If you or anyone you know happened to have the misfortune of being baptized in the Archdiocese of Detroit since 2017 then it turns out your baptism may, in fact, be invalid and your very salvation is at stake.
Sorry about that.
It all started in August 2020 when Father Matthew Hood, associate pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica, was innocently watching a video of his own baptism from way back in the nineties and discovered, much to his horror, that instead of using the Catholic church’s ancient liturgical formula — “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” — the presiding priest unforgivably uttered “We baptize you…”
Apparently, this innocuous slip-of-the-tongue was enough to rend Father Hood’s baptism invalid. Not only that, because the sacraments of confirmation and holy orders can only be conferred upon validly baptized Catholics, Father Hood was “devastated” to learn that not only was he not baptized or confirmed, but he also was not a validly ordained priest. Therefore, the many others that Father Hood has gone on to baptize may have also received an invalid baptism, unleashing a chain ‘would-be-Catholics’ who don’t even realize that God doesn’t recognize their baptism… apparently.
The Catholic church is now frantically conducting its own contact-tracing exercise, trying to track down anyone who might have received a dodgy baptism — in the hope that they might be able to correct the error before anyone dies and comes face-to-face with the Catholic God who is obviously beholden to the traditions of men.
“There was definitely shock and sadness at finding out 30 years later that I was never baptized. It was an alienating sense that even though I was following the Lord, I wasn’t a Christian, and I wasn’t a priest and I wasn’t a deacon,” Father Hood told the Detroit Catholic, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
This is not a joke
When I first read about this, I thought I was reading a satirical piece and I obligingly chuckled along. At some point though, it hit me: Wait a second… This is not a joke.
There is actually a priest who suddenly believes that he is not a priest anymore because, when he was baptized 30 years ago, there was one, single, solitary misspoken word in the Catholic liturgy for Baptism — the word “We,” instead of the word, “I” — and, because of that, his baptism is now null and void.
Even more shocking is the fact that this priest actually believes that because his infant baptism was botched up to the tune of one, single, solitary word that he wasn’t even a ‘real’ Christian from that time to the present day — some thirty years. If that is truly the case, then thank God this priest didn’t die during that time or I’m sure that God would have mercilessly thrown his pitiful soul into the bowels of hell for all eternity — all because of one single word being wrong — and punished him all the more for being completely oblivious to the fact for the past thirty years.
Give God some credit
At the risk of alienating my Catholic friends, I preface the following with an apology to you. I confess that I do not understand the nuances of the Catholic faith, since I was raised as a good Evangelic boy and continued merrily down that path until I came to my senses in my late thirties.
However, I still believe in a God who is loving, compassionate, merciful and kind and that is why I can’t be part of a church who honestly believes that God would refuse to recognize the salvation of a person on account of a man-made liturgy being spoken incorrectly. Give God some credit. If he really is as good as Christians say he is, then I’m absolutely positive he can overlook such a mistake — if indeed one could call it that.
Baptism is not an incantation or a magic spell that has to be spoken word-for-word in order to do the trick. Real, true baptism is an outward expression of what has already taken place in one’s own heart. It is an acknowledgment of the complete work of Christ that does not require people to “get it right” in order to become part of God’s “in crowd.” One does not need to utter the correct words in the correct order to appease God because God is not so easily fooled. God looks straight into the heart.
Not so — according to Father Stephen Pullis, Director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “When someone is baptized, it’s not just a symbol or recognition of something that’s already happened. It’s actually making a change in the person,” Father Pullis said. “Because the sacraments actually bring about an effect, we have to be very precise in both the words, the form, and the matter, the objects, that we use. That means we have to do it in the way the church tells us to do it,” He continued.
Let that sink in.
This is yet another example of the theology of the church denying the reality of life. Some of the most truly horrible people I know have been baptized using the correct “formula,” according to church tradition, yet the redemptive work of baptism didn’t seem to penetrate their own skin and reach the part of a person that truly needs to be changed— the heart. In fact, it didn’t make any change whatsoever in the person. So let us not pretend that the very act of baptism actually changes a person by virtue of the act alone.
Surely a person’s actions and the way they live their life and love others, betrays their true beliefs. Why would God — knowing everything that God knows — acknowledge the ‘hoops of performance-based religion’ that a church forces its adherents to jump through — and ignore the true state of a person’s heart? So if Father Matthew Hood truly loves God and loves other people — which one would hope would be the case, given that he has lived his life as a priest — then surely that is enough for God.
Father Hood is finally saved
However, it was not enough for the church. I’m sure you will be relieved to learn that the Archdiocese worked quickly to remedy Father Hood’s unfortunate situation. On the 9th August, 2020 he was re-baptized — using the correct words this time — confirmed and received the Eucharist. Then, after a week on retreat, he was ordained a transitional deacon and a priest two days later on the 17th August. Now, having fulfilled the obligations of the church, he is apparently a real Christian and able to be a true priest.
As for me, I don’t need a priest to mediate between me God. Christ didn’t go to all the trouble of coming to Earth, living and dying to establish complete and unfettered access to God — for all people — for us to then have our access to God micro-managed by a man-made institution with its man-made rules and its man-appointed hierarchy — baptized or not.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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