Having concluded his series of catechesis on the Mass, Pope Francis has now moved to talk about baptism…
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The fifty days of the Easter liturgical season are propitious to reflect on the Christian life that, by its nature, is the life that comes from Christ Himself. In fact, we are Christians to the degree in which we let Jesus Christ live in us. From where should we begin then to revive this awareness if not from the beginning, from the Sacrament that lit the Christian life in us? This is Baptism. Christ’s Easter, with its charge of novelty, reaches us through Baptism to transform us into His image: the baptized are of Jesus Christ; He is the Lord of their existence. Baptism is the “basis of the whole Christian life” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC), 1213]. It’s the first of the Sacraments, in as much as it’s the door that enables Christ the Lord to dwell in our person and us to immerse ourselves in His Mystery.
The Greek verb “to baptize” means “to immerse” (Cf. CCC, 1214). The bath with water is a common rite to several beliefs, to express the passage from one condition to another, sign of purification for a new beginning. However, for us Christians it must not escape us that if it’s the body that is immersed in water, it’s the soul that is immersed in Christ to receive forgiveness of sin and shine with divine light (Cf. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Dead, VIII, 3: CCL 2, 931; PL 2, 2806). In virtue of the Holy Spirit, Baptism immerses us in the Death and Resurrection of the Lord, drowning in the baptismal font the old man, dominated by sin, which separates from God and making the new man be born, recreated in Jesus. All Adam’s children are called to a new life. Baptism, that is, is a rebirth – certainly. However, I ask myself, somewhat doubtful, and I ask you: does each one of you remember the date of his Baptism? Some say yes — ok. However, it’s a somewhat weak yes, because perhaps many don’t remember it. However, if we celebrate the day of our birth, how can we not celebrate — at least remember — the day of our rebirth? I will give you a task to do at home, a task to do today at home. Those of you who don’t remember the date of your Baptism, ask your mother, aunts, and uncles, nephews, ask them: “Do you know the date of my Baptism?” and don’t ever forget it. And that day thank the Lord, because it is, in fact, the day Jesus entered me; the Holy Spirit entered me. Have you understood well the task you have to do at home? We all should know the date of our Baptism. It’s another birthday: the birthday of the rebirth. Don’t forget to do this, please.
We recall the last words of the Risen one to the Apostles; they are a precise mandate: ”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Through the baptismal cleansing, one who believes in Christ is immersed in the very life of the Trinity.
In fact, the water of Baptism isn’t just any water, but the water upon which the Spirit is invoked that “gives life” (Creed). We think of what Jesus said to Nicodemus to explain to him the birth to divine life: “Unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Therefore, Baptism is also called “regeneration”: we believe that God has saved us “by His mercy, with a water that regenerates and renews in the Spirit: (Tt 3,5).
Baptism is, therefore, an effective sign of rebirth, to walk in newness of life. Saint Paul recalls this to the Christians of Rome: ”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
By immersing us in Christ, Baptism renders us also members of His Body, which is the Church, and participants of His mission in the world (Cf. CCC 1213). We, the baptized, aren’t isolated: we are members of the Body of Christ. The vitality that flows from the baptismal font is illustrated by these words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (Cf. John 15:5). A same life, that of the Holy Spirit, flows from Christ to the baptized, uniting them in one Body (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13), christened by the holy anointing and fed at the Eucharistic table.
Baptism enables Christ to live in us and us to live united to Him, to collaborate in the Church, each one according to his condition, in the transformation of the world. Received only once, the baptismal cleansing illumines our whole life, guiding our steps to the Heavenly Jerusalem. There is a before and after Baptism. The Sacrament implies a journey of faith, which we call catechumenate, evident when it’s an adult that asks for Baptism. However, children also, since antiquity, are baptized in the faith of the parents (Cf. Rite of the Baptism of Children, Introduction, 2). And I would like to say something to you about this. Some think: but why baptize a child who doesn’t understand? Let’s wait until he grows up, that he understands, and that he himself asks for Baptism. However, this means not to have trust in the Holy Spirit, because when we baptize a child, the Holy Spirit enters that child, and the Holy Spirit makes that child grow, from a child, in Christian virtues that will then flower. This opportunity must always be given to everyone, to all children, to have within them the Holy Spirit who guides them during their life. Don’t forget to baptize the children! No one merits Baptism, which is always a free gift for all, adults and newborns. However, as happens with a seed full of life, this gift takes root and bears fruit in a terrain fed by faith. The baptismal promises that we renew every year in the Easter Vigil must be revived every day so that Baptism “Christifies”: we must not be afraid of this word; Baptism “Chritifies” one who has received Baptism and he is “Christified,” resembles Christ, is transformed into Christ and renders him truly another Christ.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT, www.zenit.org