A Homily on Baptism by Pope John Paul II

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier


In 1982 the Holy Father, John Paul II visited England and Wales. The overall theme for the Roman Pontiff's pastoral visit to Britain was the seven Sacraments. In Westminster Cathedral (London), he baptized four people; in Southward Cathedral, he anointed the sick; he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation in Coventry, ordained 12 men in Manchester, gave First Holy Communion to a group of children in Cardiff, and spoke extensively about the Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony in Liverpool and York, respectively. We give below the main points of the Holy Father's homily on Baptism.

In Baptism we are drawn into the community of faith. We become part of the pilgrim People of God which, in all times and in all places, goes forward in hope towards the fulfillment of the 'promise.' It is our task to take our place responsibly and lovingly beside those who, from the beginning, 'remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers' (Acts 2,42).

Baptism creates a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it. But Baptism, of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed towards the fullness of life in Christ (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22). Baptism is the foundation of the unity that all Christians have in Christ: a unity we must seek to perfect When we set out clearly the privilege and the duty of the Christian, we feel ashamed that we have not all been capable of maintaining the full unity of faith and charity that Christ willed for his Church.

We the baptized have work to do together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The world is in need of Jesus Christ and his Gospel - the Good News that God loves us, that God the Son was born, was crucified and died to save us, that he rose again and that we rose with him, and that in Baptism he has sealed us with the Spirit for the first time, gathered us into a community of love and of witness to his truth.

Another aspect of Baptism, perhaps the most universally familiar, is that we are given a name - we call it our Christian name. In the tradition of the Church it is a saint's name, a name of one of the heroes among Christ's followers - an apostle, a martyr, a religious founder, like Saint Benedict, whose monks founded Westminster Abbey nearby, where your sovereigns are crowned. Taking such names reminds us again that we are being drawn into the communion of Saints, and at the same time that great models of Christian living are set before us. London is particularly proud of two outstanding saints, great men also by the world's standards, contributors to your national heritage, John Fisher and Thomas More.

As the prophet Ezekiel reminds us, it is the Lord himself who is the true shepherd of this New People. He himself pastures his sheep. He shows them where to rest: 'As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view. . .so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and the darkness....l shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong' (Ez. 34, 12 and 16).

Together we shall renew our baptismal promises. We shall reject sin, and the glamor of evil, and Satan, the father of sin and prince of darkness. We shall profess our faith in the One God, in his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, in the coming of the Holy Spirit, in the Church, in life everlasting. And we shall be responsible for the words we say, and be bound by an alliance with our God.

Brothers and sisters! In order to be faithful to this alliance we must be a people of prayer and deep spirituality. Our society needs to recover a sense of God's loving presence, and a renewed sense of respect for his will.

Let us learn this from Mary our Mother. In England, 'the Dowry of Mary,'the faithful, for centuries, have made pilgrimages to her shrine at Walsingham. Today Walsingham comes to Wembley, and the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, present here, lifts our minds to meditate on our Mother. She obeyed the will of God fearlessly and gave birth to the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faithful at the foot of the Cross, she then waited in prayer for the Holy Spirit to descend on the infant Church. It is Mary who will teach us how to be silent, how to listen for the voice of God in the midst of a busy and noisy world. It is Mary who will help us to find time for prayer. Through the Rosary, that great Gospel prayer, she will help us to know Christ. We need to live as she did, in the presence of God, raising our minds and hearts to him in our daily activities and worries.

May your homes become schools of prayer for both parents and children. God should be the living heart of your family life. Keep Sunday holy. Go to Mass every Sunday. At Mass the People of God gather together in unity around the altar to worship and to intercede. At Mass you exercise the great privilege of your Baptism: to praise God in union with Christ his Son; to praise God in union with his Church.

Brothers and sisters, to be faithful to our alliance with God we must be, not only a people that prays, but also a people that does the will of the heavenly Father. Again it is Mary who teaches us how. Through her obedience she accepted the whole of God's plan for her life. And in doing so she achieved greatness. 'Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord' ( Lk. 1, 45).

We express our real acceptance of Christ's word by respecting the moral demands of our Christian vocation. And the fulfillment of these demands is an act of loving obedience to the person of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God. If our faith is strong, the moral demands of the Christian life - although at times, they are difficult to fulfill and although they always require effort and grace - will seem neither unreasonable nor impossible. Certainly, our fidelity to the Gospel will put us at odds with the spirit of the 'present age.' Yes, we are in the world, indeed as disciples of Christ we are sent into the world, but we do not belong to the world (cf. Jn. 17, 16-18). The conflict between certain values of the world and the values of the Gospel is an inescapable part of the Church's life, just as it is an inescapable part of the life of each one of us. And it is here that we must draw on the 'patience' which Saint Paul spoke to us about in the second reading. We groan inwardly as we await our salvation, in hope and with patience (cf. Rom. 8, 23-25).

I have often spoken of the decline of respect for the fundamental moral values that are essential to the Christian life. Indeed, moral values are essential to the life of all human beings as free agents created in the image and likeness of God, and destined to a higher creation.

The world has largely lost respect for human life from the moment of conception. It is weak in upholding the indissoluble unity of marriage. It fails to support the stability and holiness of family life. There is a crisis of truth and responsibility in human relationships. Selfishness abounds. Sexual permissiveness and drug addiction ruin the lives of millions of human beings. International relations are fraught with tensions, often because of excessive inequalities and unjust economic, social, cultural and political structures, and because of slowness in applying the needed remedies. Underlying all of this there is often a false concept of man and his unique dignity, and a thirst for power rather than a desire to serve.

Are we Christians to agree with such a state of affairs? Are we to call this progress? Are we to shrug our shoulders and say that nothing can be done to change all this?

My brothers and sisters, the essence of our Christian vocation consists in being 'light' and 'salt' for the world we live in. Let us not be afraid: 'The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness'(Rom. 8, 26).

Keep in mind that picture of Mary and the Apostles gathered together at Pentecost in Jerusalem. Remember that the same Holy Spirit who filled their minds and hearts also fills the whole Church today. And he brings us the loveliest and the most powerful gifts: 'Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control' (Gal. 5, 22).

Let us really accept the words of Jesus: 'If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink' (Jn. 7, 37). Then we shall receive his gift: 'Out of our hearts shall flow rivers of living water.... Now he said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive.' Then, in the power of the Spirit we shall become a people that prays: indeed, the Spirit himself will pray in us and for us (cf. Rom. 8, 26). And we shall become a holy people.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, realize the greatness of your Christian vocation. Christ has called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light. Consider what God has done for you in Baptism, and lift up your eyes and see the final glory that awaits you.

'Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. O Lord how manifold are all your works. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth' (Ps. 104, 1, 25 and 30). Amen.

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