By Andrew Tsou
Because I’m a good Catholic, I’m relieved when I hear about infants dying. Provided they’ve been baptized, of course. I am frequently baffled by Catholics who seem mortified when a very young child dies. Take, for example, this thread at forums.catholic.com, which involves a person who has lost a child and has, accordingly, lost their faith. This is hardly a singular example. However, it’s puzzling; assuming one has their child’s best interests in mind, you would think that they would be delighted that their child has been admitted to heaven.
Another discussion at forums.catholic.com clearly establishes that young children are incapable of committing mortal sin, and given this fact, if they have been baptized, their union with God cannot be said to have been truly severed. Yes, salvation is as simple as being baptized at birth. Baptized children who die before they turn seven “enter immediately into the presence of God” (as stated by John Walsh in his book “Tears of Rage”).
It should be noted that this is not to suggest that children are incapable of sin. A recent pamphlet (“Seven Frequently Asked Questions About Children and the Sacrament of Reconciliation”) suggests that children should still go to confession for the matter of confessing venial sins; however, as the online Catholic Encyclopedia establishes, venial sin “does not destroy…the principle of union with God, nor deprive the soul of sanctifying grace, and it is intrinsically reparable.” It is essentially a lesser matter than mortal sin, and because it is mortal sin that severs one’s relationship with God, that is the type of sin we should be concerned with.
Some may claim that it is callous to suggest that people, especially the parents of a dead child, should be joyous about the child’s death. I would counter that the true callousness would be the selfishness of those who are still living. If a person lives long enough to be capable of committing mortal sin, they are in danger of jeopardizing their relationship with God and effectively condemning themselves. However, if they die before they are seven, they’ll never have the chance to turn their back on the church and risk going to that place of “eternal fire” with the “gnashing of teeth” and all that fun stuff.
Particularly considering that any pleasures that may be found on Earth surely pale in comparison to those that are to be found in heaven, there is really no reason (save petty selfishness) to grieve deceased infants. Now a person who lives to be 85 and has wantonly sinned and never attempted to forge a real relationship with God…now that’s a death to be mourned.
Editor’s Note: The writer identifies as a lapsed Catholic.