In his first general audience of 2014, Pope Francis began a new series of catechesis on the Sacraments, starting with Baptism and recalling that by a fortunate coincidence, next Sunday will be the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Baptism is the Sacrament “on which our faith is based, and which grafts us to Christ and His Church, as living members. Together with the Eucharist and Confirmation it forms the so-called 'Christian initiation', which constitutes a single, great sacramental event that aligns us with the Lord and makes us into a living sign of His presence and His love”.
However, the Bishop of Rome observed, we might ask, “Is Baptism truly necessary for us to live as Christians and to follow Jesus? Is it not fundamentally a simple rite, a formal act of the Church, for naming a child?” To answer this, he repeated the words of the apostle Paul: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life'”.
“Therefore, it is not a mere formality! A baptised child is not the same as an child who is not baptised; a baptised person is not the same as one who has not received baptism. It is an act that touches the depth of our existence. We are immersed in that inexhaustible fount of life that is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love of all history; and thanks to this love we are able to live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, sin and death, but rather in communion with God and with our brothers”.
The Pope again commented that many of us do not know the date when we were baptised and, as before, asked, those present in St. Peter's Square to find out the date of their baptism, as “it is a happy date”. “Obviously we do not remember the ceremony, especially if we were baptised soon after birth, but it is a pity not to recognise the importance of this day, as we thereby “risk losing sight of what the Lord has done for us, of the gift we have received. We end up considering it merely as an event that took place in the past – and not even by our will, but rather by that of our parents – that has no effect on the present”.
Instead, “we are called to live out our Baptism day after day, as a current fact of our existence. If we succeed in following Jesus and remaining in the Church, even with our limits and our frailty, it is precisely because of the Sacrament in which we became new creatures and were re-clothed in Christ. It is by Baptism, indeed, that we are freed from sin and enter into Jesus' relationship with God the Father, that we become bearers of new hope, that nothing and nobody may extinguish; the hope of taking the road to salvation; that we are able to forgive and love even those who offend us or harm us; and that we are able to recognise in the marginalised and the poor the face of the Lord who visits and draws close to us”.
Another characteristic of Baptism, concluded the Pontiff, is that “no-one can baptise himself; we can ask for baptism, wish for it, but we always need someone to confer this Sacrament in the name of the Lord. This is because Baptism is a gift that is given in a context of care and fraternal sharing. Throughout history, one person baptises another, who baptises another, and another … it is a chain. A chain of grace. But I cannot baptise myself; I have to ask another person to baptise me. It is an act of brotherhood, an act of affiliation to the Church. In the celebration of Baptism we recognise the truest features of the Church, who is like a mother who continues to generate new children in Christ, in the fecundity of the Holy Spirit”.
Following his catechesis and speaking in Italian, the Pope greeted those present, including the members of a circus company which will travel to Latin America this year; he encouraged them on their travels from city to city to “be messengers of joy and brotherhood in a society that greatly needs these qualities”.