The question of the necessary disposition in receiving a sacrament is entirely different for an infant than it is for an adult. An infant cannot place an obstacle to either the reception or the grace of the sacrament of baptism, for he is not capable of having an intention one way or the other. The sacrament is administered in virtue of the intention of the Church, represented by the godparents, and consequently it is always received validly and fruitfully.
However, the same is not the case for adults. The reception of a sacrament requires that the adult (unless he is insane or mentally incompetent) act as a human person, with sufficient knowledge and will as to act freely. Hence for all sacraments except the Holy Eucharist (because it is previously consecrated), there must be some intention of receiving the sacrament. However, the intention required for validity and fruitfulness varies from one sacrament to another. This is explained by Father Prümmer (Man. Th. Mor., Vol. III, §87), quoting the condemnation of Pope Innocent III of the proposition that sacraments administered to those who are unwilling are valid.
The insincerity in an adult receiving Baptism can be understood in two ways, depending upon two different kinds of defect of intention. The first kind of defect of intention takes place when a person submits unwillingly or hypocritically to the ceremony of baptism, without any intention of receiving it. In such a case it is manifestly invalid, since the minimum intention of receiving baptism validly is the implicit habitual intention that is contained in the effort to live a Christian life. Nobody who is interested in living a Catholic life, even if not in the state of grace, nor truly contrite for his sins, is invalidly baptized due to lack of intention. This kind of insincerity is a rare thing, and is summarized by St. Thomas Aquinas: “If in an adult the intention of receiving the sacrament of baptism is absent, then he must be re-baptized. However, if this is not obvious, then he is to be baptized with the formula ‘if you are not baptized, I…’ ” (III, Q. 68, Art. 7, ad 2).
However, there is a much more frequent kind of insincerity and defect of intention. It takes place when the adult has at least habitually the intention of receiving the sacrament, but does not ensure that he has the necessary dispositions for fruitful reception of the sacrament. In such cases, the sacrament of baptism is received validly but without fruit. It is the case when a person receives baptism without having the Faith, or without having at least imperfect contrition for his sins, or without having confidence in the merits of Christ’s passion to save him from his sins.
This is what St. Thomas Aquinas describes in the above mentioned article: “Through baptism a person dies to the old life of sin and begins a certain newness of life…and so just as it is required, in the person who has free will, that he have the will of repenting for the old life in order that he die to it, so likewise is required the will by which the newness of life is intended, of which the principle is the reception of the sacrament. And so the will of intention of receiving the sacrament is required on the part of the baptized person.”
The sacrament received insincerely in this case exists when the adult does not have the intention of receiving grace from it. Consequently, it does not give sanctifying grace, and is received sacrilegiously, adding to the burden of the adult’s sins. However, in such a case it is not to be repeated. Rather the adult is to repent of the sin of sacrilege, make acts of faith, true contrition and hope, and the sacrament will revivify. Since the sacramental character is already on the soul, the correction of the defective disposition results in sanctifying grace and the graces of the sacrament flowing onto the soul. The insincere adult convert must therefore regret his sin, do penance, confess the sins of the sacrilege and turn his heart to God. These insincere baptisms are most frequently the case of non-Catholics receiving baptism so as to marry a Catholic. The priest’s responsibility is to ensure that it is a true and not an insincere conversion.
The love of the Cross is an integral and essential part of our Catholic life, as our Divine Savior Himself stated, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk. 9:23) and as St. Paul also teaches: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). It is also true that physical suffering is one of the most difficult of crosses to bear without resentment and with love. Theoretically, also, it would be a great act of charity to ask for another’s suffering to be transferred to oneself in order to relieve the other person.
However, there is a huge difference between embracing the sufferings that God in His goodness deigns to send us and actually and positively willing that such sufferings should come upon us. It is the difference between the second and third degrees of humility, as described by St. Ignatius in his book of Spiritual Exercises. The second degree of humility is that of indifference, namely the acceptation and embracing of whatever the Good Lord sends us, whether it be sickness or health, poverty or riches, etc. “I neither desire nor am I inclined to….” The third degree is entirely heroic, and consists in actually choosing or desiring poverty or suffering or insults rather than the contrary “whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ, our Lord…” (ibid.).
However, it must be acknowledged that such a desire and such a prayer is the will of God only when it is the fruit of a soul that has attained to perfection. This is what Father A. Tanquerey has to say in his treatise entitled The Spiritual Life: “The desire and love of suffering…is the degree proper to perfect souls and especially to apostolic souls, to religious, priests and devout men and women. Such was the disposition that animated Our Blessed Lord when He offered Himself as victim at His entrance into this world.…Out of love for Him and in order to become more like Him, perfect souls enter into the same sentiments” (§1091).
In any other soul, however, such a prayer or desire could be a form of self-deception, and even a temptation of the devil to ultimately produce discouragement. Father Tanquerey continues to ask himself if it is appropriate for a soul to formally ask God for extraordinary sufferings, as in the prayer to take somebody else’s disease upon oneself. Here is his answer: “No doubt some of the Saints have done so and in our day there are still generous souls who are moved to do likewise. However, generally speaking, such requests cannot be prudently counseled. They may easily lead to illusions and are often the outcome of some ill-considered impulse of generosity which has its origin in presumption.…Therefrom issue violent temptations to discouragement and even to complaints against God’s Providence.…Hence we must not take it upon ourselves to ask for extraordinary sufferings or trials….If one feels oneself drawn thereto, one must take counsel with a judicious director of souls and do nothing without his approval” (ibid., §1092). There lies the answer to the question: one ought only to pray such a prayer after having discerned that it is the will of God because one is called to perfection and one’s spiritual director is in full agreement.
This question is asked and answered by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 83, Art. 16.
As always, St. Thomas makes the necessary distinctions. There are some occasions in which the sinner is certain to have his prayers answered, and other occasions when he is not. The difference for the sinner is that his prayers have no merit attached to them. However, this does not mean that they have nothing pertaining to godliness, which he does not yet possess. Despite the absence of merit, he is certain to have his prayers answered when he asks for something pertaining to godliness. St. Thomas points out that God always answers such prayers, not out of justice, but out of pure mercy, provided that his prayers fulfill the four conditions laid down by Our Lord for infallible certitude that our prayers will be answered (ibid., Art. 15, ad 2).
These are, firstly, that he ask for something on behalf of himself. The reason for this is that when we pray for another, we cannot be sure about his disposition of soul, and consequently he may place an obstacle that prevents the prayer from being infallibly answered for himself. The second condition is that he ask for things necessary for salvation, for these are the things that pertain to godliness, and which we know with certitude are the will of God. When anyone asks for temporal benefits, he cannot be infallibly certain that his prayer will be answered. The third condition is that the sinner beg piously, that is with reverence, and the fourth that he do so with perseverance.
However, there is nothing to stop a sinner praying for intentions and in a way that does not fulfill all four conditions. God can and frequently does answer such prayers if they be according to His holy will. If the sinner prays for things that are supernaturally good, such as the conversion of another person, he may very well be heard, and St. Thomas Aquinas gives the reason: “Though his prayer is not meritorious, it can be impetrative, because merit depends on justice, whereas impetration rests on grace” (ibid., ad 2). He also points out that godliness is not just in the sanctity of the person who prays, but that the sinner’s prayer “may be godly in so far as he asks for something pertaining to godliness.” This would be the case if the sinner prays for others not to fall into the same vice as he has committed. In such a case the sinner’s prayer is much more likely to be heard than if he is asking for purely temporal things that have no relationship with godliness.
Consequently, it is certainly better to ask for and depend upon the prayers of just and holy men, and their prayers are more likely to move God to compassion on our sufferings and difficulties. However, the prayers of sinners are not to be despised either, since God Himself does not despise them, but welcomes them, nor are they always an abomination, that is to say, hypocrisy. Far from it. God, who alone knows the secrets of hearts, knows how every conversion and return to grace is preceded by the prayers of sinners, which prayers are not always at first for themselves. It is consequently too simplistic and incomplete to say that God does not answer the prayers of sinners, nor does it take into account the complexity of human life and the workings of grace in our rebellious souls.
A good illustration of this is given in St. Augustine’s conversion, as related in his Confessions. “In the first dawning of my youth,” he says, “I had begged of Thee chastity, but by halves, miserable wretch that I am; and I said, Give me chastity, but not yet awhile.” This prayer lacked the piety necessary, but was eventually answered, when years later it was followed up by another, and most efficacious prayer: “How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry for ever? Remember not my past iniquities!” This bitter and true contrition of heart obtained the grace to read the Scripture with insight and to convert.