Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter 2007

Another Irish joke:

Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend, Finney.
"Did you see the paper?" asked Gallagher. "They say I died!!"
"Yes, I saw it!" replied Finney. "Where are ye calling from?"

Well apparently he would not be calling from Limbo!

The recent document from the International Theological Commission authorized by the Pope finally officially declares that "Limbo" reflects "an unduly restrictive view of salvation". This is nothing new. It was never a doctrine of the Church and is not taught in the Catechism. Some people did want it defined as a doctrine but that idea was rejected.

It is also an illustration that the faith of the people, the "sensus fidelium," has for along time rejected the notion of consigning unbaptized innocent children to a kind of no man's land, neither heaven nor hell, let alone to hell itself.

St Augustine had come to the uncomfortable conclusion for him, that because Jesus said in the Gospel that one had to have faith and be baptized to enter the kingdom then there was no other option but that unbaptized children had to be consigned to hell. The thinking of the time was that original sin was transmitted physically by means of the sexual act. Since babies are the result the must carry the sin too. This meant sex also got a bad name.

In the time after Augustine it was difficult to shake that way of thinking because original sin meant that salvation was a faint hope for most people. This negative view of humanity reached its full flowering in the thinking of some at the reformation. Humanity for some was totally corrupt. Yet Augustine's idea was questioned so that the notion of a place on the threshold of hell came into being in theological speculation to get around the idea of sending children to hell.

God wants everyone to be saved according to Paul's first letter to Timothy (1 Tim). And the constant message of the Gospels is that Jesus goes out of his way to welcome all into his presence, sinners and children alike.

And of course, any parent who holds their newly born child cannot believe it deserving of anything less than heaven. And of course, scripture research in recent history has shed light on the Gospels. Such as when and why and to whom they were written.

We read in Matthew 28:18-20: 'And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." '

This passage from Matthew about baptism represents a summary of Jesus teaching of the mission of the Church as expressed in a liturgical way. The words reflect a well developed practice of Baptism in the fledgling Church. It is addressed to adult disciples being sent on a mission to adults. It was not the intention to exclude children. No, Jesus taught adults, and he simply embraced children.

In this Easter season we are reflecting on our own baptism and preparing children to complete their baptism in Confirmation and Eucharist. The uppermost thought in our minds behind it all is that of the love of God for all. Children of Christian parents are born into the flock. They are nurtured in the sheepfold. They are not outside it. The Father and Jesus are one in that "No one will snatch them out of my hand."
Fr Graham