Faith is a gift
to be cultivated
On Sunday, 10 January
, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Holy Father presided
at Mass in the Sistine Chapel before baptizing 14 infants, 7 boys and 7
girls, all children of Vatican employees. The following is a translation
of the Pope's Homily, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year too I
have the joy of administering the sacrament of Baptism to some new-born
babies whose parents are presenting them to the Church. Welcome, dear
mothers and fathers of these little ones, and you, the godfathers and
godmothers, friends and relatives who have gathered round them. Let us
give thanks to God who today calls these seven girls and seven boys to
become his children in Christ. Let us surround them with prayers and
affection and welcome them joyfully into the Christian Community which
from this day becomes their family too.
With the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus the cycle of the
Lord's manifestations continues. It began at Christmas with the Birth in
Bethlehem of the Incarnate Word, contemplated by Mary, Joseph and the
shepherds in the humility of the crib. The Epiphany, when the Messiah,
through the Magi, showed himself to all the peoples, marked an important
milestone. On this day, on the banks of the Jordan, Jesus reveals
himself to John and to the People of Israel. It is the first time
that he enters the public scene as an adult, after leaving Nazareth.
We find him with John the Baptist to whom multitudes
have flocked, in an unusual scene. In the Gospel passage that has just
been proclaimed St Luke remarks first of all that the people "were in
In this way he emphasizes the expectation of Israel and,
in those people who had left their homes and their usual tasks, the
profound desire for a different world and new words that seem to find an
answer precisely in the Precursor's words, that may be severe and
demanding and yet are full of hope.
The baptism John offers is one of repentance, a sign
that is an invitation to conversion, to a change of life, because One is
coming who will "baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (3:16) .
Indeed it is impossible to aspire to a new world while
remaining immersed in selfishness and habits linked to sin. Jesus too
leaves his home and his customary occupations to go to the Jordan. He
arrives among the crowd that is listening to the John the Baptist and
queues up like everyone else, waiting to be baptized.
As soon as he sees Jesus approaching, John realizes that
there is something unique in this Man, that he is the mysterious Other
for whom he has been waiting and to whom his whole life is oriented. He
understands that before him stands One who is greater than he, the thong
of whose sandals he is not even worthy to untie.
At the Jordan Jesus reveals himself with an
extraordinary humility, reminiscent of the poverty and simplicity of the
Child laid in the manger, and anticipates the sentiments with which, at
the end of his days on earth, he will come to the point of washing the
feet of the disciples and suffering the terrible humiliation of the
The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself
among sinners, demonstrates God's closeness to the process of the human
being's conversion. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of sin of
the whole of humanity, he begins his mission by putting himself in our
place, in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the Cross.
While absorbed in prayer he emerges from the water after
his Baptism, the skies break open. It is the moment awaited by so many
prophets: "O that you would rend the heavens and come down!", Isaiah had
At that moment, St Luke seems to suggest, this prayer is
heard. Indeed, "The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended
upon him" (3:21-22); and words were heard that had never been heard
before: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (v. 22).
In going up out of the water, as St Gregory Nazianzen
says, Jesus "sees the heaven opened which Adam had shut against himself
and all his posterity" (Discourse 39 per il Battesimo del Signore, PG
36). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit come down among human
people and reveal to us their love that saves. If it is the Angels who
bring the shepherds the announcement of the Saviour's birth, and the
star that conveys it to the Magi who came from the East, now it is the
Father's voice that indicates the presence of his Son in the world to
human beings and invites them to look to the Resurrection, to Christ's
victory over sin and death.
The glad tidings of the Gospel are the echo of this
voice that comes down from on high. Rightly, then, Paul, as we heard in
the Second Reading, writes to Titus: "For the grace of God has appeared
for the salvation of all men" (2: ) .
In fact, the Gospel is a
grace for us that gives life joy and meaning, "training us", the Apostle
continues, "to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live
sober, upright, and godly lives in this world" (v. 12); that is, it
leads us to a happier, more beautiful life in greater solidarity, to a
life in accordance with God. We may say that the skies are opened for
these children today. They will receive as a gift the grace of Baptism
and the Holy Spirit will dwell within them as in a temple, transforming
their hearts in depth.
From this moment the voice
of the Father will also call them to be his children in Christ, and, in
his family which is the Church, he will give to each one the sublime
gift of faith. This gift, which at present they are unable to understand
fully, will be sown in their hearts as a seed full of life that is
waiting to develop and bear fruit. Today they are baptized in the faith
of the Church, professed by their parents, their godparents and the
Christians present here, who will then take them by the hand in the
following of Christ.
Already at the outset the
rite of Baptism recalls insistently the theme of faith when the
Celebrant reminds parents that in requesting Baptism for their children,
they assume the commitment to "training them in the practice of the
faith". The parents and godparents are reminded more forcefully of this
task in the third part of the celebration that begins with the words
addressed to them: "on your part, you must make it your constant care to
bring them up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life
which God gives them is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always
stronger in their hearts. If your faith makes you ready to accept this
responsibility... profess your faith in Christ Jesus. This is the faith
of the Church. This is the faith in which these children are about to be
These words of the Rite
suggest that, in a certain way, the profession of faith and the
renunciation of sin by the parents, godfathers and godmothers constitute
the necessary premises for the Church to confer Baptism upon their
Just before the water is
poured on the head of the newborn child there is a further call to
faith. The Celebrant asks a final question: "Is it your will that your
child should be baptized in the faith of the Church which we have all
professed with you?". And it us only after the affirmative response that
the Sacrament is administered. Also in the explanatory rites
the anointing with Chrism, the clothing with the white garment and the
lighting of the candle, the gesture of the "ephphetha"
faith becomes the central theme.
"These children of yours
have been enlightened by Christ. They are to walk always as children of
the light. May they keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts. When
the Lord comes, may they go out to meet him...".
May the Lord Jesus, the
Celebrant of the rite of the Ephphetha continues, "touch your
ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the
praise and glory of God the Father".
Then all this is crowned by
the final Blessing that further reminds the parents of their
responsibility to be for their children, "the first witnesses to the
Dear friends, today is an
important day for these children. With Baptism, they become sharers in
Christ's death and Resurrection, they begin with him the joyful and
exulting adventure of his disciples. The Liturgy presents it as an
experience of light. In fact, in giving to each one the candle lit from
the Easter candle, the Church says: "Receive the light of Christ!".
It is the role of Baptism
to illumine those being baptized with the light of Christ, to open their
eyes to Christ's splendour and to introduce them to the mystery of God
through the divine light of faith. The children who are about to be
baptized must walk in this light throughout their lives, helped by the
words and example of their parents and their godparents. The latter must
strive to nourish with their words and the witness of their lives the
torch of the children's faith so that they may be shining example in
this world of ours, all too often groping in the darkness of doubt, and
bring it the light of the Gospel which is life and hope. Only in this
way, will they be able, as adults, to recite with full awareness the
formula at the end of the profession of faith present in the rite: "This
is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess
it, in Christ Jesus Our Lord".
In our days too faith is a
gift to rediscover, to cultivate and to bear witness to. With this
celebration of Baptism the Lord grants each one of us to live the beauty
and joy of being Christians so that we may introduce our baptized
children into the fullness of adherence to Christ.
Let us entrust these little
ones to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary. Let us ask her to
obtain that, clad in the white garment, the sign of their new dignity as
children of God, they may be throughout their lives faithful disciples
of Christ and courageous witnesses of the Gospel. Amen.