"Once you get the first shoulder out, WATCH OUT!" said Tim. "They are slippery." He was showing me a rubber baby as he demonstrated proper technique for delivery. I was 19 years old at the time, and I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I applied and got accepted to a program at a hospital back home in Los Angeles following around various doctors in various departments. Tim, a big burly-type, more suited to chopping wood than child birth, was the resident in Obstetrics assigned to guide me through the delivery room. That day I saw three births, and I was careful to note that once their shoulders got out, the babies really did slip right out.
It's funny how things turn out. Although I am a priest, baby handling techniques are a prerequisite. Here at St. John Vianney Parish – our Holy Cross parish in Goodyear, Arizona – we fully immerse the babies for the Sacrament of Baptism. We get in the font with them and dip them fully into the water, baptizing them "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
All the Holy Cross guys who have been here have their own techniques. Some have the babies face them; others have the babies face away from them. The latter is done for good reason. The baby could take a leak, and you do not want them facing you.
I have seen some Holy Cross priests really get this down to a science. Fr. John DeRiso, C.S.C., has them face away and does a twisting motion as he brings them through the water, creating a bubble of air for the baby to breathe as he pulls them in and out (it's kind of like that space of air that a freestyle swimmer has when they cut through the water).
Others are a bit more dramatic. The first two passes with the baby are simple enough, but with the final pass they get all "Lion King", lifting the baby high into to the air. I swear they do this because at that very moment all the flash bulbs go off. There are quite a few baby albums out there with Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C., smiling brightly, glistening child held aloft.
I, however, have stumbled along trying to find my own way. (Mind you I mean that figuratively: I have never stumbled and dropped a baby). The tiny babies I cradle the length of my arm, my hand supporting their head, since the really tiny ones are like bobble-head dolls that you should never, ever bobble! Then I gently pass them through the water. Some stay asleep through the whole ceremony. This is how it should always be. To all you parents out there, I highly recommend infant baptism, and I mean infant – can't talk, can't walk, and can't fight me as I try to bring them into the salvation of the Church!
You must understand, things get complicated after that. I once had a baby girl, nearly a year old, grab hold of my alb as I was about to dip her in. She was like Spiderman; she proceeded to begin pulling herself, grip by grip, toward the back of my alb in order to get away from the water. A toddler knows too much. They know I am some strange guy dressed in white who is going to dip into a pool of water against their will. As an adult you would run away from that guy. What makes you think little Johnny who's in pre-school is going to be any different? I once had a little boy walk right up to me with his parents, he then pointed to a spot on his forehead, and said, "Just here."
And yet I love this Sacrament. Even though I am not a doctor, as a priest I help Mother Church birth new son and daughters of God. But you do have to watch out: They are slippery.
Fr. Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., is the Parochial Vicar at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, Ariz. Fr. Ybarra was professed Final Vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on August 28, 2010 and was ordained April 30, 2011! He joins the Spes Unica Blog this year as a regular contributor, sharing with us a slice of parish ministry in the Holy Cross. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross in parochial ministry, including a video highlighting the 13 parishes Holy Cross officially sponsors in the United States.