Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reflections on the Feast of the Baptism
of Our Lord by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0324: Reflections on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord 
Pope Benedict XVI  

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, on 8 January 2006, 7 January 2007, 13 January 2008, 11 January 2009, 10 January 2010, 9 January 2011, 8 January 2012, and 13 January 2013. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and eight homilies delivered on these occasions.



Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, St Peter’s Square, 8 January 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Sunday after the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we are celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which ends the liturgical season of Christmas. Today, we fix our gaze on Jesus, who was baptized at the age of about 30 by John in the Jordan River.

It was a baptism of penance that used the symbol of water to express the purification of the heart and of life. John, known as the “Baptist”, that is, the “Baptizer”, preached this baptism to Israel in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah; and John the Baptist told everyone that someone else would come after him, greater than he, who would not baptize with water but with the Holy Spirit (see Mk 1: 7-8).

And so it was when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit came down and settled upon him like a dove, and John the Baptist recognized that he was Christ, the “Lamb of God” who had come to take away the sins of the world (see Jn 1: 29).

Therefore, the Baptism in the Jordan is also an “epiphany”, a manifestation of the Lord’s Messianic identity and of his redeeming work, which will culminate in another “baptism”, that of his death and Resurrection, for which the whole world will be purified in the fire of divine mercy (see Lk 12: 49-50).

On this Feast, John Paul II used to administer the Sacrament of Baptism to various children. This morning, for the first time, I too have had the joy of baptizing 10 newborn babies. I renew with affection my greeting to these little ones and their families, as well as to their Godparents.

The baptism of children expresses and accomplishes the mystery of new birth to divine life in Christ:  parents who are believers bring their children to the baptismal font that represents the “womb” of the Church, from whose blessed waters God’s children are brought forth.

The gift received by newborn infants needs to be accepted by them freely and responsibly once they have reached adulthood: the process of growing up will then bring them to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, which precisely strengthens the baptized and confers upon each one the “seal” of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, may today’s solemnity be a favorable opportunity for all Christians to rediscover with joy the beauty of their own Baptism, which is an ever-timely reality if it is lived with faith:  it ceaselessly renews within us the image of the new person, in holiness of thought and action.

Baptism, moreover, unites Christians of every denomination. As baptized persons, we are all children of God in Christ Jesus, our Teacher and our Lord.

May the Virgin Mary obtain for us an ever-deeper understanding of the value of our Baptism and of witness to it by leading a dignified life.



Sistine Chapel, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 8 January 2006

Dear Parents and Godparents,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

What happens in Baptism? What do we hope for from Baptism? You have given a response on the threshold of this Chapel:  We hope for eternal life for our children. This is the purpose of Baptism. But how can it be obtained? How can Baptism offer eternal life? What is eternal life?

In simpler words, we might say:  we hope for a good life, the true life, for these children of ours; and also for happiness in a future that is still unknown. We are unable to guarantee this gift for the entire span of the unknown future, so we turn to the Lord to obtain this gift from him.

We can give two replies to the question, “How will this happen?” This is the first one: through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.

This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.

This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God’s love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear.

No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, on our European Continent, in the next 50, 60 or 70 years. But we can be sure of one thing:  God’s family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life.

And, thus, we have arrived at the second answer. This family of God, this gathering of friends is eternal, because it is communion with the One who conquered death and holds in his hand the keys of life. Belonging to this circle, to God’s family, means being in communion with Christ, who is life and gives eternal love beyond death.

And if we can say that love and truth are sources of life, are life itself - and a life without love is not life - we can say that this companionship with the One who is truly life, with the One who is the Sacrament of life, will respond to your expectation, to your hope.

Yes, Baptism inserts us into communion with Christ and therefore gives life, life itself. We have thus interpreted the first dialogue we had with him here at the entrance to the Sistine Chapel.

Now, after the blessing of the water, a second dialogue of great importance will follow. This is its content:  Baptism, as we have seen, is a gift; the gift of life. But a gift must be accepted, it must be lived.

A gift of friendship implies a “yes” to the friend and a “no” to all that is incompatible with this friendship, to all that is incompatible with the life of God’s family, with true life in Christ.

Consequently, in this second dialogue, three “noes” and three “yeses” are spoken. We say “no” and renounce temptation, sin and the devil. We know these things well but perhaps, precisely because we have heard them too often, the words may not mean much to us.

If this is the case, we must think a little more deeply about the content of these “noes”. What are we saying “no” to? This is the only way to understand what we want to say “yes” to.

In the ancient Church these “noes” were summed up in a phrase that was easy to understand for the people of that time:  they renounced, they said, the “pompa diabuli”, that is, the promise of life in abundance, of that apparent life that seemed to come from the pagan world, from its permissiveness, from its way of living as one pleased.

It was therefore “no” to a culture of what seemed to be an abundance of life, to what in fact was an “anticulture” of death. It was “no” to those spectacles in which death, cruelty and violence had become an entertainment.

Let us remember what was organized at the Colosseum or here, in Nero’s gardens, where people were set on fire like living torches. Cruelty and violence had become a form of amusement, a true perversion of joy, of the true meaning of life.

This “pompa diabuli”, this “anticulture” of death was a corruption of joy, it was love of deceit and fraud and the abuse of the body as a commodity and a trade.

And if we think about it now, we can say that also in our time we need to say “no” to the widely prevalent culture of death.

It is an “anticulture” manifested, for example, in drugs, in the flight from reality to what is illusory, to a false happiness expressed in deceit, fraud, injustice and contempt for others, for solidarity, and for responsibility for the poor and the suffering; it is expressed in a sexuality that becomes sheer irresponsible enjoyment, that makes the human person into a “thing”, so to speak, no longer considered a person who deserves personal love which requires fidelity, but who becomes a commodity, a mere object.

Let us say “no” to this promise of apparent happiness, to this “pompa” of what may seem to be life but is in fact merely an instrument of death, and to this “anticulture”, in order to cultivate instead the culture of life. For this reason, the Christian “yes”, from ancient times to our day, is a great “yes” to life. It is our “yes” to Christ, our “yes” to the Conqueror of death and the “yes” to life in time and in eternity.

Just as in this baptismal dialogue the “no” is expressed in three renunciations, so too the “yes” is expressed in three expressions of loyalty:  “yes” to the living God, that is, a God Creator and a creating reason who gives meaning to the cosmos and to our lives; “yes” to Christ, that is, to a God who did not stay hidden but has a name, words, a body and blood; to a concrete God who gives us life and shows us the path of life; “yes” to the communion of the Church, in which Christ is the living God who enters our time, enters our profession, enters daily life.

We might also say that the Face of God, the content of this culture of life, the content of our great “yes”, is expressed in the Ten Commandments, which are not a pack of prohibitions, of “noes”, but actually present a great vision of life.

They are a “yes” to a God who gives meaning to life (the first three Commandments); a “yes” to the family (Fourth Commandment); a “yes” to life (Fifth Commandment); a “yes” to responsible love (Sixth Commandment); a “yes” to solidarity, to social responsibility, to justice (Seventh Commandment); a “yes” to the truth (Eighth Commandment); a “yes” to respect for others and for their belongings (Ninth and 10th Commandments).

This is the philosophy of life, the culture of life that becomes concrete and practical and beautiful in communion with Christ, the living God, who walks with us in the companionship of his friends, in the great family of the Church. Baptism is a gift of life.

It is a “yes” to the challenge of really living life, of saying “no” to the attack of death that presents itself under the guise of life; and it is a “yes” to the great gift of true life that became present on the Face of Christ, who gives himself to us in Baptism and subsequently in the Eucharist.

I said this as a brief comment on the words in the baptismal dialogue that interpret what happens in this Sacrament. In addition to the words, we have gestures and symbols, but I will just point them out very briefly.

We have already made the first gesture:  it is the Sign of the Cross, which is given to us as a shield that must protect this child in his life; and as an “indicator” that points out the way of life, for the Cross sums up Jesus’ life.

Then, there are the elements:  water, the anointing with oil, the white garment and the flame of the candle.

Water is the symbol of life:  Baptism is new life in Christ. The oil is the symbol of strength, health and beauty, for it truly is beautiful to live in communion with Christ. Then, there is the white garment, as an expression of the culture of beauty, of the culture of life. And lastly, the flame of the candle is an expression of the truth that shines out in the darkness of history and points out to us who we are, where we come from and where we must go.

Dear Godparents, dear parents, dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord today, for God does not hide behind clouds of impenetrable mystery but, as today’s Gospel said, has opened the heavens, he has shown himself, he talks to us and is with us; he lives with us and guides us in our lives.

Let us thank the Lord for this gift and pray for our children, so that they may truly have life:  authentic, eternal life. Amen.




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 7 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the Christmas Season concludes with the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Liturgy offers us, in St Luke’s account, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (see 3: 15-16, 21-22).

The Evangelist narrates that, while Jesus was in prayer, after having received Baptism among the many who were drawn by the preaching of the Precursor, the heavens opened and under the form of a dove the Holy Spirit descended upon him. In that moment a voice from on high resounded:  “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests” (Lk 3: 22).

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is recalled and emphasized, although in different ways, by all the Evangelists. In fact, it is part of the Apostolic preaching, since it constitutes the point of departure for the entire arch of facts and words to which the Apostles were to render testimony (see Acts 1: 21-22; 10: 37-41).

It was held in great importance by the apostolic community, not only because in that circumstance, for the first time in history, there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads to Palestine.

The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the Cross, and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.

This is why the Patristic tradition has dedicated great interest to this Feast, which is the most ancient after Easter. “Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy”, sings today’s liturgy; “he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit” (Antiphon to the Benedictus, Office of Lauds).

There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our Baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened (see Lk 3: 21) to indicate that the Savior has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth “of water and Spirit” (Jn 3: 5), accomplished in Baptism.

In it we are inserted into the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, the Church, we die and rise with him, we are clothed with him, as the Apostle Paul often emphasized (see I Cor 12: 13; Rom 6: 3-5; Gal 3: 27). The commitment that springs from Baptism is therefore “to listen” to Jesus:  to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.

In this way everyone can tend to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council recalled, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May Mary, the Mother of the beloved Son of God, help us to be faithful to our Baptism always.



Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, 7 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year too, we are meeting for a real family celebration, the Baptism of 13 children in this wonderful Sistine Chapel, where with their creativity, Michelangelo and other outstanding artists achieved masterpieces that illustrate the wonders of the history of salvation.

I would like immediately to greet all of you present here: the parents, the godparents, the relatives and friends who accompany these newborn babies at such an important moment for their lives and for the Church. Every child who is born brings us God’s smile and invites us to recognize that life is his gift, a gift to be welcomed with love and preserved with care, always and at every moment.

The Christmas Season, which ends precisely today, has made us contemplate the Child Jesus in the poor grotto of Bethlehem, lovingly tended by Mary and Joseph. God entrusts every child who is born to his parents: so how important is the family founded on marriage, the cradle of life and love!

The House of Nazareth where the Holy Family lived is the model and school of simplicity, patience and harmony for all Christian families. I pray the Lord that your families too may be welcoming places where these little ones can not only grow in good health but also in faith and love for God, who today, with Baptism, makes them his children.

The Rite of Baptism of these children is taking place on the day in which we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, an event which, as I said, brings the Christmas Season to a close.

So far, we have heard the account of the Evangelist Luke, who presents Jesus who remained hidden in the crowd while he went to John the Baptist to be baptized. Jesus had also been baptized, and, St Luke tells us, “was praying” (3: 21). Jesus speaks with his Father. And we may be certain that he did not only speak for himself but also of us and for us; he also spoke of me, of each one of us and for each one of us.

And then the Evangelist tells us that above the Lord in prayer, Heaven was opened.

Jesus entered into contact with the Father, Heaven opened above him. At this moment we can think that Heaven has also opened here, above these children of ours who, through the Sacrament of Baptism, come into contact with Jesus. Heaven opens above us in the Sacrament. The more we live in contact with Jesus in the reality of our Baptism, the more Heaven will open above us. And from Heaven - let us return to the Gospel - that day a voice came which said to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son” (Lk 3: 22).

In Baptism, the Heavenly Father also repeats these words for each one of these infants. He says: “You are my child”. Baptism is adoption and admission into God’s family, into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For this very reason, Baptism should be administered in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. These words are not merely a formula; they are reality. They mark the moment when your children are reborn as children of God. From being the children of human parents, they also become the children of God in the Son of the living God.

However, we must now meditate on the words in the Second Reading of this liturgy where St Paul tells us: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3: 5).

A washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God’s action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.

We can now ask precisely why water should be the sign of this totality. Water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church.

Tertullian, a Church writer of the second and third centuries, said something surprising. He said: “Never is Christ without water”. By these words, Tertullian meant that Christ is never without the Church. In Baptism we are adopted by the Heavenly Father, but in this family that he establishes there is also a mother, Mother Church. Man cannot have God as Father, the ancient Christian writers were already saying, unless he has the Church as mother.

We perceive in a new way that Christianity is not merely an individual, spiritual reality, a simple subjective decision that I take, but something real and concrete, we could also say something material. Adoption as children of God, of the Trinitarian God, is at the same time being accepted into the family of the Church, it is admission as brothers and sisters into the great family of Christians. And only if, as children of God, we are integrated as brothers and sisters into the reality of the Church can we say “Our Father”, to our Heavenly Father. This prayer always implies the “we” of God’s family.

Now, however, let us return to the Gospel in which John the Baptist says: “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 3: 16).

We have seen water; but now the question is unavoidable: of what does the fire that St John the Baptist referred to consist? To see this reality of the fire, present in Baptism with water, we must note that John’s baptism was a human gesture, an act of penance, a human impulse for God, to ask the forgiveness of sins and the chance to begin a new life. It was only a human desire, a step towards God with their own effort.

Now this is not enough. The distance would be too great. In Jesus Christ we see that God comes to meet us. In Christian Baptism, instituted by Christ, we do not only act with the desire to be cleansed through the prayer to obtain forgiveness.

In Baptism God himself acts, Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit. In Christian Baptism the fire of the Holy Spirit is present. God acts, not only us. God is present here today. He takes on your children and makes them his own.

But naturally, God does not act in a magical way. He acts only with our freedom. We cannot renounce our freedom. God challenges our freedom, invites us to cooperate with the fire of the Holy Spirit. These two things must go together. Baptism will remain throughout life a gift of God, who has set his seal on our souls. But it will then be our cooperation, the availability of our freedom to say that “yes” which makes divine action effective.

These children of yours, whom we will now baptize, are not yet able to collaborate, to manifest their faith. For this reason, your presence, dear fathers and mothers, and yours, dear godfathers and godmothers, acquires a special value and significance. Always watch over your little ones, so that they may learn to know God as they grow up, love him with all their strength and serve him faithfully. May you be their first educators in faith, offering together with your teaching also the examples of a coherent Christian life. Teach them to pray and to feel as living members of the concrete family of God, of the Ecclesial Community.

The attentive study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church or of the Compendium of this Catechism can offer you important help. It contains the essential elements of our faith and can be a particularly useful and immediate means, for you yourselves, to grow in the knowledge of the Catholic faith and to transmit it integrally and faithfully to your children. Above all, do not forget that it is your witness, it is your example, that has the greatest effect on the human and spiritual maturation of your children’s freedom. Even caught up in the sometimes frenetic daily activities, do not neglect to foster prayer, personally and in the family, which is the secret of Christian perseverance.

Let us entrust these children and their families to the Virgin Mother of Jesus, Our Savior, presented in today’s liturgy as the beloved Son of God: may Mary watch over them and accompany them always, so that they can fully carry out the project of salvation which God has for each one. Amen.




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 13 January 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With today’s Feast of Jesus’ Baptism the liturgical Season of Christmas concludes. The Child, who the Magi from the East came to adore at Bethlehem offering their symbolic gifts, we now find an adult, at the time when he is baptized in the Jordan River by the great Prophet John (see Mt 3: 13).

The Gospel notes that after Jesus had received baptism and left the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove (see Mt 3: 16). Then a voice was heard from heaven that said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3: 17). This was his first public manifestation after approximately 30 years of hidden life at Nazareth. Besides the Baptist, eyewitnesses of the singular event were the Baptist’s disciples, some of whom then became Christ’s followers (see Jn 1: 35-40). It is both a christophany and a theophany: first of all, Jesus manifests himself as the Christ, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means “anointed”. He was not anointed with oil as were Israel’s kings and high priests, but rather with the Holy Spirit. At the same time, together with the Son of God appeared signs of the Holy Spirit and the heavenly Father.

What is the meaning of this act that Jesus wishes to fulfill - overcoming the Baptist’s resistance - in order to obey the Father’s will (see Mt 3: 14-15)? The profound sense emerges only at the end of Christ’s earthly existence, in his death and Resurrection. Being baptized by John together with sinners, Jesus began to take upon himself the weight of all of humanity’s sin, like the Lamb of God who “takes away” the sin of the world (see Jn 1: 29): an act which he brought to fulfilment on the Cross when he also received his “baptism” (see Lk 12: 50). In fact, by dying he is “immersed” in the Father’s love and the Holy Spirit comes forth, so that those who believe in him could be reborn by that inexhaustible font of new and eternal life. Christ’s entire mission is summed up in this: to baptize us in the Holy Spirit, to free us from the slavery of death and “to open heaven to us”, that is, access to the true and full life that will be “a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (Spe Salvi, no. 12).

This is what happened for the 13 children to whom I administered the Sacrament of Baptism this morning in the Sistine Chapel. We invoke the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy on them and their relatives. And we pray for all Christians, so that they may understand the gift of Baptism ever more and apply themselves to live it coherently, witnessing to the love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.



Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, 13 January 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s celebration is always a cause of special joy for me. Indeed, the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is one of the most expressive moments of our faith, in which we can almost see the mystery of life through the signs of the liturgy. In the first place, there is human life. It is represented here in particular by these 13 children who are the fruit of your love, dear parents, to whom I address my cordial greeting, which I extend to the godparents and the other relatives and friends present. Then comes the mystery of divine life which God gives to these little ones today through rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit. God is life, as some of the pictures that embellish this Sistine Chapel marvelously evoke.

Yet it does not seem out of place if we immediately juxtapose the experience of life with the opposite experience, that is, the reality of death. Sooner or later everything that begins on earth comes to its end, like the meadow grass that springs up in the morning and by evening has wilted. In Baptism, however, the tiny human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which enables him or her to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator for ever, for the whole of eternity. Unfortunately, human beings are capable of extinguishing this new life with their sin, reducing themselves to being in a situation which Sacred Scripture describes as “second death”. Whereas for other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means solely the end of existence on earth, in us sin creates an abyss in which we risk being engulfed for ever unless the Father who is in Heaven stretches out his hand to us. This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God’s hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made. We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in Baptism.

We have just heard the account of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. It was a different Baptism from that which these babies are about to receive but is deeply connected with it. Basically, the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up in this term: “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 share in his own life:  he was incarnate, he was born like us, he grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the “baptism of conversion” administered by John the Baptist. Jesus’ first public act, as we have just heard, was to go down into the Jordan, mingling among repentant sinners, in order to receive this baptism. John was naturally reluctant to baptize him, but because this was the Father’s will, Jesus insisted (see Mt 3: 13-15).

Why, therefore, did the Father desire this? Was it because he had sent his Only-Begotten Son into the world as the Lamb to take upon himself the sins of the world (see Jn 1: 29)? The Evangelist recounts that when Jesus emerged from the waters, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, while the Father’s voice from Heaven proclaimed him “my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3: 17). From that very moment, therefore, Jesus was revealed as the One who came to baptize humanity in the Holy Spirit: he came to give men and women life in abundance (see Jn 10: 10), eternal life, which brings the human being back to life and heals him entirely, in body and in spirit, restoring him to the original plan for which he was created. The purpose of Christ’s existence was precisely to give humanity God’s life and his Spirit of love so that every person might be able to draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation. This is why St Paul wrote to the Romans that we were baptized into the death of Christ in order to have his same life as the Risen One (see Rom 6: 3-4). For this reason Christian parents, such as you today, bring their children to the baptismal font as soon as possible, knowing that life which they have communicated calls for a fullness, a salvation that God alone can give. And parents thus become collaborators of God, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life.

Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of these children and I invoke his assistance so that he may help you to raise them and incorporate them into the spiritual Body of the Church. As you offer them what they need for their growth and salvation may you always be committed, helped by their godparents, to developing in them faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues proper to the new life given to them in the Sacrament of Baptism. You will guarantee this by your presence and your affection; you will guarantee it first of all and above all by prayer, presenting them daily to God and entrusting them to him in every season of their life. If they are to grow healthy and strong, these babies will of course need both material care and many other kinds of attention; yet, what will be most necessary to them, indeed indispensable, will be to know, love and serve God faithfully in order to have eternal life. Dear parents, may you be for them the first witnesses of an authentic faith in God!

In the Rite of Baptism there is an eloquent sign that expresses precisely the transmission of faith. It is the presentation to each of those being baptized of a candle lit from the flame of the Easter candle:  it is the light of the Risen Christ, which you will endeavor to pass on to your children. Thus, from one generation to the next we Christians transmit Christ’s light to one another in such a way that when he returns he may find us with this flame burning in our hands. During the Rite I shall say to you: “Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly”. Dear brothers and sisters, always feed the flame of the faith by listening to and meditating on the Word of God and assiduous communion with Jesus in the Eucharist. May you be assisted in this marvelous if far from easy role by the holy Protectors after whom these 13 children will be named. Above all, may these Saints help those being baptized to reciprocate your loving care as Christian parents. May the Virgin Mary in particular accompany both them and you, dear parents, now and for ever. Amen!




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 11 January 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Sunday that follows the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we are celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. This was the first act of his public life, recounted in all four Gospels. Having reached the age of about 30, Jesus left Nazareth, went to the River Jordan and, in the midst of a great crowd of people, had himself baptized by John. Mark the Evangelist writes: “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came down from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’“ (Mk 1: 10-11). These words “You are my beloved Son” reveal what eternal life is: it is the filial relationship with God, just as Jesus lived it and as he revealed and gave it to us.

This morning, in keeping with tradition, I have administered the Sacrament of Baptism to 13 newborn babies in the Sistine Chapel. The celebrant usually questions the parents and godparents: “What do you ask of God’s Church for your children?” At their response, “Baptism”, he replies, “And what does Baptism grant us?” “Eternal life,” they answer. And this is the marvelous reality: a human person, through Baptism, is integrated into Jesus’ unique and singular relationship with the Father so that the words resonating from heaven upon the Only-Begotten Son may become true for every man and every woman who is reborn by water and by the Holy Spirit: you are my son, my beloved.

Dear friends, how great is the gift of Baptism! If we were to take this fully into account our lives would become a continual “thank you”. What a joy for Christian parents, who have seen a new creature come into being from their love, to carry the baby to the baptismal font and see him or her reborn from the womb of the Church, for a life without end! It is a gift, a joy, but also a responsibility! Parents, in fact, together with godparents, must educate their children in accordance with the Gospel. This makes me think of the theme of the Sixth World Meeting of Families which will be taking place in Mexico City in the next few days: “The family, teacher of human and Christian values”. This great meeting of families, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, will be held in three stages: first, the Theological-Pastoral Congress, in which the theme will be deeply analyzed, also through an exchange of significant experiences. There will then be a moment for celebration and witness, which will bring out the beauty of a gathering of families from every part of the world, united by the same faith and by the same commitment. And finally, the solemn Eucharistic celebration as thanksgiving to the Lord for the gifts of marriage, the family and life. I have appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, to represent me but I myself shall be following and taking an active part in the extraordinary event, accompanying it with prayer and intervening by video conference. From this moment, dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to implore an abundance of divine graces upon this important World Meeting of Families. Let us do so by invoking the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Family.



Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, 11 January 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The words that the Evangelist Mark recounts at the beginning of his Gospel: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (1: 11), introduce us into the heart of today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with which the Christmas Season ends. The cycle of the Christmas Solemnities leads us to meditate on the birth of Jesus, announced by the angels who were surrounded with the luminous splendor of God; the Christmas Season speaks to us of the star that guided the Magi of the East to the House in Bethlehem, and invites us to look to Heaven, which opens above the Jordan as God’s voice resounds. These are all signs through which the Lord never tires of repeating: “Yes, I am here. I know you. I love you. There is a path that leads from me to you. And there is a path that rises from you to me”. The Creator assumed the dimensions of a child in Jesus, of a human being like us, to make himself visible and tangible. At the same time, by making himself small, God caused the light of his greatness to shine. For precisely by lowering himself to the point of defenseless vulnerability of love, he shows what his true greatness is indeed, what it means to be God.

Christmas, and more generally the liturgical year, is exactly that drawing near to these divine signs, to recognize them as impressed into daily events, so that our hearts may be open to God’s love. And if Christmas and Epiphany serve primarily to render us capable of seeing, of opening our eyes and hearts to the mystery of a God who comes to be with us, then we can say that the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus introduces us into the daily regularity of a personal relationship with him. Indeed, by immersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus united himself with us. Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge he built between himself and us, the road on which he makes himself accessible to us. It is the divine rainbow over our lives, the promise of God’s great “yes”, the door of hope and, at the same time, the sign that that indicates to us the path to take actively and joyfully in order to encounter him and feel loved by him.

Dear friends, I am truly glad that this year too, on this Feast day, I have been granted the opportunity to baptize these children. God’s “favor” rests on them today. Ever since the Only-Begotten Son of the Father had himself baptized, the heavens are truly open and continue to open, and we may entrust every new life that begins into the hands of the One who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil. This effectively includes Baptism: we restore to God what came from him. The child is not the property of the parents but is entrusted to their responsibility by the Creator, freely and in a way that is ever new, in order that they may help him or her to be a free child of God. Only if the parents develop this awareness will they succeed in finding the proper balance between the claim that their children are at their disposal, as though they were a private possession, shaping them on the basis of their own ideas and desires, and the libertarian approach that is expressed in letting them grow in full autonomy, satisfying their every desire and aspiration, deeming this the right way to cultivate their personality. If, with this sacrament, the newly-baptized becomes an adoptive child of God, the object of God’s infinite love that safeguards him and protects him from the dark forces of the evil one, it is necessary to teach the child to recognize God as Father and to be able to relate to him with a filial attitude. And therefore, when in accordance with the Christian tradition as we are doing today children are baptized and introduced into the light of God and of his teachings, no violence is done to them. Rather, they are given the riches of divine life in which is rooted the true freedom that belongs to the children of God a freedom that must be educated and modeled as the years pass to render it capable of responsible personal decisions.

Dear parents, dear godfathers and godmothers, I greet you all with affection and join in your joy for these little ones who today are reborn into eternal life. May you be aware of the gift received and never cease to thank the Lord who, with today’s sacrament, introduces your children into a new family, larger and more stable, more open and more numerous than your own; I am referring to the family of believers, to the Church, to a family that has God as Father and in which all recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Today, therefore, you are entrusting your children to God’s goodness, which is a force of light and love and they, even amid life’s difficulties, will never feel abandoned if they stay united with him. Therefore, be concerned with educating them in the faith, teaching them to pray and grow as Jesus did and with his help, “in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2: 52).

Returning now to the Gospel passage, let us seek to better understand what is happening today. St Mark recounts that it was just when John the Baptist was preaching on the banks of the River Jordan, proclaiming the urgent need for conversion in view of the now imminent coming of the Messiah, that Jesus, who was among the crowds, presented himself to be baptized. John’s Baptism is indisputably a Baptism of penance, very different from the sacrament that Jesus was to institute. At that moment, however, the Redeemer’s mission is already glimpsed because, when he comes out of the water, a voice comes from Heaven and the Holy Spirit descends upon him (see Mk 1: 10); the heavenly Father proclaims him as his beloved Son and publicly attests to his universal saving mission, which will be fully accomplished with his death on the Cross and his Resurrection. Only then, with the Paschal Sacrifice, would the forgiveness of sins be rendered universal and total. With Baptism we do not simply emerge from the waters of the Jordan to proclaim our commitment to conversion, but the redeeming Blood of Christ that purifies and saves us is poured out upon us. It is the Father’s beloved Son, in whom he was pleased, who regains for us the dignity and joy of calling ourselves truly “children” of God.

In a little while we shall relive this mystery evoked by today’s solemnity; the signs and symbols of the sacrament of Baptism will help us to understand what the Lord works in the hearts of these our little ones, making them “his” for ever, the chosen dwelling place of his Spirit and “living stones” for the construction of the spiritual temple which is the Church. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, the beloved Son of God, watch over them and their families and always accompany them, so that they may fully carry out the plan of salvation that is brought into their lives through Baptism. And may we, dear brothers and sisters, accompany them with our prayers. Let us pray for the parents, godparents, and godmothers and for their relatives, so that they may help them grow in faith. Let us pray for all of us here present so that, by devoutly taking part in this celebration, we may renew the promises of our Baptism and give thanks to the Lord for his constant assistance. Amen!




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 10 January 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I administered the Sacrament of Baptism to some new-born babies at Holy Mass celebrated in the Sistine Chapel. This custom is linked to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with which the Liturgical Season of Christmas concludes. Baptism suggests very eloquently the global meaning of the Christmas celebrations in which the theme of becoming God’s children, thanks to the Only-Begotten Son of God taking on our humanity, is a key element. He became man so that we might become children of God. God was born so that we might be reborn. These concepts continually recur in the liturgical texts of Christmas and constitute an exciting motive for reflection and hope. Let us think of what St Paul wrote to the Galatians: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4: 4); or again, St John in the Prologue to his Gospel: “To all who received him,... he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1: 12). This wonderful mystery which is our “second birth” the birth of a human being from “on high”, from God (see Jn 3: 1-8) is brought about by and recapitulated in the sacramental sign of Baptism.

With this sacrament the person truly becomes a son, a son [or daughter] of God. From that moment the purpose of his existence consists in freely and consciously achieving what was and is the human being’s destination. “Become what you are”, is the fundamental educational principle of the human being redeemed by grace. This principle has many analogies with human growth in which the parents’ relationship with their children passes through separation and crises, from total dependence to their awareness of being children, grateful for the gift of life received and maturity and the ability to give life. Generated from Baptism to new life, the Christian too begins his journey of growth in faith that will lead him to invoking God consciously as “Abba”, “Father”, to addressing him with gratitude and to living the joy of being his child.

Baptism also gives rise to a model of society: that of brothers. Brotherhood cannot be established through an ideology or even less through the decree of any kind of constituted power. We recognize each other as brothers and sisters on the basis of the humble but profound awareness that we are children of the one Heavenly Father. As Christians, thanks to the Holy Spirit received in Baptism, our lot is the gift and commitment to live as children of God and as brothers and sisters in order to be the “leaven” of a new humanity, full of solidarity and rich in peace and hope. We are helped in this by the awareness that in addition to a Father in Heaven we also have a mother, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is a perennial model. Let us entrust to her these newly-baptized infants and their families, and ask for all the joy of being reborn every day, “from on high”, from the love of God which makes us his children and each other’s brothers and sisters.



Sistine Chapel, Sunday, 10 January 2010

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 expectation” (3: 15). 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 Cross. 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 prayed (64: 1). 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 Savior’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 appealed for the salvation of all men” (2: 11). 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 baptized”. 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 children.

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 faith.”

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 splendor 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.




Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 9 January 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Church is celebrating the Baptism of the Lord, the Feast which concludes the liturgical Season of Christmas. This mystery of the life of Christ visibly demonstrates that his coming in the flesh is a sublime act of love by the Three Divine Persons. We can say that from this solemn event the creative, redemptive and sanctifying action of the Most Holy Trinity will be increasingly evident in the public ministry of Jesus, in his teaching, his miracles, and in his Passion, death and Resurrection. We read, in fact, in the Gospel according to St Matthew that “when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold the heavens were opened [for him] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt 3: 16-17).

The Holy Spirit “dwells” in the Son and testifies to his divinity, while the voice of the Father, coming from the heavens, expresses the communion of love. “The conclusion of the baptismal scene tells us that Jesus has received this true ‘anointing’, that he is the awaited Anointed One [the Christ]” (Jesus of Nazareth, New York 2007, pp. 25-26), which confirms Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (Is 42:1). He is truly the Messiah, the Son of the Most High who, emerging from the waters of the Jordan, establishes the regeneration in the Spirit and opens, to those who desire it, the possibility of becoming sons of God.

Not by chance, in fact, does every baptized person acquire the character of son, based on the Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit gives birth to man “anew” from the womb of the Church. Bl. Antonio Rosmini affirms that “the baptized undergoes a secret but very powerful operation, through which he is raised to the supernatural order, is placed in communication with God” (The Ruling Principle of Method Applied to Education, Turin 1857, no. 331). All this was fulfilled again at the celebration of the Eucharist this morning in the Sistine Chapel where I conferred the sacrament of Baptism on 21 newborn babies.

Dear friends, Baptism is the beginning of the spiritual life which finds its fullness in the Church. At the favorable moment of the sacrament, while the ecclesial community is praying and entrusting to God a new son or daughter, parents and godparents commit themselves to welcoming the newly baptized, sustaining them in Christian formation and education. This is a great responsibility which comes from a great gift! Therefore, I desire to encourage all the faithful to rediscover the beauty of being baptized and of belonging to the large family of God, and to give a joyful witness of their faith so that this faith may produce fruits of good and harmony.

Let us ask this through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, to whom we entrust the parents who are preparing for their children’s Baptism, as well as the catechists. The entire community participates in the joy of rebirth in water and in the Holy Spirit!



Sistine Chapel, Sunday, 9 January 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am glad to offer a cordial welcome, especially to you, the parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a little while, I shall have the joy of administrating the sacrament of Baptism. Now a tradition, this year too the Rite is taking place during the Holy Eucharistic Celebration with which we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It is the Feast which, on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, concludes the Christmas Season with the Lord’s manifestation at the River Jordan.

According to the account of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the River Jordan to be baptized by John; indeed people were flocking from all over Palestine to hear the preaching of this great Prophet and the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God and to receive Baptism, that is, to submit to that sign of penance which calls for conversion from sin.

Although it was called “Baptism” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite we are celebrating today; as you well know, it was actually with his death and Resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and caused the Church to be born. What John administered was a penitential act, a gesture of humility to God that invited a new beginning: by immersing themselves in the water, penitents recognized that they had sinned, begged God for purification from their sins and were asked to change wrong behavior, dying in the water, as it were, and rising from it to new life.

For this reason, when John the Baptist saw Jesus who had come to be baptized queuing with sinners he was amazed; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the One who is without sin, John expressed his consternation: he, the Baptist, would himself have liked to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus urged him not to put up any resistance, to agree to do this act, to do what is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness”.

With these words Jesus showed that he had come into the world to do the will of the One who had sent him, to carry out all that the Father would ask of him. It was in order to obey the Father that he accepted to be made man. This act reveals, first of all, who Jesus is: he is the Son of God, true God as the Father; he is the One who “humbled himself” to make himself one of us, the One who was made man and who accepted to humble himself unto death on a cross (see Phil 2:7).

The Baptism of Jesus, which we are commemorating today, fits into this logic of humility and solidarity: it is the action of the One who wanted to make himself one of us in everything and who truly joined the line of sinners; he, who knew no sin, let himself be treated as a sinner (see 2 Cor 5:21), to take upon his shoulders the burden of the sin of all humanity, including our own sin. He is the “servant” of Yahweh of whom the Prophet Isaiah spoke in the First Reading (see 42:1). His humility is dictated by the desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to bring about true solidarity with man and with his human condition.

Jesus’ action anticipates the Cross, his acceptance of death for man’s sins. This act of abasement, by which Jesus wanted to comply totally with the loving plan of the Father and to conform himself with us, expresses the full harmony of will and intentions that exists between the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God revealed himself and descended to alight upon Jesus as a dove, and at that moment the love which unites Jesus to the Father was witnessed to all who were present at the Baptism by a voice from Heaven that everyone heard.

The Father reveals openly to human beings, to us, the profound communion that binds him to the Son: the voice that resounds from on high testifies that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of the love that unites them to each other.

Therefore the Father delights in Jesus, for he recognizes in the Son’s behavior the wish to obey his will in all things: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). And these words of the Father also allude, in advance, to the victory of the Resurrection and tell us how we must live in order to please the Father, by behaving like Jesus.

Dear parents, the Baptism, that you are asking for your children today, inserts them into this exchange of reciprocal love that is in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; through this act that I am about to carry out, God’s love is poured out upon them, showering them with his gifts. Your children, cleansed by the water, are inserted into the very life of Jesus who died on the Cross to free us from sin and in rising, conquered death.

Therefore, spiritually immersed in his death and Resurrection they are set free from original sin and the life of grace is born within them, which is the very life of the Risen Jesus. He “gave himself for us”, St Paul says, “to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14).

Dear friends, in giving us faith, the Lord has given us what is most precious in life, that is, the truest and most beautiful reason for living: it is through grace that we have believed in God, that we have known his love with which he wants to save us and to deliver us from evil. Faith is the great gift with which he also gives us eternal life, true life. Now, dear parents and godparents, you are asking the Church to receive these children within her, to give them Baptism; and you are making this request by virtue of the gift of faith that you yourselves, in turn, have received.

Together with the Prophet Isaiah every Christian can say: “The Lord… formed me from the womb to be his servant” (see 49:5); thus, dear parents, your children are a precious gift of the Lord, who has kept their hearts for himself in order to fill them with his love. Today, through the sacrament of Baptism, he consecrates them and calls them to follow Jesus, through the realization of their personal vocation in accordance with that particular plan of love that the Father has in mind for each one of them; the destination of this earthly pilgrimage will be full communion with him in eternal happiness.

In receiving Baptism these children obtain as a gift an indelible spiritual seal, the “character” that inwardly marks their belonging to the Lord for ever and makes them living members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. While they become part of the People of God, today a journey begins for these children which must be a journey of holiness and of conformation to Jesus, a reality that is placed within them like the seed of a splendid tree whose growth must be nurtured.

Therefore, understanding the greatness of this gift, from the earliest centuries care has been taken to give Baptism to newborn infants. Of course, later there will be the need for a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love. For this reason, after Baptism they must be educated in the faith, instructed in accordance with the wisdom of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church so that this seed of faith that they are receiving today may grow within them and that they may attain full Christian maturity. The Church, which welcomes them among her children must take charge of them, together with their parents and godparents, to accompany them on this journey of growth.

Collaboration between the Christian community and the family is especially necessary in the contemporary social context in which the family institution is threatened on many sides and finds itself having to face numerous difficulties in its role of raising children in the faith. The lack of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation to which society is constantly subjected, truly make the commitment to bring them up arduous. Parishes must therefore do their utmost increasingly to sustain families, small domestic churches, in their task of passing on the faith.

Dear parents, together with you I thank the Lord for the gift of the Baptism of your little sons and daughters; in raising our prayers for them, let us invoke in abundance the gift of the Holy Spirit, who today consecrates them in the image of Christ the Priest, King and Prophet. As I entrust them to the motherly intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us ask for life and health for them, so that they may grow and mature in the faith and with their lives bear fruits of holiness and of love. Amen!




Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This morning I conferred the Sacrament of Baptism on 16 infants and for this reason I would like to offer a brief reflection on the fact that we are children of God. First of all, however, let us start with our being, quite simply, children: this is the fundamental condition that brings us all together. We are not all parents, but we are certainly all children.

Being born is never a choice, we are not asked first whether we wish to be born. Yet, in life, we can develop a free attitude with regard to life itself: we can regard it as a gift and, in a certain sense “become” what we are: children. This transition marks a turning point of maturity in our existence and in our relationship with our parents, which is filled with gratitude. It is a transition that also renders us capable in turn of being parents, not biologically, but morally.

Also before God we are all children. God is at the root of every created being’s life and is the Father of every human person in a special way: he has a unique and personal relationship with every human being. Each one of us is wanted and loved by God. And also in this relationship with God, we can be “reborn”, so to speak, in other words become what we are. This happens through faith, through a profound and personal “yes” to God as the origin and foundation of our existence. With this “yes” I receive life as a gift of the Father who is in Heaven, a Parent whom I do not see but in whom I believe and whom, in the depths of my heart, I feel is my Father and the Father of all my brethren in humanity, an immensely good and faithful Father.

On what is this faith in God the Father based? It is based on Jesus Christ: he himself and his history reveal the Father to us, enable us to know him as much is possible in this world. Believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, makes it possible to be “born from above”, that is, from God, who is Love (see Jn 3:3).

Moreover, let us bear in mind once again that no individual makes him or herself a human being. We are born without doing anything ourselves, the passivity of being born precedes the activity of what we ourselves do. It is also the same at the level of being Christian: no one can become Christian solely by one’s own will, being Christian is also a gift that comes before our own action: we must be reborn in a new birth. St John says: “to all who received him... he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).

This is the meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is this new birth that precedes our own action. With our faith we can go to meet Christ, but he alone can make us Christian and give to our will and to this desire of ours the response, dignity and power to become children of God, which we ourselves do not possess.

Dear friends, this Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord brings Christmas Time to an end. Let us give thanks to God for this great mystery which is a source of regeneration for the Church and for the whole world. God made himself the Son of Man so that man might become a son of God. Let us therefore renew our joy in being children, as men and women and as Christians; born and reborn to a new divine existence. Born from the love of a father and a mother and reborn from the love of God through Baptism.

Let us ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of all who believe in him, to help us to live truly as children of God, not in words, or not only in words, but with deeds. St John writes further: “this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23).



Sistine Chapel, Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is always a joy to celebrate this Holy Mass with the baptism of children on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I greet you all with affection, dear parents, godparents and all of you, relatives and friends! You have come here — you said so aloud — so that your newborn babies may receive the gift of God’s grace, the seed of eternal life. You, parents, have desired this. You thought of Baptism even before your child was born. Your duty as Christian parents made you think immediately of the sacrament that marks entry into divine life and into the community of the Church. We can say that this was your first educational decision as witnesses of the faith to your children: it is a fundamental decision!

The parents’ task, helped by the godfather and godmother, is to raise their son or daughter. Raising children is very demanding and at times taxes our human capability, which is always limited. However, educating becomes a marvelous mission if it is carried out in collaboration with God who is the first and true educator of every human being.

In the First Reading, we heard from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God addresses his people precisely as a teacher. He puts the Israelites on their guard against the danger of quenching their thirst and appeasing their hunger at the wrong sources: “Why”, he says, “do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Is 55:2). God wants to give us good things to drink and to eat, things that do us good; whereas at times we use our resources mistakenly, we use them for things that are useless, indeed, even harmful. Above all, God wants to give us himself and his Word. He knows that in distancing ourselves from him we will soon run into difficulty — like the Prodigal Son of the parable — and, especially, that we will lose our human dignity. And for this reason he assures us that he is infinite mercy, that his thoughts and ways are unlike ours — fortunately! — and that we can always return to him, to the Father’s house. Thereafter he assures us that if we receive his Word it will bear good fruits in our life, like the rain that waters the earth (see Is 55:10-11).

We responded to these words which the Lord has addressed to us through the Prophet Isaiah with the refrain of the Psalm: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”. As adults, we have striven to draw from the good springs for our own good and for the good of those entrusted to our responsibility, and you in particular, dear parents and godparents, for the good of these children.

And what are “the springs of salvation”? They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first who should nourish themselves at these sources, so as to be able to guide those who are younger in their development. Parents must give much, but in order to give they need in turn to receive, otherwise they are drained, they dry up. Parents are not the spring, just as we priests are not the spring. Rather, we are like channels through which the life-giving sap of God’s love must flow. If we cut ourselves off from his spring, we ourselves are the first to feel the negative effects and are no longer able to educate others. For this reason we have committed ourselves by saying: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”.

And we now come to the Second Reading and to the Gospel. They say that the first and principal education takes place through witness. The Gospel speaks of John the Baptist. John was a great educator of his disciples, because he led them to the encounter with Jesus to whom he bore witness. He did not exalt himself, he did not wish to keep his disciples bound to him. Yet John was a great prophet, his fame was very great. When Jesus arrived John drew back and pointed to him: “After me comes he who is mightier than I…. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7-8).

The true teacher does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants his son or daughter, or disciple, to learn to know the truth and to establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty fully, he assures his attentive and faithful presence because his objective is that the person being educated listen to the voice of truth speaking to his heart and follow it on a personal journey.

Let us return once again to the witness. In the Second Reading, the Apostle John writes: “And the Spirit is the witness” (1 Jn 5:7). He is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Jesus, testifying that he is the Christ, the Son of God. This is also apparent in the scene of the Baptism in the River Jordan: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove to reveal that he is the Only-Begotten Son of the eternal Father (see Mk 1:10). In his Gospel too, John underlines this aspect where Jesus says to the disciples: “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). This is a great comfort to us in the work of educating in faith, because we know that we are not alone and that our witness is sustained by the Holy Spirit.

It is very important for you parents, and also for the godparents, to believe strongly in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit, to invoke him and to welcome him within you, through prayer and through the sacraments. It is he, in fact, who illumines the mind and warms the heart of the educator so that he or she can pass on the knowledge and love of Jesus. Prayer is the first condition for teaching because by praying we prepare ourselves to leave the initiative to God, to entrust children to him, who knows them before and better than we, and who knows perfectly what their true good is. And at the same time, when we pray we listen to God’s inspiration in order to do our part well, which in any case is our duty and which we are bound to do. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance, enable us to carry out our educational action in union with Christ, in communion with him and continuously renewed by his forgiveness. Prayer and the sacraments obtain for us that light of truth thanks to which we are able to be at once tender and strong, gentle and firm, silent and communicative at the right time, admonishing and correcting in the right way.

Dear friends, let us therefore all invoke the Holy Spirit together so that he may come down upon these children in abundance, consecrate them in the image of Jesus Christ and always go with them on their journey through life. Let us entrust them to the motherly guidance of Mary Most Holy, so that they may grow in age, wisdom and grace and become true Christians, faithful and joyful witnesses of God’s love. Amen.




Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With this Sunday following the Epiphany the Christmas Season draws to a close: the time of light, the light of Christ who appears, like the new sun on the horizon of humanity, dispelling the shadows of evil and ignorance. We celebrate today the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus: that Child, Son of the Virgin, whom we contemplated in the mystery of his Birth. We behold him today as an adult immersing himself in the waters of the River Jordan and thereby sanctifying all water and the whole world, as the Eastern Tradition stresses. But why did Jesus, in whom there is no shadow of sin, go to be baptized by John? Why did he perform that gesture of penitence and conversion, beside all those people who in this way were trying to prepare for the coming of the Messiah? That gesture — which marks the start of Christ’s public life — comes in continuity with the Incarnation, the descent of God from the highest heaven into the abyss of hell. The meaning of this movement of divine lowering is expressed in a single word: love, the very name of God. The Apostle John writes: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him”, and he sent him “to be the expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). That is why the first public act of Jesus was to receive baptism from John, who, seeing him approaching, said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

Luke the Evangelist recounts that while Jesus, having received baptism, “was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased’” (3:21-22). This Jesus is the Son of God who is totally immersed in the will of the Father’s love. This Jesus is the One who will die on the cross and rise again through the power of the same Spirit who now descends upon him and consecrates him. This Jesus is the new man who wills to live as the son of God, that is, in love; the man who in the face of the evil of the world, by choosing the path of humility and responsibility he chooses not to save himself but to offer his own life for truth and justice. Being Christian means living like this, but this kind of life involves a rebirth: to be reborn from on high, from God, from Grace. This rebirth is the Baptism, which Christ gives to the Church in order to regenerate men and women to new life. An ancient text attributed to St Hippolytus states: “Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude, and is raised to filial status” Discourse on the Epiphany, 10: PG 10, 862).

Following tradition, this morning I had the joy of baptizing a large group of infants who were born in the past three or four months. At this moment, I would like to extend my prayers and my blessing to all newborn babes; but above all I would like to invite you all to remember your own Baptism, the spiritual rebirth that opened the way to eternal life to us. May every Christian, in this Year of Faith, rediscover the beauty of being reborn from on high, from the love of God, and live as a child of God.



Sistine Chapel, Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The joy that flowed from the celebration of holy Christmas is fulfilled today in the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A further reason for jubilation comes to us who are gathered here: indeed, in the sacrament of Baptism that I shall shortly administer to these newborn babies is expressed the living and active presence of the Holy Spirit who, enriching the Church with new children, vitalizes and develops her, and we cannot but rejoice in this. I would like to address a special greeting to you, dear parents and godparents who are witnessing to your faith today by asking for baptism for these children, so that they may be born to new life in Christ and become part of the community of believers.

The Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus which we heard in St Luke’s version shows the life of meekness and humility that the Son of God chose freely, complying with the Father’s plan to be obedient to his desire for love for man in all things, even to his sacrifice on the cross.

Having reached adulthood, Jesus began his public ministry by going to the River Jordan to receive from John a baptism of penance and conversion. What might seem paradoxical in our eyes actually happened. Did Jesus need penance and conversion? Of course not. Yet the One who is without sin put himself among sinners to have himself baptized, to make this act of penance. The Holy One of God joined those who recognized they were in need of forgiveness and asked God for the gift of conversion, that is, the grace to return to him with their whole heart, to belong totally to him. Jesus chose to join the ranks of sinners, to be in solidarity with them, expressing God’s closeness.

Jesus shows his solidarity with us, with our efforts to convert and to be rid of our selfishnesss, to break away from our sins in order to tell us that if we accept him in our life he can uplift us and lead us to the heights of God the Father. And Jesus’ solidarity is not, as it were, a mere exercise of mind and will. Jesus truly immersed himself in our human condition, lived it to the end, in all things save sin, and was able to understand our weakness and frailty. For this reason he was moved to compassion, he chose to “suffer with” men and women, to become a penitent with us. This is God’s work which Jesus wanted to carry out: the divine mission to heal those who are wounded and give medicine to the sick, to take upon himself the sin of the world.

What happened at the moment when Jesus had himself baptized by John? In the face of this act of humble love by the Son of God, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit showed himself in the form of a dove, while a voice from on high expressed the pleasure of the Father who acknowledged his Only- Begotten, his beloved Son. This was a real manifestation of the Blessed Trinity, that bears witness to the divinity of Jesus, of his being the promised Messiah, the One whom God sent to set his People free in order to save them (see Is 40:2).

In this way the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in the first reading came true: the Lord God comes with might to destroy the work of sin and his arm rules in order to disarm the Evil One. However, let us bear in mind that this arm is the arm stretched out on the cross and that Christ’s power is the power of the One who suffered for us; this is the power of God, different from the power of the world; thus God comes with power to destroy sin.

Indeed Jesus acted as the Good Shepherd who tended his sheep and gathered his flock, so that none might stray (see Is 40:10-11), and layed down his life so that it might have life. It is through his redeeming death that man is liberated from the dominion of sin and reconciled with the Father; it is through his resurrection that man is saved from eternal death and enabled to triumph over the Evil One

Dear brothers and sisters, what happens in the baptism that I shall shortly be administering to your children? Exactly this: they will be deeply united with Jesus for ever, immersed in the mystery of his power, of his might, namely, in the mystery of his death which is a source of life so as to share in his resurrection, to be reborn to new life. This is the miracle that is repeated today, also for your children: in receiving baptism they are reborn as children of God who share in the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father, in other words who can address God, calling him with full confidence and trust: “Abba, Father”. The heavens are also opened above your children and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am well pleased. Inserted into this relationship and liberated from original sin, they become living members of the one body that is the Church and are enabled to live their vocation to holiness in fullness, so as to be able to inherit eternal life, obtained for us by Jesus’ Resurrection.

Dear parents, in asking for Baptism for your children you express and witness to your faith, to the joy of being Christian and of belonging to the Church. It is the joy that comes from knowing you have received a great gift from God, faith itself, a gift which not one of us has been able to deserve but which was freely given to us and to which we responded with our “yes”. It is the joy of recognizing that we are children of God, of discovering that we have been entrusted to his hands, of feeling welcomed in a loving embrace in the same way that a mother holds and embraces her child. This joy, which guides every Christian’s journey, is based on a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship that directs the whole of human existence.

Indeed it is he who is the meaning of our life, the One on whom it is worth keeping our eyes fixed so as to be illuminated by his Truth and to be able to live to the full. The journey of faith that begins for these infants today is therefore based on a certainty, on the experience that there is nothing greater than knowing Christ and communicating friendship with him to others; only in this friendship is the enormous potential of the human condition truly revealed and we can experience what is beautiful and sets us free (see Homily at Holy Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, 24 April 2005). Whoever has had this experience is not prepared to give up his faith for anything in the world.

Dear godparents, it is your important duty to sustain and help the parents in their educational task, supporting them in the transmission of the truths of the faith and in their witness to the Gospel values and bringing up these children in an ever deeper friendship with the Lord. May you always be able to offer them your good example, through the practice of the Christian virtues. It is not easy to express what one believes in openly and without compromises. This is especially true in the context in which we live, in the face of a society that all too often considers those who live by faith in Jesus as out of fashion and out of time.

On the crest of this mentality, Christians too can risk seeing the relationship with Jesus as restrictive, something that humiliates one’s fulfilment; “God is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom, that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself” (The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth)

But this is not how it is! This vision shows that it has not understood the relationship with God at all, for as we gradually proceed on our journey of faith, we realize that Jesus exercises on us the liberating action of God’s love which brings us out of our selfishness, our withdrawal into ourselves, to lead us to a full life in communion with God and open to others.

“‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’ (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, no. 1).

The water which will sign these children in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit will immerse them in that “fount” of life which is God himself and will make them his own true sons. And the seed of the theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, sown by God, seeds that are planted in their hearts today through the power of the Holy Spirit, must always be nourished by the word of God and by the sacraments so that these Christian virtues may grow and attain full maturity, until they make each one of them a true witness of the Lord.

As we invoke upon these little ones the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, let us entrust them to the protection of the Blessed Virgin; may she always preserve them with her motherly presence and accompany them at every moment of their lives. Amen. 

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