SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Some Babies Cry when a Cross Touches Their Forehead at Baptism: Why?

December 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Baptism, Fr. Bartunek, Sacraments


Dear Father John, I like to ask you something. I am a protestant minister and I realized that sometimes when I have baptized a child they scream when I put a cross on their forehead and then calm down after they have been baptized. I just wonder what makes some babies cry when a cross touches their forehead?”

why do some babies cry when a cross touches their head at baptismThis is an interesting question, especially since you have identified what seems to be a pattern in your own experience of administering the sacrament of baptism. First of all, I think it would be wise to continue observing carefully in order to [see] whether this really is a steady pattern. You mention that this happens “sometimes” to “some babies”. This seems to indicate that maybe there really isn’t a pattern to this phenomenon at all. Many things can make babies cry. It may simply be coincidence that in some cases the babies are upset when you make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and then quiet down after the baptism is complete. Judging from my own experience, and the experience of a few priest colleagues whom I consulted briefly, I would say that this is probably a coincidence. I know of many babies who continue crying after being [baptized], for example, and some who don’t cry at all throughout the whole ritual.

Spirit and Matter

I will say, however, that symbols and sacramentals, like making the sign of the cross on one’s forehead, can truly have a spiritual impact when they are lived with faith. This is one reason why Catholics do things like mounting crucifixes on the walls of their homes, lighting candles in prayerful petition to God, kneeling during Mass, and praying in front of images of Our Lord and Our Lady. As human beings we are simultaneously body and spirit, so it makes sense that [we] express spiritual things through material realities. The sacrament of baptism is a powerful example of this. In it, physical water is used by God to issue forth a spiritual cleansing and renewal. In the Catholic Church, we actually have seven sacraments, all of which were instituted by Jesus himself, that work in a similar way, effecting a spatial benefit through material signs. You may want to look into these sacraments in order to understand more deeply the connection between spirit and matter that has always been such a fundamental aspect of our Christian experience.

I hope this helps. God bless you!

Sincerely in Christ, Fr John Bartunek, LC

Fr John Bartunek, LC, SThD
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Art for this post on some babies crying when a cross touches their forehead at baptism: The Baptism, Pietro Longhi, 1755, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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