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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

General Audience on Baptism as a doorway to hope

This morning's General Audience began at 9:20am in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

In his speech, the Pope focused on the theme: Baptism: a doorway to hope, an image taken from the Letter of Saint Paul the apostle to the Galatians (Gal 3:26-28).

After having summarized His catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

There was a time when all churches were pointed toward the east.  People would enter the sacred building through an open door on the west side and, walking in the nave, they would go toward the east.  This was an important symbol for ancient mankind, an allegory which throughout the course of history has progressively fallen into disuse.  We people of modern times, much less used to paying attention to great signs from the cosmos, almost never notice such things.  The West is the cardinal point of sunset, where light dies away.  On the other hand, the East is the place where darkness is overcome by the first light of dawn which calls us to Christ, the Sun which rises above the horizon of the world (cf Lk 1:78).

The ancient rites of Baptism called for catecheumens to speak the first part of their profession of faith while looking westward.  And while still facing in that direction, they were questioned: Do you renounce Satan, serving him and all his works?  The future Christians would repeat in chorus: I renounce him!  Then they would turn toward the apse, in the direction of the East, where new light is born, and the candidates for Baptism were questioned once more: Do you believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?  And this time, they would answer: I believe!

In modern times, the charm of this ritual has been somewhat lost: we have lost our sensitivity to the language of the cosmos.  Naturally, there still remains the profession of faith, following the series of baptismal questionings, which is proper to the celebration of some of the sacraments.  However the meaning of this questioning remains intact.  What does it mean to be a Christian?  It means looking toward the light, continually making a profession of faith in the light, even when the world is enwrapped in the darkness of night.

Christians are not exempt from darkness, neither externally nor internally.  We do not live apart from the world, however by the grace of Christ received in Baptism, we are men and women who are oriented: we do not believe in darkness, but rather in the light of day; we do not succumb to the night, rather we hope in the dawn; we are not defeated by death, rather we look forward to resurrection; we are not weighed down by evil, but always confident in the infinite possibilities of goodness.  This is our Christian hope.  The light of Jesus, the salvation that Jesus brings with his light that saves us from darkness.

We are the ones who believe that God is our Father: this is the light!  We are not orphans, we have a Father and our Father is God.  We believe that Jesus came to live among us, walked and lived with us, kept company above all with the poor and the fragile: this is the light!  We believe that the Holy Spirit is tirelessly at work for the good of all humanity throughout the world, and that even the greatest of sufferings throughout history will be overcome:  this is the hope that resounds in us every morning!  We believe that every affection, every friendship, every good desire, every love, even the most minute and neglected of them will one day be brought to fulfillment in God: this is the strength that motivates us to embrace our everyday life!  And this is our hope: to live in hope and to live in light, in the light of God the Father, in the light of Jesus our Saviour, in the light of the Holy Spirit who encourages us to continue through life.

There is also another beautiful symbol in the liturgy of Baptism that recalls the importance of light.  At the conclusion of the rite, a candle which has been lit from the Paschal (Easter) candle is presented to the parents and godparents - if the one who is baptized is a child - or to the baptized person him/herself - if that person is an adult.  In the darkness of Easter night, the lit candle enters the darkness of the church, manifesting the mystery of Jesus' resurrection; from that one lit Paschal candle, all those who are present light their own candles and transmit the flame to others who are standing nearby: in this sign, we see the slow growth of Jesus' resurrection in the life of all Christians.  The life of the Church - I would use a stronger word - is a matter of light pollution.  The more of Jesus' light we Christians have, the more of Jesus' light there is in the life of the Church, the more the Church will be alive.  The life of the Church is a contamination of light.

The most beautiful exhortation we can share with one another is to always remember our Baptism.  I would like to ask you: how many of you can remember the date of your Baptism?  Don't reply because some may be ashamed!  Think about it and if you can't remember, you have some homework to do when you get home: go to your mother, go to your father, go to your aunt, go to your uncle, go to your grandmother, go to your grandfather and ask: What was the date of my Baptism?  And never forget it again!  It is clear?  Will you do it?  Today's homework is to learn or to recall the date of your Baptism, what was the date of your rebirth, the date of light, the date when - if you would allow me to use the word - you were contaminated by the light of Christ.  We were born twice: the first time into natural life; the second time, through an encounter with Christ, in the Baptismal font.   There, we die to death, in order to live as children of God in this world.  There, we become human in a way that we could never have imagined.  This is the reason why we should all spread the perfume of Chrism, with which we have been marked on the day of our Baptism.  The Spirit of Jesus lives and works in us, the eldest of many brothers: all those who are opposed to the ever present danger of darkness and death.

What a grace it is when a Christian truly becomes christo-centric, which is to say a Christ bearer in the world!  Especially for those who are mourning, despairing, in situations of darkness and hatred.  And this can be the case in many small details: in the light that a Christian keeps alive in his eyes, maintaining an attitude of serenity that is sadly not present, especially on the most complicated of days, in the desire to love even when we are experiencing many illusions.  In the future, when we write the history of our times, what will be said of us?  Will someone say that we were able to hope, or that we had placed our light under a basket?  If we are faithful to our Baptism, we will seek to defend the light of hope.  Baptism is the beginning of hope, the hope of God, a gift which we can pass on to future generations, giving them reasons to live.

The above catechesis was then briefly translated into various languages, and the Holy Father offered particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Japan, Nigeria, Iraq and the United States of America. I am especially pleased to welcome the pilgrims from the Chaldean Patriarchate, accompanied by Bishop Shlemon Warduni. Upon all of you, I invoke the grace of the Lord Jesus, that you may be a sign of Christian hope in your homes and communities. May God bless you!
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