Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pope Benedict's Homily for Baptism of Christ

AP Photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Pool [yikes, that baptismal font is quite scary. I was hoping they'd have packed it away.]

~from Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today's celebration always gives me special joy. To administer the sacrament of Baptism, on the day of the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, is indeed one of the most expressive moments of our faith, in which we can almost see, through the signs of the liturgy, the mystery of life.

In the first place, human life, represented here in particular by 13 babies who are the fruit of your love, dear parents, to whom I address my heartfelt greeting, extending it to the godparents and other relatives and friends present.

Then there is the mystery of divine life, which today, God gives to these babies in their rebirth through water and the Holy Spirit. God is life, as some of the paintings in the Sistine Chapel wondrously represent.

But it will not be out of place if we set side by side with the experience of life its opposite, namely, the reality of death. Everything which begins on earth ends sooner or later, like grass in the field which shoots up in the morning and withers at night.

But in Baptism, the tiny human being receives new life, the life of grace, which makes it capable of entering into a personal relationship with the Creator, for always, for eternity.

Unfortunately, man is also capable of extinguishing this new life by sinning, reducing himself to a situation which Sacred Scripture calls a 'second death'.

While in other creatures who are not meant for eternity, death only means the end of their earthly existence, sin creates in us an abyss which risks swallowing us for always if our Father who is in heaven does not hold out a hand to us.

And this, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism. God wants to save us, having gone himself to that abyss of death, so that every man - even he who has fallen so low as to lose sight of heaven altogether - may find the hand of God to grasp ,and come out of the darkness to see the light for which he was made.

We all feel and perceive interiorly that our existence is a desire for life that calls for fullness and for salvation. This fullness of life is given to us through Baptism.

We just heard the narration of Jesus's Baptism in the Jordan. It was a Baptism different from that which these babies are about to receive but not without a profound relationship with it.

Basically, all the mystery of Christ in the world could be summarized in the word 'baptism', which in Greek means 'immersion'. The Son of God, who from eternity shares the fullness of life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was 'immersed' in our reality as sinners to make us participants in his own life. He was incarnated, born like us, grew up like us to be an adult, and then manifested his mission starting with his 'baptism of conversion' by John the Baptist.

His first public act, as we just heard, was to go down to the Jordan, mixing with penitent sinners, to receive that baptism. John naturally did not want to, but Jesus insisted, because it was the will of the Father (cfr Mt 3,13-15).

Why then did the Father want this? Why did he send his only Son to the world like a Lamb to take on himself the sins of the world (cfr Jn 1,29)? The evangelist narrates that when Jesus emerges from the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, while the voice of the Father in heaven proclaimed him 'my beloved son' (Mt 3,17).

From that moment, therefore, Jesus was revealed as he who came to baptize mankind in the Holy Spirit; he came to bring men life in abundance (cfr Jn 10,10), eternal life, which resurrects the human being and heals him entirely, body and spirit, restoring him to the original plan for which he was created.

The purpose of Christ's existence on earth was precisely to give mankind the life of God, his Spirit of love, so that every man may draw from this inexhaustible spring of salvation.

That is why St. Paul would write to the Romans that we are baptized in the death of Christ to have life in his Resurrection (cfr Rm 6,3-4). That is why Christian parents like you bring their children as soon as they can to the baptismal font, knowing that the life which they have transmitted to them calls for the fullness and salvation that only God can give. In this way, parents become co-workers with God in transmitting to their children not just physical life but also spiritual life.

Dear parents, together with you, I thank the Lord for the gift of these children and I call on his assistance so he may help you to educate them and place them within the spiritual Body of the church.

As you offer them what they need for growth and for health, you, with the aid of the godparents, are also committed to develop in them faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues which belong to the new life given them by the sacrament of Baptism.

Assure them of these virtues by your presence, your affection. Assure it, first of all and above all ,with prayer, presenting them to God daily, entrusting them to him at every stage of their life.

In order to grow healthy and strong, these babies will, of course, need material care and much attention, but what they will need most, indispensably, is to know, love and serve God faithfully in order to have eternal life. Dear parents, be for them the first witnesses to authentic faith in God.

The sacrament of Baptism has an eloquent ritual which expresses precisely this transmission of the faith. It is the offering, for each of the baptized, of a candle lit from the Easter candle. It is the light of the resurrected Christ which you are committed to transmit to your children.

Thus, from generation to generation, we Christians pass on the light of Christ so that when he returns, he may find us with this flame burning in our hands.

In the course of the ritual, I will tell you: "To you, parents and godparents, is entrusted this Paschal sign, a flame that you must feed". Feed it always, dear brothers and sisters. Feed the flame of faith by listening to the Word of God and meditating on it, and by assiduous communion with Jesus in the Eucharist.

May you be helped in this wonderful but not easy mission by the holy protectors from whom these thirteen children take their names. May these saints help, above all, the baptized children themselves to respond to your attention as Christian parents.

Above all, may the Virgin Mary accompany them and you, dear parents, now and for always. Amen.

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