It's mailbag time again . . .
I love your blog and have especially enjoyed your posts on NFP this week. I have a question I was hoping you may be able to help me answer. I haven't been able to find an answer in the Catechism and keep meaning to just meet with my priest...but life gets in the way, etc. Anyway, 3 years ago, I miscarried twins. It was absolutely the hardest thing I've gone through... Just devastating. It's really weighed on me since if there is anything I need to do/should have done to ensure my babies ' entrance into heaven. My 3 other children are healthy and happy and baptized, but my twins have worried me. Coincidentally, right after losing the twins, we had girls 12 months and 4 days apart-shocking but so loved and so welcome almost-Irish "twins." Anyway, I'd love any guidance you can offer. Thank you and happy name day to you and Anita!!
Answer:Thanks! PEACE and comfort be with you. The Catholic Church's position is that you have every reason to expect that your babies are in Heaven waiting for you.
The Catechism, no. 1257, states: “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.” That wouldn't apply to your babies.
We have the example in the Bible of St. John the Baptist, who was baptized with a baptism of desire before his birth. You desired baptism for your babies and would have baptized them if you had had the opportunity. God knows your desire. And just like Jesus said that a man had committed adultery in his heart just by looking at a woman with lust, well, flip side of that: The Church teaches that a person who is prevented from Baptism, but who desires to be Baptized, either explicitly or implicitly, receives the effects of Baptism, i.e., salvation (Code of Canon Law, Canon 849).
There's nothing you could have done that you haven't already done for your babies. You participated in their creation, you desired baptism and a relationship with God for them, and now you've done all you could do to succeed where all mothers hope to succeed. I truly believe your babies are in Heaven waiting for you.
And as for your new babies, that sounds more like providence than coincidence. Congratulations!
This was the answer I gave after a Google search to back up what I already thought the answer was and to find the relevant Catechism and Canon Law numbers (I have revised it a bit here). But it's a complicated issue, and one upon which good Catholics have strongly held yet conflicting opinions. It's an issue upon which various Popes and various Saints have held conflicting opinions.
I didn't go into this when I first answered the question, since she didn't ask about it specifically, but maybe some of you are wondering: why am I not talking about Limbo?
And now maybe some of you are wondering, why would I talk about Limbo?
And NOW some of you are probably wondering what the deal is with that party. Where is everyone? I just don't know.
Limbo, or more specifically the Limbo of Infants (Latin limbus infantium) is a hypothesis constructed to solve the problem of babies who die without baptism. Limbo is understood to be a place of perfect natural happiness, where the souls of those babies who died with original sin would spend eternity in comfort, but apart from the beatific vision enjoyed by the souls in Heaven.
This theory was posited as early as the Church Fathers and continued to have adherents through the middle ages and into the modern era, although it was not, and has never been an official teaching of the Church. It has never been more than one proposed solution to a problem, and there have always been holy men and women on both sides of the issue.
Begun at the request of Pope St. John Paul II in 2005, and then released under the authorization of Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, the Vatican International Theological Commission conducted a study entitled:
The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation. However, none of the considerations proposed in this text to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.
I've read some of this study (it's reeeeeeally looooooong) as well as quotes from church fathers and blog posts from modern Catholic thinkers.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and set my little ol' self at odds with Doctor of Philosophy Taylor Marshall and Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo. I think they are wrong on this one. I'm not sure how Dr. Marshall is going to take it, but I named a kid after St. Augustine, so I'm pretty sure he and I are cool.
To me, it comes down to this: our God is a God of justice AND a God of mercy. I can't see how a merciful God would condemn to eternal separation from himself people who not only had had no opportunity to be baptized, but who also had committed no personal sins. The Limbo advocates seem to be arguing from a place of justice, but I also can't see how a just God could do that.
But, unless and until the Church makes a doctrinal statement on this matter, it's an issue upon which good Catholics can disagree. Let's remember though, that for some families the discussion is more than theoretical, it's very personal.
Update, from a comment by Amanda on the Catholic All Year Facebook page:
I love the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and others may find it helpful. He wrote to a couple that had a miscarriage. In response to their question, “What is going to happen to my child? The child didn’t get baptized,” St. Bernard said, “Your faith spoke for this child. Baptism for this child was only delayed by time. Your faith suffices. The waters of your womb — were they not the waters of life for this child? Look at your tears. Are they not like the waters of baptism? Do not fear this. God’s ability to love is greater than our fears. Surrender everything to God.”
Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.
If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.