Pope's Homily for Feast of Jesus' Baptism
"Prayer Is the First Condition for Educating"
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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's homily Sunday, celebrated in Rome as the feast of the baptism of Our Lord.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
It is always a joy to celebrate this Holy Mass with the baptism of children on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I greet all of you with affection, dear parents, godfathers and godmothers, and all of you relatives and friends! You have come -- you have said this aloud -- so that these newborns might have the gift of the grace of God, the seed of eternal life. You parents wished for this. You thought about baptism before your little boy or little girl was born. Your responsibility as Christian parents made you think immediately of the sacrament that marks the entrance into divine life, in the community of the Church. We can say that this was your first educative decision for your children as witnesses of faith: the fundamental decision!
The task of parents, helped by the godmother and the godfather, is that of educating your son or daughter. Educating is very demanding, sometimes it is quite hard on our always limited human capacities. But educating becomes a marvelous mission if it is done in collaboration with God, who is the first and true educator of every man.
In the first reading that we heard, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God addresses his people precisely as an educator. He warns them against the danger of quenching their thirst and satiating their hunger with what will not do so: "Why," he asks, "do you spend your money on what is not bread, your earnings on what does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2). God wants to give us good things to drink and eat, things that will be good for us; while we sometimes use our resources badly, we use them for what is useless, indeed, for what is harmful. God wants to give us above all himself and his Word: he knows that distancing ourselves from him we will soon find ourselves in difficulty, like the prodigal son of the parable, and most importantly we will lose our human dignity. And for this reason he assures us that he is infinite mercy, that his thoughts and his ways are not as ours -- how fortunate for us! -- and that we can always return to him, to the house of the Father. Moreover, he assures us that if we welcome his Word, it will bear good fruit in our life, like the rain that waters the earth (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11).
To this word that the Lord has addressed to us through the Prophet Isaiah, we have answered with the refrain of the Psalm: "With joy we will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation." As adult persons we have a duty to draw from good sources, for our own good and for that of those entrusted to our responsibility, especially you, dear parents, godfathers and godmothers, for the good of these children. And what are "the springs of salvation?" They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first ones who need to nourish themselves from these sources so that they can guide the younger people in their growth. The parents have to give much but to be able to give they also for their part have to receive, otherwise they will be emptied, they will run out. The parents are not the springs, as we priests are not the springs either: we are rather like channels through which the lifeblood of God's love must past. If we stop receiving from the ultimate source, we too will first of all feel the negative effects and we will no longer be able to educate others. Because of this we have committed ourselves, saying: "With joy we will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation."
And we now come to the second reading and the Gospel. They tell us that the first and principal education comes through witness. The Gospel speaks to us of John the Baptist. John was a great educator of his disciples, because he lead them to Jesus, to whom he bore witness. He did not exalt himself, he did not want to hold onto the disciples for himself. And yet John was a great prophet, his fame was quite widespread. When Jesus came on the scene John stood back and pointed to Jesus: "One mightier than I is coming after me ... I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit" (Mark 1:7-8). The true educator does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants the child, or the disciple, to learn to know the truth and establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty to the end, he does not withdraw his attentive and faithful presence; but his objective is that the learner hears the voice of the truth speak to his heart and follows it on a personal journey.
Let us return again to the theme of witnessing. In the second reading the Apostle John writes: "It is the Spirit who bears witness" (1 John 5:6). He is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Jesus, testifying that he is the Christ, the Son of God. This is also seen in the scene of the baptism in the Jordan River: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove, revealing that he is the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father (cf. Mark 1:10). John underscores this aspect as well in his Gospel when Jesus says to his disciples: "When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you too will bear witness to me, because you have been with me from the beginning" (John 15:26-27). This is a great comfort to us in educating others in the faith because we know that we are not alone and that our witness is supported by the Holy Spirit.
It is very important for you parents and also for you godfathers and godmothers to believe strongly in the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit, to call upon him and welcome him in you through prayer and the sacraments. He is the one in fact who enlightens the mind, who makes the heart of the educator burn so that he or she knows how to transmit the knowledge of the love of Christ. Prayer is the first condition for educating, because in praying we create the disposition in ourselves of letting God have the initiative, of entrusting our children to him, who knows them before we do and better than us, and knows perfectly what their true good is. And, at the same time, when we pray we open ourselves to the inspirations of God to do our part better, which in any case is our duty and we must accomplish. The sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance, permit us to perform the educative action in union with Christ, in communion with him and continually renewed by his forgiveness. Prayer and the sacraments obtain that light for us that allows us to be both tender and strong, kind and firm, to be silent and to speak when the time is right, to rebuke and correct justly.
Dear friends, let us therefore together call upon the Holy Spirit, that he might descend abundantly upon these children, consecrate them in the image of Jesus Christ, and accompany them on the journey of their life. We entrust them to the maternal guidance of Mary Most Holy, that they might grow in age, wisdom and grace and become true Christians, faithful and joyful witnesses of God's love. Amen.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]