Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A new catechism on Baptism

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am (3:30am EDT) in Saint Peter's Square, 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, who has concluded his catechesis on the Holy Mass, added a meditation on Baptism: 1. The foundation of the Christian life.

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father offered 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!

The fifty days of the liturgical period of Easter are a favourable time to reflect on Christian life which, by its nature, is a lifestyle that leads us to Christ himself.  In fact, we are Christians to the extent to which we allow Jesus Christ to live within us.  Where should we begin to rekindle this conscience if not at the very beginning, with the Sacrament that ignited Christian life within us?  This Sacrament is Baptism.  The Passover of Christ, with its novel character, begins within us at Baptism and transforms us according to his image:  the baptized are part of Jesus Christ; he is the Lord of their existence.  Baptism is the foundation of all Christian life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213).  Baptism is the first of the Sacraments, in which is found the door that allows Christ the Lord to take up residence in our person and permits us to immerse ourselves in his Mystery.

The Greek verb to baptize means to emerge (cf Catechism, 1214).  A bath with water is a common ritual in various belief systems, used to express the passage from one condition to another, a sign of purification for a new beginning.  But for us Christians, it should not escape our notice that if the body is immersed in water, the soul is immersed in Christ in order to receive forgiveness from our sins and to become resplendent in divine light (cf Tertullian, On the resurrection of the dead, VIII, 3: CCL 2; 931; PL 2, 806).  By virtue of the Holy Spirit, Baptism immerses us in the death and resurrection of the Lord, drowning in the Baptismal font the old man who was dominated by sin which separates us from God, and bringing to birth a new man, recreated in Jesus.  In Him, all the children of Adam are called to new life.  Baptism therefore is a rebirth.  I am sure, very sure that all of us remember the date of our birth: I am sure about that.  But I wonder, I am a bit doubtful, and so I ask you: de all of you remember the date of your baptism?  Some are saying yes - very good, but those yeses are a bit doubtful, because perhaps many of us don't remember.  But if we celebrate the day of our birth, how can we not celebrate - or at least remember - the day of our re-birth?  I want to give you some homework, a task to fulfill today at home.  Those of you who cannot remember the date of your baptism, ask your mothers, ask your aunties, ask your uncles, ask them: Do you know the date of my baptism?, and never forget it.  On that day, thank the Lord, for it was on that very day that Jesus entered into you, that the Holy Spirit entered into you.  Have you understood your homework?  We should all know the date of our baptism.  It is another birthday: the date of our re-birth.  Don't forget to do that, please.

Let us remember the final words the Risen Lord spoke to the Apostles; they are a precise mandate: Go and make disciples of all peoples, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).  Through the waters of Baptism, those who believe in Christ are immersed into the very life of the Trinity.

In fact, Baptismal water is not just any water; it is water upon which the Spirit has been invoked, the Spirit who gives life (Creed).  Let us think about what Jesus said to Nicodemus to explain our birth into divine life: If we are not born of water and Spirit, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  Those who are born of the flesh are flesh, and those who are born of the Spirit are spirit (Jn 3:5-6).  For this reason, Baptism is also called regeneration: we believe that God has saved us in his mercy, with water that regenerates and renews us in the Spirit (Titus 3:5).

Baptism is therefore an effective sign of re-birth, leading to a newness of life.  Saint Paul reminds all the Christians in Rome about this truth: Do you not know that when we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death?  Therefore through baptism, we have been buried together with him in death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, so also we can walk in a newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).

By immersing us in Christ, Baptism also makes us members of his Body, which is the Church, and participants in his mission in the world (cf Catechism, 1213).  We who have been baptized are not isolated: we are members of the Body of Christ.  The vitality that flows from the baptismal font is illustrated in these words of Jesus: I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit (cf Jn 15:5).  The same life, the life of the Holy Spirit, flows from Christ to the baptized, uniting them in one Body (cf 1 Cor 12:13), sealed by a holy anointing and nourished at the Eucharistic table.

Baptism allows Christ to live in us and permits us to live united to Him, in order to take part in the Church, each according to our proper conditions, participating in the transformation of the world.  Received only once, the waters of baptism illuminate our entire lives, guiding our steps toward the Heavenly Jerusalem.  There is a period before and a period after Baptism.  The Sacrament presupposes a journey of faith, which we call catechumenate, a stage that is apparent when it is an adult who asks to be Baptised.  But also for children, from the time of antiquity, they were baptized in the faith of their parents (cf Rite of Baptism of children, Introduction, 2).  I want to say something about this.  Some people think: why should we baptize a child who does not understand? We hope that the child will grow, that he will understand and that he himself will ask for Baptism.  But this means that we do not trust in the Holy Spirit, because when we baptize a child, the Holy Spirit enters into that child and that child enters into the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit helps that child to grow, and helps Christian virtues to mature and flower within that child.  We must always give this opportunity to everyone, to all children, to have within them the Holy Spirit who guides them throughout their lives.  Do not forget to baptize children!  No one deserves Baptism, which is always a free gift for everyone, adults and newborns.  But as it happens for a seed that is filled with life, this gift takes root and bears fruit in earth that is enriched with faith.  The baptismal promises which are renewed year after year during the Easter Vigil should be re-lived every day in order that Baptism may Christify us: we should never be afraid of this word; Baptism Christifies us; those who have received Baptism resemble Christ, are transformed in Christ and make themselves truly other Christs.

The Holy Father then summarized his catechesis in various languages.  To English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and the United States of America. I offer a particular welcome to the representatives of the British All Parliamentary Group on the Holy See. In the joy of the Risen Christ, I invoke upon you and your families the loving mercy of God our Father. May the Lord bless you all!

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