'll be good to have a book of names or, in today's world an app on your handphone, that can explain the names of the  children as they bring them up.

Interestingly there are many variations of the same name  that come from different countries.   For instance, John is Uwen in Wales, Ian in Scotland, Shaun in Ireland, Johan in Holland, Jon in Scandinavia, Hans in Germany, Jan in Poland, Ivan in Russia, Jean in France, Juan in Spain and oddly, Giovanni in Italy. (Italians do not have a J in their alphabet) I once ran through all this with one boy named John and at every country, the other children greeted him with that variation.  At the end of the grand tour, the poor boy had an identity crisis!  But it was fun.

A name we all share
Ask the children whether they know that we were given an additional name at our baptism. Well, it is not the second name or middle name.  All of us were given that same name at our respective baptism.

That name is Christian.  And whose name is it in the name Christian?  It is Jesus' name - Jesus Christ.  And when we all given the name Christian we are all expected take on the qualities of Jesus.  So after our baptism when we all get our additional name and everyone call Christian, we have to follow what Jesus did.

Water - the practical reason
After hearing the name, the priest will pour holy water over the head of the baby and says the words, "With this water I baptize you (so and so) in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit."  Ask the children why the priest uses water for baptism?  What is so special about water?  What will happen if we do not have any water?  Well we die - a person can live for weeks without food but will die a few days without water.  We use water to keep clean to bath and to wash our clothes.  We also use water to keep us healthy - without water, we fall sick.

That is why we use water for baptism.  Water symbolizes to us new life, spiritual health and a clean soul.

Water - the spiritual reason
That is another very big significant reason why we use water.  Ask the children to think of two stories in the Bible where the there were lots of water.  Jesus turning water into wine? No, more than that!  Jesus' baptism?  No, even more than that.  Try Noah & the Ark and Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.

In both these cases, there is something very interesting about what water did.  In the story of Noah, the waters of the Flood drowned all the sinners in the world who was the reason why God sent the Flood.  And the waters saved the good people - Noah and his family and all the animals.  In the story of Moses, the waters of the Red Sea killed the Pharaoh's army chasing Moses and saved the Israelites.  So we say that water kills the bad people and save the good ones.

In very much the same way we use water in baptism.  Traditionally, we used to baptise by immersion.  Some Catholic churches & many non-Catholic ones still do that.  When we baptise by immersion, the catechumen is immersed into a bug tub or pool of holy water and then brought up.

Ask the children what would happen if you were to hold him under the water.  The person dies.  Of course in baptism we don't hold a person under the water that long - we bring them up very quickly.  But by putting the person under the water, we say that the person who dies is the one who did all the bad things and it is a new person who comes out of the water.  Water kills the sinner and gives life to a new Christian.

Therefore in conclusion, the message to the children that should stick with them at the end of the session is that - after their baptism, they are new Christian, cleaned and made healthy with a new life.  After our baptism, we all carry the name of Christ in our hearts and we should go out and share the qualities of Christ with everyone.

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