Saturday, March 19, 2022

Invalid Baptisms in Arizona

Recently it was discovered that a Catholic priest in Arizona was performing baptism ceremonies improperly. Father Andres Arango had mistakenly been using the phrase “we baptize you” instead of “I baptize you” for many years, and therefore thousands of baptisms he performed were invalid. 

Technically, using the word “we” is incorrect, since it is not the congregation who baptizes someone, it’s Jesus Himself.

Here is a paragraph from one news story: “His error means that countless baptisms – an irrevocable requirement for salvation in Catholic theology – will have to be performed again. And some churchgoers could find their marriages are not recognized.”
The diocese of Phoenix has a website that includes a form to register for a new baptism. It also has this urgent statement: “If your baptism was invalid and you’ve received other sacraments, you may need to repeat some or all of those sacraments after you are validly baptized as well.”

Wow, what a mess! This situation brings up that age-old question: which is more important, rules and regulations or mercy and compassion?

Just so you know, I am definitely a rules and regulations kind of guy. I instinctively embrace order and organization, plans and processes. Whenever I’m at an event – whether it’s related to business, church, entertainment, etc. – if the theme is, “We’re just gonna wing it today,” I break out in a cold sweat. I hate winging it. Instead, I’m a big fan of this mindset: “Plan your work and work your plan.”

So, I totally understand why the Church has clearly-defined rules and regulations for how to perform the Liturgy and the various sacraments. After all, if the Church had been loosey-goosey about how to perform rituals over the past 2,000 years, allowing clerics to just “wing it” based on their feelings, the Church would be unrecognizable today. The important doctrines and liturgies that are the heart of the faith would have been loosey-goosied into oblivion a long time ago.

That having been said, however, we should never forget that Jesus declared, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” He said this to the hypocritical Pharisees, who were focused much more on legalistic observance of the religious laws rather than love and forgiveness and joyful faith. In other words, Jesus was saying to these guys that the spirit of the law is much more important than the letter of the law.
What, then, to make of the situation in Phoenix, where it sure seems Church leaders are much more focused on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law?

Well, the Phoenix diocese website has an interesting explanation, noting: “God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in whatever measure and manner He wills. We can be assured that all who approached God, our Father, in good faith to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed.”

If everyone present during a baptismal ceremony truly desired a valid baptism for the baby, do you think God said, “Aw gee, I’d like to infuse supernatural grace into this baby’s soul, but you see, the priest said one word incorrectly. So, I can’t do it. My hands are tied. Sorry, that’s the rules.”

No way. God is not a bureaucrat at the Department of Motor Vehicles. God can, as the Phoenix diocese said, “extend His grace in whatever measure and manner He wills.” God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Whenever God has to choose between rules and regulations or mercy and compassion, He chooses mercy and compassion every time.

I totally understand that Church officials in Phoenix want to get this right, and are encouraging everyone who was baptized by Fr. Arango to get baptized again. Imagine if the bishop just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Don’t worry, it really doesn’t matter what words the priest used.” That would be the first step down Loosey-Goosey Lane, which heads straight off a cliff.
In conclusion, rules and regulations are important. They avoid chaos and make sure the Gospel message is passed faithfully from generation to generation. But God is the God of love. He cares more about our hearts than the minutiae of our rituals. The folks in Phoenix should get baptized again as soon as possible, but they should not lose any sleep over it either. 

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