By Fr Sean Mcguire
In the last edition of Totus Tuus, we saw how Pope Francis encourages parents to baptise their children as soon as possible, so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within them. He reiterated this point in his memorable speech in Croke Park, when he attended the World Meeting of Families. He said that “God our Father has made all of us his children in Baptism”. The Pope believes that children should be baptised soon after birth so that they can become part of the great family of God. Addressing the appreciative audience in Croke Park, he said: “we need to invite everyone to the party, even the smallest child!” In this article, I will continue to unpack Pope Francis’ teachings on the sacrament.
On the 25th of April in Rome, Pope Francis explained the significance of the Oil of Catechumenate. He said that in ancient times, combatants “would spread oil over their bodies to tone their muscles and to escape more easily from the grip of their adversary”. So from the earliest times, Christians have used oil in the baptismal liturgy to symbolise the strength they receive from God to combat evil in their lives. The Pope sees the Christian life as a constant battle, but he says we can overcome anything with the strength that Jesus gives us.
On the 2nd of May, the Pope reminded us that “the Church invokes the action of the Holy Spirit on the water that to be is used in baptism”. The water used in the sacrament is transformed into water that carries within it the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Pope, “the heart must be prepared to accept Baptism”. We prepare ourselves for the sacrament by professing our faith in God and renouncing evil in our lives. It is necessary then “to burn some bridges, leaving them behind, in order to undertake the new Way which is Christ.”
The foundation of baptism is the renunciation of Satan and the personal profession of faith in God: “It is a responsible choice which demands to be transformed into concrete gestures of trust in God”. We are not alone. We are given the strength of the Holy Spirit in baptism to fulfil our Christian duties and to place our trust in God. When we bless ourselves with Holy Water, the pope encourages us to think of our baptism with joy and gratitude and to “renew our ‘Amen’ — ‘I am happy’ — in order to live immersed in the love of the most Holy Trinity.”
One week later, the Pope told the assembled crowd in St Peter’s Square, that “baptism opens for us the door to a life of resurrection, not to a worldly life. A life according to Jesus.” We saw in previous articles how we died with Christ in the waters of baptism and rose from them to live a new life with Christ. To emphasise this reality, the Pope quotes Saint Cyril, who said: “And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother” (n. 20, On the Mysteries, ii, 4-6; pg 33, 1079-1082). So the font is both a tomb, where the old man is buried and a maternal womb where the new man is born. The Pope loves the inscription attributed to Pope Sixtus, which is found on the ancient Roman Lateran Baptistry: “Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God, and bears them virginally in this water. Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font”.
These words from Pope Francis should fill us with joy and gratitude for the gift of our baptism – the gift of living a new and grace filled life with Christ – the gift of a life of total trust in God – the gift of strength from on high to live a fulfilled Christian life. What a party we belong to!