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A Call for Rediscovery of Sacrament of Baptism

Father Cantalamessa Comments on This Sunday's Gospel

ROME, JAN. 8, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the commentary that Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Pontifical Household, prepared on the Gospel of this Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus. The solemnity of Epiphany was celebrated today in Italy.

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The Baptism of Jesus

(Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)

Rediscovering Our Baptism

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as he came out of the water he saw that the heavens opened and that the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended on him. And a voice was heard that came from the heavens: 'You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"

Was it that Jesus also needed to be baptized, as we do? Of course not. With that gesture, he wanted to show that he had become one of us. Above all, he wanted to put an end to the baptism of "water" and inaugurate that "of the Spirit." It was not the water in the Jordan that sanctified Jesus, but Jesus who sanctified the water. Not only the water of the Jordan, but that of all fonts of the world.

The feast of the Baptism of Jesus is the annual occasion to reflect on our own baptism. A question people often ask themselves about baptism is: Why baptize small children? Why not wait until they are older and can decide freely for themselves? It is a serious question, but it can conceal a deceit. In procreating a child and giving him life, do parents first ask for his permission? Convinced that life is an immense gift, they rightly assume that one day the child will be grateful for it. A person is not asked for permission to be given a gift, and baptism is essentially this: the gift of life given to man by the merits of Christ.

Of course, all this assumes that the parents themselves are believers and have the intention to help the child develop the gift of faith. The Church acknowledges their decisive competency in this area and does not want a child to be baptized against their will.

Moreover, no one today says that, by the simple fact that a person is not baptized, he will be condemned and go to hell. Children who die without baptism, as well as people who have lived, through no fault of their own, outside the Church, can be saved (the latter, it is understood, if they live according to the dictates of their conscience).

Let us forget the idea of limbo as the place without joy or sadness in which children who are not baptized will end up. The fate of children who are not baptized is no different from that of the Holy Innocents, which we celebrated just after Christmas. The reason is that God is love and "wants all to be saved," and Christ also died for them!

Quite different, however, is the case of the one who neglects receiving baptism out of laziness or indifference, though aware, perhaps, in the depth of his conscience, of its importance and necessity. In this case, Jesus' word retains all its severity: only "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" (cf. Mark 16:16). There are increasingly more people in our society who for different reasons have not been baptized in childhood. There is the risk that they will grow up and make no decision, one way or another. Parents are no longer concerned about it because they now think that it is not their duty; the children because they have other things to think about; and also because it has not yet entered the common mentality that the person himself must take the initiative to be baptized.

In order to address this situation, the Church gives much importance at present to the so-called Christian initiation of adults. The latter offers the young person or adult who is not baptized the occasion to be formed, to prepare and to decided with full liberty. It is necessary to surmount the idea that baptism is only something for children.

Baptism expresses its full meaning precisely when it is desired and decided upon personally, as a free and conscious adherence to Christ and his Church, although the validity and gift of being baptized as children must not be disregarded for the reasons above explained. Personally, I am grateful to my parents for having had me baptized in the first days of my life. It is not the same to live one's childhood and youth with or without sanctifying grace!

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Baptism, Sacrament, Cantalamessa,Jesus, Epiphany

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