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Baptism: entry into the life of grace

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 25 March 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We read in Vatican II's document Lumen Gentium: "It is through the sacraments and the exercise of the virtues that the sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation" (LG 11). This means that the exercise of the universal priesthood is connected with the sacraments, which certainly play a fundamental role in Christian life. But the Council joins "sacraments" with "virtues." This significant association shows, on the one hand, that the sacramental life cannot be reduced to a set of words and ritual gestures; the sacraments are expressions of faith, hope and love. On the other hand, it emphasizes that the development of these virtues and all others in the Christian life arises from the sacraments. So we can say that in the Catholic conception, sacramental worship has its natural continuation in the flourishing of Christian life. The Council first of all refers to Baptism, the sacrament which constitutes the human person as a member of the Church and thus brings him into the priestly community. We read: "Incorporated in the Church through Baptism, the faithful are destined by the baptismal character for the worship of the Christian religion; reborn as sons of God they must confess before men the faith which they have received from God through the Church" (LG 11). This text is rich in doctrine derived from the New Testament and developed in the tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. In this catechesis we want to grasp the essential points.

2. The Council begins by stating that Baptism brings us into the Church, the body of Christ. This echoes St. Paul, who wrote: "In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13). It is important to underscore the role and value of Baptism for entering the ecclesial community. Even today some refuse to recognize this role, avoiding or delaying Baptism, especially of children. According to the Church's established tradition, however, the Christian life does not simply begin with human dispositions, but with a sacrament endowed with divine efficacy. Baptism as a sacrament, that is, as a visible sign of invisible grace, is the door through which God acts in the human soul--even in the soul of a newborn--to unite it to himself in Christ and the Church. He infuses new life into it. He makes it part of the communion of saints. He opens the way to the other sacraments, which serve to develop the Christian life fully. For this reason Baptism is like a rebirth by which a child of man becomes a child of God!

3. The Council says that the baptized are reborn as children of God. In this we hear an echo of the Apostle Peter, who blessed God the Father because "in his great mercy he gave us a new birth" (1 Pet 1:3). Here we find the teaching of Jesus himself, recorded by St. John in his account of the conversation with Nicodemus: "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" (Jn 3:5). Jesus teaches us that the new birth is produced by the Spirit. The letter to Titus emphasizes this by saying that God has saved us "through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5). The Baptist had already proclaimed baptism in the spirit (cf. Mt 3:11). Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit "gives life" (Jn 6:63). We profess our faith in this revealed truth when we say in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: "...and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life." It is a question of the new life by which we become children of God in the sense intended by the Gospel. Christ shares with believers his divine Sonship through the sacrament of Baptism, which he instituted as Baptism in the Spirit. In this sacrament, the spiritual birth to new life which is the result of the redeeming Incarnation takes place. The sacrament enables human beings to live the same life of the risen Christ. This is the soteriological dimension of Baptism, about which St. Paul states: "We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his that just as Christ was raised from the dead...we too might live a new life" (Rom 6:3-4). This passage from Romans allows us to understand clearly the priestly aspect of Baptism. It demonstrates that receiving Baptism means being personally united to the paschal mystery of Jesus, the one priestly sacrifice which is truly perfect and pleasing to God. As a result of this union every baptized person is able to make his entire life a priestly offering united to that of Christ (cf. Rom 12:1; 1 Pet 2:4-5).

4. Baptism, with the life of Christ, fills the soul with his holiness, as the new condition of belonging to God through liberation and purification, as St. Paul reminded the Corinthians: "You have had yourselves washed; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 6:11). Also according to the Apostle's teaching, Christ purifies the entire Church "by the bath of water with the Word." She becomes "holy and without blemish" in her members, since they receive Baptism (cf. Eph 5:26), which is deliverance and also benefits the entire community for which it is the basis of a continual process of spiritual growth (cf. Eph 2:21). It is clear that from baptismal sanctification Christians--as individuals and community--obtain the ability and obligation of leading a holy life. According to St. Paul, the baptized are "dead to sin," and must reject the life of sin (Rom 6:2). He says: "You must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and alive for God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:11). In this sense Baptism enables us to share in the death and resurrection of Christ, in his victory over the forces of evil. This is the meaning of the baptismal rite, in which the candidate is asked: "Do you reject Satan?" He is asked to make a personal commitment to total freedom from sin, and thus, from the power of Satan: the commitment to fight, throughout his earthly life, against the seductions of Satan. It will be a "good fight," which will make the individual more worthy of his heavenly calling, but also more perfect as a human person. For this double reason, the request and acceptance of this obligation ought also to be made at the Baptism of an infant, who replies through his parents and godparents. In the power of this sacrament he is purified and sanctified by the Spirit, who fills him with new life as a participation in Christ's life.

5. In addition to the life-giving and sanctifying grace of the Spirit, one also receives in Baptism the seal which is called the character, about which the Apostle says to Christians: "You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" (Eph 1:13; cf. 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22). The character (in Greek sphragis) is a sign of belonging. The baptized person becomes the property of Christ, the property of God, and in this belonging his fundamental and definitive holiness is put into effect. For this reason St. Paul called Christians "saints" (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; etc.). This is the holiness of the universal priesthood of the Church's members. In the Church the ancient promise is fulfilled in a new way: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). This means a definitive and permanent consecration, effected by Baptism and secured by an indelible character.

6. The Council of Trent expressed Christian tradition in defining that the character is an "indelible and spiritual sign" impressed upon the soul by three sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders (cf. DS 1609). This does not mean a visible sign, although in many baptized persons some of its effects are visible, such as the sense of belonging to Christ and the Church, which is shown in the words and deeds of truly faithful Christians, both priests and laity. One of the ways this sense is shown is in zeal for divine worship. According to the beautiful Christian tradition mentioned and confirmed by the Second Vatican Council, the faithful are "appointed by their baptismal character to Christian religious worship," that is, to worship God in Christ's Church. St. Thomas Aquinas maintained this on the basis of that tradition. According to him, the character is a "spiritual power" [1] , which enables the baptized to participate in the Church's worship as her recognized and assembled members, especially in the Eucharistic sacrifice and by the entire sacramental life. This capacity is inalienable and cannot be taken away, since it arises from an indelible character. There is cause for joy in discovering this other aspect of the mystery of the new life begun in Baptism, the first sacramental source of the universal priesthood, whose fundamental duty is to worship God! At this point, however, I must add that the capacity involved in the character entails a mission and, thus, a responsibility. Whoever has received the holiness of Christ must show it to the world "in every aspect of his conduct" (1 Pet 1:15). Therefore he must nourish it with the sacramental life, especially through participation in the Eucharistic banquet.

7. The grace of the Holy Spirit, infused by Baptism, makes the character alive. In its dynamism this grace brings about the entire development of the life of Christ the priest in us, of Christ who gives the Father perfect worship in the Incarnation, on the cross and in heaven, and allows the Christian to share his priesthood in the Church, which was established primarily to renew his sacrifice in the world. Just as Christ conformed his entire life to the demands of his priestly sacrifice while on earth, so too his followers--as individuals and as a community--are called to translate this sacrificial capacity received with the character into a behavior which belongs to the spirit of the universal priesthood which they are part of through Baptism.

8. The Council especially underscores growth in giving witness to the faith: "Reborn as children of God, they must profess before all the faith they have received from God through the Church" (LG 11). According to St. Paul, Baptism has the effect of enlightenment: "Christ will give you light" (Eph 5:14; cf. Heb 6:4; 10:32). The baptized, having left the ancient night, must live in this light: "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light" (Eph 5:8).

This life in the light is also expressed in the public profession of faith demanded by Jesus: "Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father" (Mt 10:32). This is a personal confession which the Christian makes in the power of baptismal grace, a profession of faith "received from God through the Church," as the Council says (LG 1). Therefore, it is part of the confession of the universal Church, which every day repeats in chorus her I believe "in deed and truth" ( Jn 3:18).

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 63, a. 2"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai giovani 

Carissimi fanciulli e ragazzi, sono molto lieto di incontrarvi in questo giorno di festa, in cui tutta la Chiesa ricorda l’Annunciazione dell’Angelo a Maria Santissima, a Nazaret. Il Signore vi ha fatto il bel regalo di partecipare a questa Udienza e vuole certo chiamarvi a dirgli un “sì” chiaro e gioioso, proprio nella vostra situazione presente di vita.

Penso anzitutto a voi, bambini della prima Comunione. Sapete che, quando ricevete la S. Eucaristia, voi potete diventare come il giovane Samuele? Stando vicino al Signore, egli imparò a dirgli: “Parla, Signore, il tuo servo ti ascolta!” (1 Sam 3, 9). Ma c’è una realtà ancora più grande: nella S. Comunione, dopo aver ascoltato attentamente il Vangelo nella Messa, voi potete essere come la Vergine Maria, quando disse all’Angelo: “Ecco l’ancella del Signore, avvenga di me secondo la tua parola” (Lc 1, 38). Vedete, cari fanciulli, com’è grande il dono che Gesù vi fa! E quale fiducia Egli ripone nel vostro cuore, giovane, e perciò tanto generoso!

Mi rivolgo pure ai ragazzi della Cresima. Carissimi, il “sì” maturato nella vostra età, fa germogliare in ciascuno di voi il seme della fede, che è stato posto nel Battesimo. Potete così confermare, con la libertà illuminata dallo Spirito Santo, l’impegno di essere cristiani sempre, non solo in chiesa o all’oratorio, o nell’intimo segreto della vostra anima; ma sempre e in ogni luogo, comportandovi come Gesù si è comportato, con umiltà e coraggio. Per questo vi esorto: non isolatevi mai dalla Comunità cristiana! Siate sempre fedeli a Cristo e alla Chiesa!

E infine penso a tutti voi, studenti. Sapete qual è il segreto per rendere bello lo studio? Avere la mente aperta alla verità, qualunque materia si debba affrontare. Chi ha l’anima aperta alla verità, a conoscere il perché, il significato delle cose, allora sì, impara ad essere più uomo. Carissimi, ogni giorno, prima di sedervi al vostro banco di scuola, aprite il cuore e dite “sì” al Signore, alla Verità, che vi chiama a conoscere il suo amore senza fine.

Saluto anche i Presidi e i Docenti dell’Associazione Europea degli Insegnanti, che, con i loro Studenti, si sono uniti a questa Udienza.

Affido tutti alla Vergine dell’Annunciazione, Madre di Gesù e Madre nostra. Ella, che ha detto quel “sì” a Nazaret, vi aiuti ogni giorno a dire il vostro “sì” pieno al Signore, che vi chiama ad accoglierlo e a seguirlo in tutte le situazioni concrete in cui vi troverete a vivere. 

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience. J’offre en particulier mes vœux aux membres de la Société du Verbe Divin, européens de l’Est et de l’Ouest, qui se trouvent en session à Nemi. Je salue les religieuses, les étudiants, les jeunes et tous les pèlerins qui sont venus à Rome et je leur souhaite une bonne découverte de la Ville.

Que le Seigneur vous bénisse et vous garde! 

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the scholars taking part in the Fourth Congress of the European Society for the Study of Science and Religion, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory. May your discussions contribute to a more fruitful dialogue between these two areas of knowledge which are so significant for the integral development of humanity. My warm welcome goes to the group of Christian Brothers currently in Rome for a programme of spiritual renewal. I also wish to thank the members of the Catholic Central Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra from London, Ontario, for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Saluto i pellegrini provenienti dalle varie parti del Giappone, in particolare il gruppo delle studentesse del Collegio Femminile “Junshin” (Cuore Immacolato di Maria) di Nagasaki.

Carissimi, si avvicina ormai la Settimana Santa. Prepariamoci alla festa della nostra Redenzione, accompagnati dall’esempio della Madonna, la quale visse per tutta la vita il proprio “Fiat” alla volontà di Dio e sul Calvario contribuì alla nostra salvezza.

Con questo auspicio vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Will kommensgrub an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. esonders begrübe ich eine Gruppe von Beamten aus Münster, die bei der Vorbereitung meines Pastoralbesuches in dieser westfälischen Stadt am 1. Mai 1987 mitgewirkt haben, die Pilgergruppe von Taubstummen aus der Diözese Berlin sowie den Chor aus St. Lorenz im Gitschtal.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie all jenen, die uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a las Hermanas Hospitalarias del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús y a las Religiosas Siervas del Espíritu San to; así como a los grupos de jóvenes procedentes de Badajoz y Alicante.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli portoghesi 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

A todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa envio meus votos por que a passagem por Roma, no coração do mundo católico, sirva de estímulo para um compromisso mais autêntico com a própria fé, sabedores de que é missão dos cristãos, enxertados em Cristo pelo Baptismo, proclamar a grandeza do amor de Deus pelos homens. 

Ai pellegrini polacchi 

Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich obecnych, a w szczególności pielgrzymki: wychowawców i młodzież XV Liceum gólnokształcącego z Krakowa-Prokocimia, z parafii św. Mikołaja w Grójcu k. Warszawy, młodzież Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. Bolesława Limanowskiego z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki w Warszawie, z diecezji tarnowskiej, z parafii św. Teresy w Radomiu, nauczycieli Zespołu Szkół Zawodowych Nr 1 - duszpasterstwo oo. kapucynów - w Lubartowie, z parafii św. Mikołaja w Lesznie; grupy: z Polskiego Zwiazku Katolicko-Społecznego w Katowicach i Bielsku-Białej, z Katolickiego Zwiazku Społecznego w Czernichowie, Polonię z Chicago (USA), młodzież VII Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. Marii Konopnickiej z Lublina, młodzież Państwowego Liceum Sztuk Plastycznych z Poznania, z Wojewódzkiego Klubu Techniki i Racjonalizacji w Lublinie, ze Stowarzyszenia Elektryków Polskich w Sieradzu, ze Skawiny i z Nowego Sącza; grupy turystyczne: z Katowic - “Mistral”, z Wrocławia - “Juventur”, z Płocka - “Esperanto-Tour”, z Łodzi - “Grand-Tour”, z Częstochowy - PTTK, z Bydgoszczy - “Esperanto-Tour” oraz pielgrzymów indywidualnych z kraju i z emigracji. 

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana 

Nel porgere il benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, rivolgo anzitutto il mio pensiero al gruppo dei catechisti, laici e religiosi, della Pontificia Università Urbaniana, che hanno frequentato l’Istituto di Catechesi Missionaria e che ora fanno ritorno ai loro rispettivi Paesi dell’Africa, dell’Asia e dell’America Latina. Formulo per essi l’augurio di un fruttuoso servizio alle loro Chiese particolari.

Saluto anche il gruppo di Sacerdoti diocesani e studenti di Teologia, che hanno partecipato ad un corso di spiritualità e di aggiornamento presso il Movimento dei Focolari. Raccomando loro di amare sempre di più la Chiesa, Corpo Mistico di Cristo, e di mettersi al servizio della nuova evangelizzazione come fervidi testimoni della carità e dell’unità.

Mi è gradito, poi, rivolgere un pensiero al gruppo dei Sacerdoti Oblati e delle Suore Figlie della Madonna del Divino Amore, che ricordano rispettivamente il trentesimo e il cinquantesimo di fondazione. Tutti sanno quanto il Santuario del Divino Amore sia frequentato dai Romani e quanto bene faccia alle anime. Auspico che le due Comunità Religiose possano testimoniare e far rivivere nei pellegrini il modello di fede e di partecipazione al mistero di Cristo, testimoniato dalla Vergine Maria.

Il mio saluto va anche ai fedeli delle parrocchie di Canizzano (Treviso) e di Santa Maria Assunta di Canepina (Viterbo), qui presenti con i loro parroci. Benedirò volentieri le corone che adorneranno l’immagine della Vergine, venerata nella chiesa di Canizzano, e l’effigie della celeste Patrona di Canepina, Santa Corona. 

Ai malati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo, infine, il mio saluto cordiale e affettuoso ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Sono lieto della vostra presenza, apprezzo vivamente il vostro gesto di fede e di devozione, vi ringrazio e vi esorto ad essere sempre fervorosi e generosi nella vostra vita cristiana. Oggi, solennità dell’Annunciazione del Signore, ricordiamo la Vergine che accoglie con il suo Sì il disegno salvifico dell’Altissimo. Siate anche voi sempre così disponibili e docili alla volontà di Dio! Amate e pregate Maria Santissima, affinché illumini e conforti voi, ammalati, nell’accettazione delle prove, e voi, sposi novelli, nell’impostazione del vostro avvenire alla luce di Dio.

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