Pope Francis continues his catechesis on the sacrament of baptism…
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We continue our reflection on Baptism, ever in the light of the Word of God. It’s the Gospel that enlightens the candidates and arouses adherence to the faith: “Baptism is ‘the sacrament of faith’ in a particular way, since it is the sacramental entry into the life of faith” [Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1236]. And faith is the giving of oneself to the Lord Jesus, acknowledged as “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14), “light of the world” (John 9:5), “resurrection and life” (John 11:25), as the itinerary shows, followed still today, by catechumens now close to receiving Christian initiation. Educated by listening to Jesus, by His teaching and by His works, catechumens relive the experience of the Samaritan woman thirsty for living water, of the man born blind who opens his eyes to the light, of Lazarus who comes out of the sepulcher. The Gospel has within itself the strength to transform one who accepts it with faith, tearing him away from the dominion of the Evil One, so that he learns to serve the Lord with joy and newness of life.
One never goes alone to the baptismal font, but accompanied by the prayer of the whole Church, as the Litanies of the Saints recall, which precede the Prayer of Exorcism and the pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of the catechumens. They are gestures that, since antiquity, assure all those that prepare themselves to be reborn as children of God, that the prayer of the Church assists them in the struggle against evil, accompanies them on the way of goodness, helps them to subtract themselves from the power of sin to pass into the kingdom of divine grace. The prayer of the Church – the Church prays and prays for all, for all of us! We, as Church, pray for others. It’s a good thing to pray for others. How many times we don’t have an urgent need and we don’t pray. We must pray, united to the Church, for others: “Lord, I pray to you for those that are in need, for those that don’t have faith . . .” Don’t forget: the prayer of the Church is always on-going. However, we must enter this prayer and pray for all the people of God and for those that are in need of prayers Therefore, the path of adult catechumens is marked by repeated exorcisms pronounced by the priest (Cf. CCC, 1237), namely, by prayers that invoke deliverance from all that separates one from Christ and impedes profound union with Him. For children also, God is asked to free them from original sin and consecrate them dwelling of the Holy Spirit (Cf. Rite of the Baptism of Children, n. 56). The children – pray for the children, for spiritual and corporal health. It’s a way of protecting children with prayer. As the Gospels attests, Jesus Himself fought and expelled devils to manifest the advent of the Kingdom of God (Cf. Matthew 12:28): His victory over the power of the Evil One leaves free room to the lordship of God who makes glad and reconciles with life.
Baptism isn’t a magical formula, but a gift of the Holy Spirit, which enables one who receives it “to fight against the spirit of evil,” believing that “God sent His Son into the world to destroy Satan’s power and transfer man from darkness to His Kingdom of infinite light” (Cf. Rite of the Baptism of Children, n. 56). We know from experience that Christian life is always subject to temptation, especially the temptation of separating oneself from God, from His Will, from communion with Him, to fall back into worldly seductions. And Baptism prepares us. It give us the strength for this daily struggle, also to fight against the devil who – as Saint Peter says – seeks as a lion to devour us, to destroy us.
In addition to prayer, there is then the anointing of the chest with the oil of catechumens, with which “they receive vigour to renounce the devil and sin, before approaching the font and being born to a new life” (Blessing of the oil. Premesse, n. 3). Because of the property of oil to penetrate the tissues of the body bringing them benefit, ancient fighters used to sprinkle themselves with oil to tone the muscles and flee more easily from the adversary’s grip. In the light of this symbolism, the Christians of the first centuries adopted the use of anointing the body of candidates to Baptism with the oil blessed by the Bishop, in order to show, through this “sign of salvation,” that the power of Christ the Saviour strengthens to fight against evil and overcome it (Cf. Rite of the Baptism of Children, n. 105).
It’s tiring to fight against evil, to flee from its deceits, to have strength again after an exhausting struggle, but we must know that the whole of Christian life is a battle. However, we must also know that we’re not alone, that Mother Church prays so that her children, regenerated in Baptism, won’t succumb to the snares of the Evil One but overcome him by the power of Christ’s Passover. Strengthened by the Risen Lord, who defeated the prince of this world (Cf. John 12:31), we can also repeat with Saint Paul’s faith: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). All of us can overcome, overcome everything, but with the strength that comes to us from Christ.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT, www.zenit.org