Last September I was introducing myself to a group of men with whom I would be spending the next six months in formation for an upcoming retreat presentation. Like everyone else, I gave a brief bio of my life: family, childhood, career, etc.
Fast forward to a few days ago. I was recalling our team formation and how I introduced myself as the oldest of four children in my family. I suddenly realized what I told everyone was incorrect. I was the oldest of five.
My sister, Sandra Faye, was born on February 21, 1961. She died 57 years ago today, February 22, 1961. I never met her.
I don’t remember my parents ever talking about the experience of losing a child. I wasn’t quite four years old when the event happened so I wouldn’t have understood even if they had talked about it at the time. By the time I was old enough to understand, their hurt and heartbreak had been diminished by time and the blessing of another daughter and son for which to be thankful.
I admit that I often forget about Sandra. I seem to recall her birth only because my oldest sister also has her birthday in February. This year, as her birthday approached, I found myself wondering if our souls will one day meet in heaven.
The possibility for that eventuality, I thought, depends on two things: that I get to heaven, and, if I do make it, that she is already there. With God’s grace I’m trying to do everything I can to improve my chances of ensuring that meeting. But, our family was not a religious family and I paused to wonder, since she was not baptized, will she be there? I didn’t know the answer and knew I would need to do some research to see what scripture and Church doctrine tells me.
Our faith tells us that Baptism is necessary for salvation1. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.2 In Jesus’ words, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.”3
With respect to Baptism, I remembered reading something written by author C.S. Lewis, “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”4 Lewis alludes to the fact that the Bible doesn’t reveal everything to us.5 Thus, this gave me a bit of hope that, when Jesus said what he said, he wasn’t including infants who were born but not baptized by their parents; nor given the opportunity to use their own free will or reason to be baptized; or those who were conceived but died before birth by either natural miscarriage or from malicious abortion.
Since the Bible isn’t explicit on this and many other subjects, there has been, since the Middle Ages, a theory elaborated by theologians that the souls of unbaptized infants are in a state of limbo. Although the Church has never adopted this possibility as doctrine and doesn’t teach it, it remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.6
However, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church does accept and teach that the fate of unbaptized infants is an unanswered question and states, “As regards to children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. 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,’7 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of the holy Baptism [emphasis added].8
Finally, to back up what I found in the Catechism (CCC), I discovered a 2007 document published by the International Theological Commission in which the Church, driven by the urgency to address the number of unbaptized infants in our contemporary culture of relativism and religious pluralism9, sought to clarify the possibility of salvation of unbaptized infants. The Commission concluded by reinforcing Church doctrine that there is “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision”, and emphasized “that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.”10
Understanding this Church teaching brought me comfort. But, I wondered, since my family were non-practicing Protestants and not Catholic, if there would be a different Protestant point of view. In doing some research into Protestant views on the subject, I found a variety of stances, depending on the Protestant denomination, but little substance that led me to believe the Protestant views are significantly different than our own.
In the end, my research, while not allowing one hundred percent certainty that Sandra is in heaven, gave me hope that she is there. It made me think, too, that, regardless if a person has been baptized, we can’t know the state of another person’s soul – only God knows that – and the only soul we can have some insight into is our own. We must place our faith and hope in God for the salvation of ourselves and others.
That’s good enough for me.
“Heavenly Father, help me to always remember that my ways are not necessarily Your ways. I give You thanks for the gifts of faith, hope and love which You have bestowed upon me through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
1CCC1257, 2Ibid, 3Jn 3:5, 4C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1942, 5cf. Jn 16:12,
6The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, 7Mk 10:14
8CCC 1261, 9The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,
(Thoughts on The Fate of Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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