Q. When I was young 70 years ago, the Church stressed two types of Baptism: baptism of water and baptism of blood. Also, that persons who died without Baptism went to Limbo. My question regards the millions of unbaptized innocents, slaughtered in their mother’s wombs, by abortion. Surely, they come under baptism of blood and immediately enter Heaven — L.J.H., Arizona.
A. As a contemporary of yours, we recall as a youngster hearing about a third type of baptism — baptism of desire. Here is how the Baltimore Catechism answered the question about salvation for those who die without Baptism:
“Those who through no fault of their own have not received the sacrament of Baptism can be saved through what is called baptism of blood or baptism of desire. However, only Baptism of water actually makes a person a member of the Church. It might be compared to a ladder up which one climbs into the Bark of Peter, as the Church is often called. Baptism of blood or desire makes a person a member of the Church in desire. These are the two lifelines trailing from the sides of the Church to save those who are outside the Church through no fault of their own.”
The Baltimore Catechism went on to explain that “an unbaptized person receives the baptism of blood when he suffers martyrdom for the faith of Christ.” While a baby murdered by abortion does indeed shed blood, he is not able to profess his faith in Christ and thus cannot be considered a martyr for the faith.
As for baptism of desire, the Baltimore Catechism said that “an unbaptized person receives the baptism of desire when he loves God above all things and desires to do all that is necessary for his salvation.” But an aborted child is incapable of loving God above all things and of desiring to do all that is necessary for salvation.
Regarding the Limbo of Infants, it was never a defined teaching of the Church, but rather a theological deduction which attempted to reconcile the teaching of Christ that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit” (John 3:5) with the belief that unbaptized infants did not deserve the punishment of Hell. It was reasoned that there might be a special place for these infants called Limbo (from the Latin limbus, meaning a place on the perimeter of Heaven). This would be a place of purely natural happiness where these children would receive all the happiness proportionate to their natural capacity, but without supernatural happiness or the Beatific Vision of God.
As for those who die without Baptism, all we can do, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, is “entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them’ [Mark 10:14; cf. 1 Tim 2:4], allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism” (n. 1261).
Q. The manger scene on the cover of the December 2016 issue of Magnificat magazine shows a young Mary and very old St. Joseph. Do we know how old Joseph was at the time of Jesus’ birth? — E.M.D., via e-mail.
A. We don’t know the precise ages of Mary and Joseph, but according to Jewish custom women were married between the ages of 13 and 15 and men between the ages of 18 and 24. So there is no reason to suggest that Joseph was an elderly man. (How could a man who looked as old as St. Joseph on the Magnificat cover lead a donkey 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem?) Those who suggest that Joseph was old may be trying to account for his willingness to enter into a celibate marriage with a beautiful young woman. Pope St. John Paul II offered this explanation at a papal audience in 1996:
“It may be presumed that at the time of their betrothal there was an understanding between Joseph and Mary about her plan to live as a virgin. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, who had inspired Mary to choose virginity in view of the mystery of the Incarnation and who wanted the latter to come about in a family setting suited to the Child’s growth, was quite able to instill in Joseph the ideal of virginity as well.”
Also shedding light on the holy couple’s consecrated virginity was Frank Sheed, who said in his book To Know Christ Jesus (pp. 71-72) that “such an arrangement, with Joseph merely brought in to keep the neighbors from talking, would hardly be a marriage at all, but rather a mockery of marriage….We must think of them as truly husband and wife, with a true union of personalities, each bringing completion to the other, with a profound sharing of interests, sharing of lives, enriched by the special graces from God that their virginity called for.”
He said that “both loved God supremely and their love of God poured back in a great flood of love for each other, love so great that it made the ordinary outward manifestation unnecessary. There was more love in that virginal family, more married love, than ever a family has known.”
Q. I was at a funeral recently for a friend who left the Catholic Church some years ago and who often tried to convince me that his new Baptist congregation really knew what the Bible was all about. I remember him asking me one time what the most important verse in the Bible was and, when I told him that there were many important verses in the Bible, he cited John 3:16. During the funeral service, his pastor several times praised “Bob” for his efforts to evangelize Catholics.
There was an opportunity at the end of the service for those present to say something about Bob, and I was tempted to do so, but held back. What could I have said without sounding like a skunk at a lawn party? — J.M., Massachusetts.
A. We can understand the quandary you faced, but the pastor’s repeated references to evangelizing Catholics offered an opportunity for you to say something. You might have said, for example, that you were one of the Catholics whom Bob tried to evangelize, but that he was unsuccessful for several reasons
First of all, to a Catholic evangelization means bringing someone to Jesus, but that was unnecessary in your case because you had had a personal relationship with Jesus all your life. You strengthened that relationship every time you went to Mass and received Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in Holy Communion.
Second, while John 3:16 is indeed an important Bible verse, one could skip ahead to some other important verses in chapter six of John’s Gospel, where Jesus said that He was the “bread of life,” that His body was true flesh and His blood was true drink, and that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we will not have life within us. That is why Catholics are privileged to be able to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus every time they go to Mass.
Third, if you wanted to push the envelope, you could have mentioned that the Bible is also very important to Catholics. In fact, if it were not for the Catholic Church, there would be no Bible, for it was the Catholic Church that decided in the fourth century which books belonged in the Bible, and it was the Catholic Church that preserved the Bible down through the centuries.
And finally, you could have said how much you appreciated Bob’s friendship and your many discussions with him about religion, which were always amicable and which prompted you to study the Bible more. You might have concluded your remarks by expressing your hope and prayer that Bob would find himself in the loving arms of the Jesus to whom he was so devoted.
It’s easy from hindsight to craft a response to the pastor’s remarks, but not so easy on the spot. But perhaps these thoughts will be helpful should you find yourself in a similar situation in the future.