POPE FRANCIS’ REFLECTION ON THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD (YEARS A, B, C).
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 9 January 2022
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy shows us the scene with which Jesus’ public life begins: he, who is the Son of God and the Messiah, goes to the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. After about thirty years of hidden life, Jesus does not present himself with a miracle, or by rising to the podium to teach. He lines up with the people who were going to receive baptism from John. Today’s liturgical hymn says that the people went to be baptized with a bare soul and bare feet, humbly. This is a beautiful attitude, with a bare soul and bare feet. And Jesus shares the plight of us sinners, he comes down towards us; he descends into the river, and at the same time into the wounded history of humanity, he immerses himself in our waters to heal them, and he immerses himself with us, in our midst. He does not rise up above us, but rather comes down towards us with a bare soul, with bare feet, like the people. He does not come by himself, nor does he come with a select, privileged group. No: he comes with the people. He belongs to the people and he comes with them to be baptized, with these humble people.
Let us reflect on an important point: at the moment in which Jesus receives Baptism, the text says that he “was praying” (Lk 3:21). It is good for us to contemplate this: Jesus prays. But why? He, the Lord, the Son of God, prays like us? Yes, Jesus – the Gospels repeat this many times – spends a lot of time in prayer: at the beginning of every day, often at night, before making important decisions… His prayer is a dialogue, a relationship with the Father. Thus, in today’s Gospel, we can see the “two moments” in the life of Jesus: on the one hand, he descends towards us into the waters of the Jordan; on the other, he raises his eyes and his heart, praying to the Father.
It is a tremendous lesson for us: we are all immersed in the problems of life and in many complicated situations, called upon to face difficult moments and choices that get us down. But, if we do not want to be crushed, we need to raise everything upwards. And this is exactly what prayer does. It is not an escape route; prayer is not a magic ritual or a repetition of memorized jingles. No. Prayer is the way we allow God to act in us, to understand what he wants to communicate to us even in the most difficult situations, prayer is having the strength to go forward. Many people feel they can’t go on, and pray: “Lord, give me the strength to continue”. We too, very often, have done this. Prayer helps us because it unites us to God, it opens us up to encountering him. Yes, prayer is the key that opens our heart to the Lord. It is dialoguing with God, it is listening to his Word, it is worshipping: remaining in silence, entrusting to him what we are experiencing. And at times it is also crying out with him like Job, other times it is venting with Him. Crying out like Job; He is the father, He understands well. He never gets angry with us. And Jesus prays.
Prayer – to use a beautiful image from today’s Gospel – “opens the heavens” (cf. v. 21). Prayer opens the heavens: it gives life oxygen, a breath of fresh air amidst life’s troubles and allows us to see things from a broader perspective. Above all, it enables us to have the same experience of Jesus by the Jordan River: it makes us feel like beloved children of the Father. When we pray, the Father says to us too, as he does to Jesus in the Gospel: “You are my beloved child” (cf. v. 22). Being God’s children began on the day of our Baptism, which immersed us in Christ and, as members of the people of God, we became beloved children of the Father. Let us not forget the date of our Baptism! If I were to ask each one of you now: what is the date of your Baptism? Perhaps some of you don’t remember. This is a beautiful thing: remembering the date of your baptism, because it is our rebirth, the moment in which we became children of God with Jesus! And when you return home – if you don’t know – ask your mother, your aunt, your grandmother or your grandfather: “When was I baptized?”, and remember that date so as to celebrate it, to thank the Lord. And today, at this moment, let us ask ourselves: how is my prayer going? Do I pray out of habit, do I pray unwillingly, just reciting formulas, or is my prayer an encounter with God? I, a sinner, always with the people of God, never isolated? Do I cultivate intimacy with God, dialogue with Him, listen to his Word? Among the many things we do each day, let us not neglect prayer: let us dedicate time to it, let us use short invocations to be repeated often, let us read the Gospel every day. The prayer that opens the heavens.
And now, let us turn to Our Lady, the prayerful Virgin, who made her life into a hymn in praise of God.
7 January 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord concludes the Christmas Season and invites us to think about our baptism. Jesus wished to receive the baptism that John the Baptist preached and administered in the Jordan. It was a baptism of repentance: those who approached expressed the wish to be purified of sins and, with the help of God, they committed to begin a new life.
Thus we understand the great humility of Jesus, the One who had no sin, in joining the queue of the penitents, mingling among them to be baptized in the waters of the river. How humble Jesus is! And in so doing, he manifested what we celebrated at Christmas: Jesus’ willingness to immerse himself in the river of humanity, to take upon himself the failings and weaknesses of men and women, to share their wish for liberation and the triumph over all that distances one from God and renders one a stranger to brothers and sisters. As in Bethlehem, even along the banks of the Jordan, God keeps his promise to take upon himself the destiny of the human being, and Jesus is the tangible and definitive sign of it. He took all of us upon his shoulders; he carries all of us, in life, in our days.
Today’s Gospel passage emphasizes that when Jesus “came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove” (Mk 1:10). The Holy Spirit, who had worked from the beginning of creation and had led Moses and the people in the desert, now descends in fullness upon Jesus to give him the power to accomplish his mission in the world. The Spirit is the creator of Jesus’ baptism and also of our baptism. He opens the eyes of our hearts to the truth, to the whole truth. He propels our life along the path of charity. He is the gift that the Father has given to each one of us on the day of our baptism. He, the Spirit, transmits the tenderness of divine forgiveness to us. And it is again he, the Holy Spirit, who makes the revelatory Word of the Father resonate: “You are my Son” (cf. v. 11).
The celebration of Jesus’ baptism invites every Christian to remember his or her own baptism. I cannot ask you whether you remember the day of your baptism, because most of you were infants, like me; we were baptized as infants. But I ask you another question: do you know the date of your baptism? Do you know what day you were baptized? Each one think about it. And if you do not know the date or have forgotten it, upon returning home, ask your mom, grandma, uncle, aunt, grandpa, godfather, godmother: what is the date? We must always keep that date in our memory, because it is a date of celebration; it is the date of our initial sanctification; it is the date on which the Father gave us the Holy Spirit who encourages us to walk; it is the date of the great forgiveness. Do not forget: what is the date of my baptism? Let us invoke the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, that all Christians can understand ever better the gift of baptism and commit to living it with coherence, witnessing to the love of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit.
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12 January 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Once again I have had the joy of baptizing some children on today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. There were 32 today. Let us pray for them and for their families.
This year’s liturgy offers us the event of the Baptism of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 3:13-17). The Evangelist describes the dialogue between Jesus who asks to be baptized and John the Baptist who wants to prevent him and observes: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (v. 14). This decision by Jesus surprises the Baptist: in fact the Messiah does not need to be purified; indeed he is the one who purifies. But God is Holy. His ways are not ours and Jesus is God’s path, an unpredictable path. Let us remember that God is the God of surprises.
John had stated that there was an abyssal, unbridgeable difference between him and Jesus. I am not worthy to carry his sandals (cf. Mt 3:11), he had said. But the Son of God came precisely to fill this gap between man and God. If Jesus is completely on God’s side, he is also completely on the side of mankind and he reunites what was divided. This is why he answers John: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” (v. 15). The Messiah asks to be baptized so that all righteousness be fulfilled, that God’s design which passes through filial obedience and solidarity with fragile and sinful mankind, be fulfilled. It is the path of humility and of God’s complete closeness to his children.
The prophet Isaiah also announces the righteousness of the Servant of God who fulfills his mission in the world with a style that is opposed to the worldly spirit. “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard on the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (42:2-3). It is the attitude of meekness — the attitude of simplicity, of respect, of moderation and of hiddeness that is still asked today of the Lord’s disciples. How many — it is sad to say — how many of the Lord’s disciples boast that they are disciples of the Lord. Those who boast are not good disciples of the Lord. The good disciple is humble, meek, one who does good unobtrusively. In missionary work, the Christian community is called to approach others always offering and not imposing, bearing witness, sharing the concrete life of the people.
As soon as Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit alighted on him like a dove, as a voice from heaven said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). We rediscover our own Baptism in the Feast of the Baptism. Just as Jesus is the Beloved Son of the Father, we too, reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, know we are loved children — the Father loves us all! —, the object of God’s satisfaction, brothers and sisters of many brothers and sisters, assigned with a great mission to bear witness and proclaim the Father’s boundless love to all mankind.
This Feast of the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of our own Baptism. We too were reborn in Baptism. In Baptism the Holy Spirit came down to remain within us. This is why it is important to know the date of our Baptism. We know our date of birth, but we do not always know the date of our Baptism. Certainly some of you do not know it…. Homework to do: when you return [home] ask: when was I baptized? When was I baptized? And celebrate the date of your Baptism in your heart, every year. Do it. This also does justice to the Lord who was so kind to us.
May Mary Most Holy help us to increasingly understand the gift of Baptism and to live it consistently in everyday situations.
8 January 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, the Gospel (Mt 3:13-17) describes the scene which occurred at the River Jordan: Jesus, too, is in the midst of the penitent crowd which approaches John the Baptist to receive baptism. He stood in line. John would like to prevent him from [being baptized], saying: “I need to be baptized by you” (3:14). The Baptist, indeed, is aware of the great distance there is between him and Jesus. But Jesus has come precisely to bridge the gap between man and God: if He is completely on God’s side, He is also completely on mankind’s side, and reunites what had been separated. For this reason he asks John to baptize him, so that all righteousness may be fulfilled (cf. v. 15), namely, that the plan of God may be fulfilled, the plan which passes by way of obedience and solidarity with fragile and sinful mankind, the way of humility and of God’s full closeness to his children. Because God is very close to us, very close!
At the moment in which Jesus, baptized by John, comes out of the waters of the River Jordan, the voice of God the Father is heard from on high: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). At the same time the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, alights upon Jesus, who publicly begins his mission of salvation; a mission characterized by a manner: the way of a humble and gentle servant, armed only with the power of truth, as Isaiah had prophesied: “He will not cry or lift up his voice, … a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (42:2-3). A humble and gentle servant.
This is Jesus’ way, as well as the manner of Christ’s disciples’ missionary work: To proclaim the Gospel with gentleness, but also firmness, without shouting, without reprimanding anyone, but gently and firmly, without arrogance or imposition. The true mission is never proselytism, but drawing people to Christ. But how? How is this attraction to Christ achieved? With one’s own witness, starting from the unwavering union with him in prayer, in adoration and in concrete works of charity, which is service to Jesus present in the least of his brothers and sisters. In imitation of Jesus, the good and merciful Shepherd, and moved by his grace, we are called to make our life a joyous testimony that illuminates the way, that brings hope and love.
This feast makes us rediscover the gift and the beauty of being a community of baptized, that is, of sinners — we all are sinners — saved by the grace of Christ, truly integrated, by the work of the Holy Spirit, in the filial relationship of Jesus with the Father, welcomed into the bosom of Mother Church, making possible a brotherhood that knows no barriers or borders.
May the Virgin Mary help all of us Christians to maintain an ever keen and grateful awareness of our own Baptism and to faithfully follow the path opened by this Sacrament of our rebirth. Ever with humility, gentleness and firmness.
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