Is Sunshine the Eskimo Saved?

News: Commentary
by Joe Sixpack — The Every Catholic Guy  •  •  November 2, 2021   

The power of baptism

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Whether this is true, I do not know, but the story serves to make the point of this article.

The baptism of Jesus

There once was an Eskimo boy, John. He was called "Sunshine" before he had a Christian name, as his parents were pagan. When he was two years old, Sunshine had convulsions. He couldn't breathe and seemed to be dying. Holding the babe in her arms, the mother looked at the father. She told him she would take the child outside and leave him to die because no one must be allowed to die inside an Eskimo igloo.

The bishop was present and decided to baptize the boy secretly. The mother stepped past the bishop to carry the child outside. He stopped her and asked for some water. He dipped his handkerchief into a sealskin bucket and, whispering the words of baptism, squeezed the water over the child's forehead. Almost before he had finished, the child sighed deeply, opened his eyes and asked for a drink. The parents were overjoyed and later became Catholics themselves.

Jesus made baptism absolutely obligatory.

This story vividly demonstrates a point about baptism. Just as God miraculously gave Sunshine physical life during the administration of the sacrament, baptism does actually gives supernatural life to the soul. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1213, bears witness to this fact:

Holy baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in Her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."

Jesus made baptism absolutely obligatory (Mark 16:15–16); it is a necessity for salvation (John 3:5). The ordinary minister of the sacrament of baptism is a priest or deacon, but anyone can administer baptism in case of emergency. For emergency baptism to be validly given, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The person baptizing must have the Church's intention — that is, that baptism takes away sin
  2. The person baptizing must pour water on the head three times in such a manner that it flows over the skin
  3. At the same time that the water is being poured, the person baptizing must say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"

If the person receiving emergency baptism survives, a so-called re-baptism is neither necessary nor possible, since baptism can be received only once. However, the rites surrounding baptism should be performed by a priest or deacon.

But many people today seem to think infant baptism isn't necessary, especially for non-Catholics. They think this because they claim there's nothing in the Bible showing infants being baptized. However, the Early Christian Fathers are unanimous on insisting upon infant baptism, basing it on the command of Christ to baptize all and on its divine power to cleanse the soul of original sin.

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Saint Irenaeus (A.D. 130–205) writes: "For He came to save all ... who through Him are born again to God — infants and children, boys and youths, and old men." Origen (A.D. 185–254) spoke of infant baptism as an apostolic institution. And St. Cyprian, along with his fellow third-century bishops, taught that children should be baptized as soon as possible after birth.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Yes, infants should be baptized, as the Church has taught for 2,000 years. But what happens if one dies without baptism? In the case of an infant, there are two major schools of speculative theology on this topic. The first comes from those who hold that an infant who dies without baptism goes to Limbo. This position, espoused by St. Thomas Aquinas, teaches that Limbo is a place of perfect natural happiness but lacks the vision of God. This is reasonable since an unbaptized infant still possesses the stain of original sin.

The second school of thought is much more modern but equally acceptable. It holds that the Holy Spirit enlightens the soul — which is capable of instantaneous enlightenment under divine direction (Acts 1:1–16; 2:1–47) — to the totality of Catholic truth at the moment of death. Then the free will of the soul, which is not influenced by the commission of actual sin, makes the decision to accept that truth and passes into eternity with perfect contrition; therefore, being saved and made worthy of Heaven but without the seal of baptism. In either case, the child is left to the infinite mercy of God.

Any adult who dies unbaptized because he doesn't know about baptism or its importance can be saved if he sincerely seeks God and conscientiously does His will by doing good and avoiding evil. This is called "baptism of desire." Indeed, the Church embraces as Her own those who are studying the Faith with the intention of being received into the Church so that they receive baptism of desire should they die prior to reception into the Church. People who've never heard of Jesus or His Church may be saved in this manner — that is, by truly seeking God and by conscientiously doing good and avoiding evil.

Baptism is the sacrament that opens the door to our ability and right to receive the other sacraments.

There is also baptism of blood, which involves non-Catholics dying for the Church. According to legend, a group of about 10 Christians in the third century had been rounded up by the Romans. In keeping with Roman law, the centurion gave each of them the opportunity to renounce Jesus and His Church and to make a sacrifice to Caesar, lest they be speared to death by the Roman soldiers. Each one refused to renounce the Faith, until the very last man. The last man decided being alive was better than dying for Christ and going to Heaven. As that man was released, one of the Roman soldiers walked up to the vacant spot and stood in his place. He said, "I do not know this Jesus of Nazareth, but any God who inspires such courage in His followers is a God I want to follow." That said, the centurion ordered his men to throw their spears, and the soldier died with the Christians. That brave man received a baptism of blood and instantly became a saint.

Baptism is the sacrament that opens the door to our ability and right to receive the other sacraments. The next sacrament to be discussed will be confirmation. To my surprise, many Catholics are just as clueless as non-Catholics as to why we receive that sacrament.

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