Bathtub Baptism

March 02 2019 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: my son and daughter-in-law were married in the Church, but they no longer go to Mass. They have a two-year-old son, whom they have not yet baptized. I often remind them of the importance of baptism and going to church, but they do not listen. I am very worried about my grandson not knowing the Lord. We are a good Catholic family, founding members of our parish, and now my son has become lukewarm, and his wife doesn’t believe in God. I feel like I’ve failed. Sometimes I would like to baptize the child in the bathtub when I am giving him a bath. I’ve even threatened not to talk to them anymore. I don’t know what to do.


It is so incredibly painful when our adult children fall away from the faith. Sadly, this is an extremely common problem. In fact, data suggest that the number of 18-29 year-olds who claim no religious affiliation has quadrupled in the last 30 years. But the fact that you are far from alone can be cold comfort. The question remains, what do you do?

Let’s start with a ‘don’t’. Please don’t illicitly baptize your grandchild. The decision to baptize your grandchild must rest with his parents. Infant baptism is not meant to be a magical ‘get out of hell free’ card. Church law says that infant baptism is predicated on the “founded hope” that a child will be raised to know, love, and serve God with all his or her heart, mind, soul and strength both through the faithful example of his or her parents and the faith community to which they belong. By giving your grandson a bathtub baptism, not only would you be usurping the proper authority of the parents over their child, you would be doing a terrible disservice to your grandson by essentially promising – in the sight of God – to raise him to be a man of God, and then being all but completely unable to follow through. Regardless of our intentions, we should never make promises either to God or a child that we are completely unable to keep.

But what can you do? Begin by examining your witness. By and large, most Catholics are ‘sacramentalized,’ (i.e., they have received the sacraments), and some are even catechized (i.e., have been taught faith facts), but very few (as little as 3-5 percent) are evangelized. To be evangelized is to be shown how to experience Jesus Christ in a personal way that makes a meaningful, positive, practical difference in your life and relationships.

If you want to bring your adult children back to the faith, don’t lecture them about the rules, show them all the ways that Jesus Christ is making a meaningful, positive, and practical difference in your life. Do you and your husband pray together everyday? If not, start today. Ask God, every day, to love each other – not with your love – but with the love that comes from his heart.

Have you experienced Christ’s love for you in a personal way? If not, begin writing down all the little blessings that occur throughout the day. See them as simple ways God is saying, “I love you!” Take a moment to love him back by thanking him for each and every one.

Do you experience Jesus Christ as someone who wants to be involved in your life, who wants to be consulted on your choices, and who has something to say about how you relate to your husband, your children, your friends, and strangers? If not, start asking him to make you a wife, mother, friend, and disciple after his own heart.

Just by looking at the way you live your everyday life, would other people be able to point to the ways your faith makes you stronger, more generous, more compassionate, more joyful, and more loving than the average person on the street? If not, bring the difficult parts of your day to God and ask him to make you an agent of graceful change.

This is what your children need to see in you. They need to be able to see your faith making a meaningful, practical positive difference. When they see you living in a way the makes them say, “I want to be like him/her when I grow up” then you can point to the fact that you couldn’t do any of it on your own. You are simply witnessing to the power of Christ alive in you. This is what St Francis de Sales called presenting an “attractive faith” and it is the best way to evangelize.

Everyone wants to live a more abundant life, and that is what Christ came to give us. When your kids see the attractive difference your faith is making in your life and relationships, then you can introduce them to the person you are doing it all for – and they will be eager to follow your example.

Updated on March 02 2019