Pope's Address on Baptism at Opening of Rome's Ecclesial Congress

“By living the truth, the truth becomes life”

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ROME, JUNE 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address given Monday evening by Benedict XVI in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, at the opening of the Ecclesial Congress that concludes the pastoral year of the Diocese of Rome.

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Eminence,

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood and the Episcopate,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is a great joy for me to be here, in the Cathedral of Rome, with the representatives of my diocese, and I thank the Cardinal Vicar from my heart for his good words.

We just heard that the last words of the Lord on this earth to his disciples were: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matthew 28:19). Make disciples and baptize. Why is it not sufficient for the disciple to know Jesus’ doctrines, to know Christian values? Why is it necessary to be baptized? This is the subject of our reflection, to understand the reality, the profundity of the Sacrament of Baptism.

A first door opens if we read these words of the Lord carefully. The choice of the word “in the name of the Father” in the Greek text is very important: the Lord says “eis”and not “en,” that is not “in the name” of the Trinity – as we say that a vice-prefect speaks “in the name” of the prefect, an ambassador speaks “in the name” of the government: no. He says: “eis to onoma,” namely, an immersion in the name of the Trinity, a being inserted in the name of the Trinity, an interpretation of God’s being and of our being, a being immersed in the God Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as in marriage, for example, two persons become one flesh, they become a new, single reality, with a new, single name.

The Lord has helped us to understand this reality still better in his colloquy with the Sadducees about the resurrection. The Sadducees acknowledged from the canon of the Old Testament only five Books of Moses and in these the resurrection does not appear; that is why they denied it. The Lord, precisely from these five Books demonstrates the reality of the resurrection and says: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ (cf. Matthew 22:31-32). Hence, God takes these three and, precisely in his name, they become the name of God. To understand who this God is these persons must be seen who became the name of God, a name of God, they are immersed in God. And thus we see that whoever is in the name of God, whoever is immersed in God, is alive, because God – says the Lord – is a God not of the dead but of the living, and if he is the God of these, he is God of the living; the living are alive because they are in the memory, in the life of God. And this happens precisely in our being baptized: we become inserted in the name of God, so that we belong to this name and His name becomes our name and we also will be able, with our testimony – as the three of the Old Testament — to be witnesses of God, sign of who this God is, name of this God.

Hence, to be baptized means to be united to God: we belong to God in one single new existence, we are immersed in God himself. Thinking of this, we can immediately see some consequences.

The first is that God is no longer very far from us, this is not a reality to be discussed – whether He is or is not — but we are in God and God is in us. The priority, the centrality of God in our life is a first consequence of Baptism. To the question “Is there God?”, the answer is: “He is and He is with us; centered in our life is this closeness of God, this being in God himself, which is not a distant star, but is the environment of my life.” This is the first consequence which, therefore, should tell us that we ourselves must keep in mind this presence of God, to really live in his presence.

A second consequence of what I have said is that we do not make ourselves Christians. To become Christian is not something that follows from my decision: “I now make myself Christian.” Certainly, my decision is also necessary, but above all it is an action of God with me: I do not make myself Christian, I am assumed by God, taken in hand by God and thus, by saying “yes” to this action of God, I become Christian. To become Christian is, in a certain sense, passive: I do not make myself Christian, but God makes me his man, God takes me in hand and realizes my life in a new dimension. Just as I do not make myself live, but life is given to me; I am born not because I make myself man, but I am born because the human being was given to me. Thus also my Christian being is given to me, it is passive for me, which becomes active in our, in my life. And this fact of the passive, of not making oneself Christian, but of being made Christian by God, implies already somewhat the mystery of the Cross: only by dying to my egoism, coming out of myself, can I be Christian.

A third element which opens immediately in this vision is that, naturally, being immersed in God, I am united to my brothers and sisters, because all the others are in God and if I am drawn out of my isolation, if I am immersed in God, I am immersed in communion with the others. To be baptized is never a solitary act of “mine”, but is always necessarily a being united with all the others, a being in unity and solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, with the whole community of his brothers and sisters. This fact that Baptism inserts me in community, breaks my isolation. We must keep this present in our being Christians.

And, finally, we return to Christ’s Word to the Sadducees: God is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (cf. Matthew 22:32) and, therefore, they are not dead; if they are of God they are alive. It means that with Baptism, with the immersion in the name of God, we also are already immersed in immortal life, we are alive forever. In other words, Baptism is a first stage of the Resurrection: immersed in God, we are already immersed in the indestructible life, the Resurrection begins. As Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being “name of God” are alive. So we, inserted in the name of God, are alive in immortal life. Baptism is the first step of the Resurrection, the entering into the indestructible life of God.

Thus, in a first moment, with the baptismal formula of Saint Matthew, with the last word of Christ, we have already seen somewhat the essential of Baptism. Now we look at the sacramental rite, to be able to understand yet more precisely what Baptism is.

This rite, as the rite of almost all the Sacraments, is made up of two elements: of matter – water – and of the word. This is very important. Christianity is not something purely spiritual, something only subjective, of feeling, of the will, of ideas, but it is a cosmic reality. God is the Creator of all matter, matter enters in Christianity, and only in this great context of matter and spirit together are we Christians. Hence, it is very important that matter be part of our Faith, that the body be part of our faith; faith is not purely spiritual, but God thus inserts us in the whole reality of the cosmos and transforms the cosmos, draws it to himself. And with this material element – water – not only does a fundamental element of the cosmos enter, a fundamental matter created by God, but also the whole symbolism of religions, because in all religions water is something to talk about. The journey of religions, this seeking of God in different ways – even if mistaken but always seeking God – becomes assumed in the Sacrament. The other religions, with their journey to God, are present, are assumed, and thus the synthesis of the world is made; the whole search for God which is expressed in the symbols of religions, and above all – naturally – the symbolism of the Old Testament, which in this way, with all its experiences of salvation and of the goodness of God, becomes present. We will return to this point.

The other ele
ment is the word, and this word presents itself in three elements: renunciations, promises, invocations. Important, therefore, is that these words not be just words, but that they be a path of life. Realized in these is a decision, present in these words is our whole baptismal journey – be it pre-baptismal or post baptismal; hence, with these words, and also with the symbols, Baptism extends to the whole of our life. This reality of the promises, of the renunciations, of the invocations is a reality that lasts for the whole of our life because we are always on the baptismal journey, on the catechumenal journey, through these words and the realization of these words. The Sacrament of Baptism is not an act of an hour, but it is a reality of our whole life, it is a journey of our whole life. In reality, behind it is also the doctrine of the two lives, which was fundamental in early Christianity: a life to which we say “no” and a life to which we say “yes.”

We begin with the first part, the renunciations. There are three and I take first of all the second: “Do you renounce the seductions of evil so as not to let yourselves be dominated by sin?” What are these seductions of evil? In the early Church, and also for centuries, there was the expression: “Do you renounce the pomp of the devil?”, and today we know what was intended with this expression “pomp of the devil.” The pomp of the devil were above all the great bloody spectacles, in which cruelty became amusement, in which to kill men became something spectacular: spectacle, the life and death of a man. These bloody spectacles, this amusement of evil is the “pomp of the devil,” where he appears with seeming beauty and, in reality, appears with all his cruelty. However, beyond this immediate meaning of the word “pomp of the devil,” they wished to speak of a type of culture, of a way of life, of a way of living, in which truth does not count but appearance, truth is not sought but the effect, the sensation and, under the pretext of truth, in reality, men were destroyed, a desire to destroy and create only themselves as victorious. Hence, this renunciation was very real: it was renouncing a type of culture which is an anti-culture, against Christ and against God. They decided against a culture that, in the Gospel of Saint John, is called “kosmos houtos,” “this world.” With “this world,” naturally, John and Jesus are not speaking of God’s creation, of man as such, but they are speaking of a certain creature that is dominated and imposes itself as if this were the world, and as if this were the way to live that is imposed. I now let each one of you to reflect on this “pomp of the devil,” on this culture to which we say “no.” To be baptized means, in fact, essentially a being emancipated, a being liberated from this culture. We know also today a type of culture in which truth does not count; even if they wish to have the whole truth appear, only the sensation counts, and the spirit of calumny and of destruction. A culture that does not seek the good, whose moralism is in reality a mask to confuse, to create confusion and destruction. Against this culture, in which the lie is presented in the guise of truth and of information, against this culture which seeks only well-being and denies God, we say “no.” We know well also from so many Psalms this opposition of a culture which seems untouchable by all the evils of the world, puts self above all, above God, whereas, in reality, it is a culture of evil, a dominion of evil. And so, the decision of Baptism, of this part of the catechumenal journey which lasts our whole life, is in fact this “no,” said and realized again every day, also with the sacrifices that opposition to a culture dominant in many areas, even if it imposed itself as if it were the world, this world: it is not true. And there are so many who really desire the truth.

So we pass to the first renunciation: “Do you renounce sin to live in the freedom of the children of God?” Today liberty and Christian life, observance of God’s commandments, go in opposite directions; to be Christian is as a slavery; liberty is to emancipate oneself from the Christian faith, to emancipate oneself — in a word – from God. The word sin seems to many almost ridiculous, because they say: “How! We cannot offend God! God is so great, what does God care if I make a small mistake? We cannot offend God, his interest is too great to be able to be offended by us.” It seems true, but it is not true. God made himself vulnerable. In the crucified Christ we see that God is vulnerability, the love of God is the interest of man. The love of God means that our first concern must be not to wound, to destroy his love, not to do anything against his love because otherwise we live also against ourselves and against our liberty. And, in reality, this seeming liberty in the emancipation from God becomes immediately slavery of so many dictatorships of time, which must be followed to be to be held to the stature of the time.

And finally: “Do you renounce Satan?” This tells us that there is a “yes” to God and a “no” to the power of the Evil One who coordinates all these activities and wants to make himself god of this world, as Saint John again says. However, he is not God, he is only the adversary, and we do not subject ourselves to his power; we say “no” because we say “yes,” a fundamental “yes,” the “yes” of love and of truth. These three renunciations, in the ancient Baptismal rite, were accompanied by three immersions: immersion in water as symbol of death, of a “no” which is really the death of a type of life and resurrection to another life. We will return to this. Then, the confession in three questions: “Do you believe in God the Almighty Father, Creator; in Christ and, in fine, in the Holy Spirit and the Church?” This formula, these three parts, were developed from the word of the Lord “baptize in the name of the Farther, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”; these words are concretized and deepened: what does it mean to believe in being baptized in the Holy Spirit, that is all the action of God in history, in the Church, in the communion of Saints. Thus, the positive formula of Baptism is also a dialogue: it is not simply a formula. Above all the confession of faith is not only something to understand, an intellectual thing, something to memorize – certainly, it is also this – it also touches the intellect, it also touches our living, above all. And this seems very important to me. It is not an intellectual thing, a pure formula. It is a dialogue of God with us, an action of God with us, it is a response of ours, it is a journey. The truth of Christ can be understood only if his life is understood. Only if we accept Christ as the way do we really begin to be on the way of Christ and we can also understand the truth of Christ. Truth that is not lived does not open itself; only lived truth, truth accepted as the way of living, as a path, opens also as truth in all its richness and profundity. Therefore, this formula is a way, it is the expression of our conversion, of an action of God. And we really want to keep this present also in our whole life: that we are in communion in our journey with God, with Christ. And in this way, we are in communion with truth: living the truth, the truth becomes life and by living this life we also find the truth.

Now we pass to the material element: water. It is very important to see the two meanings of water. On one hand, water makes one think of the sea, especially the Red Sea, of the death of the Red Sea. Represented in the sea is the force of death, the need to die to come to a new life. This seems very important to me. Baptism is not just a ceremony, a ritual introduced a long time ago, nor is it only a cleansing, a cosmetic operation. It is much more than a cleansing: it is death and life, it is death of a certain existence and rebirth, resurrection to a new life. This is the profundity of being Christian: it is not only something that is added, but it is a new birth. After having gone through the Red Sea, we are new. Thus the sea, in all the experi
ences of the Old Testament, became for Christians symbol of the Cross. Because only through death, a radical renunciation in which one dies to a certain type of life, can the rebirth be realized and a new life can really be exercised. This is a part of the symbolism of water: it symbolizes – especially in the immersions of antiquity – the Red Sea, death, the Cross. Only from the Cross does one attain the new life and this happens every day. Without this death always renewed, we cannot renew the real vitality of the new life of Christ.

But the other symbol is that of the source. Water is the origin of all life; in addition to the symbolism of death, it also has the symbolism of the new life. Every life comes also from water, from water that comes from Christ like the true new life that accompanies us to eternity.

In the end the question remains – only a word – of the Baptism of children. Is it right to do it, or would it be more necessary to first undertake the catechumenal way to arrive at a truly realized Baptism? And the other question that is always asked is: “But can we impose on a child which religion he should or should not live? Should we not let the child choose?” These questions show that we no longer see in the Christian faith the new life, the true life, but we see a choice among others, even a burden that should not be imposed without having the assent of the individual. The reality is different. Life itself is given to us without our being able to choose if we wish to live or not; no one can be asked: “do you want to be born or not?” Life itself comes to us necessarily without our previous consent, it is given to us thus and we cannot first say “yes or no, I want or do not want to live.” And, in reality, the real question is: “Is it right to give life in this world without having had the consensus – do you want to live or not? Can one really anticipate life, give life without the individual having had the possibility to decide?” I would say: it is possible and right only if, with life, we can also give the guarantee that life, with all the problems of the world, is good, that it is good to live, that there is a guarantee that this life is good, is protected by God and is a real gift. Only the anticipation of the meaning justifies the anticipation of life. And because of this Baptism as guarantee of God’s goodness, as anticipation of the meaning, of the “yes” of God who protects this life, also justifies the anticipation of life. Hence, the Baptism of children is not against liberty; in fact it is necessary to give this, to justify also the gift — otherwise debatable – of life. Only the life that is in the hands of God, in the hands of Christ, immersed in the name of the Trinitarian God, is certainly a good that can be given without scruples. And thus we are grateful to God who has given us this gift, who has given us himself. And our challenge is to live this gift, to really live, in a post-baptismal journey, the renunciations of the “yes” and to live always in the great “yes” of God, and so live well. Thank you.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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